Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Æolian Encounter

Back in 2011, I received a 1920 Singerphone phonograph for free from a local Freecycle group.  It works well, but the condition is a little rough and frankly, it has a fairly large footprint.  So when I saw this smaller phonograph last week at an estate sale marked for $60, I was excited.

The grill cloth is missing, so I'll replace that when I find some appropriate fabric.

It's an Æolian-Vocalion Series 500.  I believe it was made in 1918.

The platter turns on when you turn the speed adjustment knob.  It's marked "Slow 80 Fast".  I'm not sure why they chose 80 since records of the time were recorded at 78 RPM.

It features an autobrake system which when set properly, stops the platter from turning when the needle reaches the center groove.  I'm not sure if something's wrong with mine, or I just haven't figured out how to make it work, but it doesn't function properly.

 The brake mechanics under the platter.

 The tone arm.

The front speaker grate opens to reveal the sound box which is just a metal chamber the the tone arm directs sound down into.  The sound is surprisingly loud.  People are surprised these phonographs are entirely acoustic without any electronic amplification.

It features what they called the "Graduola" which is a mechanical pull which controls louvers inside the cabinet to dampen the sound.  The slide pulls out from the cabinet on a fairly long cable which allowed the listener to sit while they listened; an early form of remote control.

It's surprisingly easy to service the gears.  You remove the 4 screws at the corners and disconnect the brake mechanism (there's a spring plate that holds the brake arm onto a pin.  Lift up gently and pop the arm off of the pin).

 The gears are Swiss made.

Looking down inside the cabinet, I found lots of needles that had fallen in over the years and a lot of greasy grime.  You can see the cable for the Graduola on the left.

I found service dates of February 1918 and March 1924 chalked on the inside of the cabinet.

It came with a number of period records, some published by Vocalion.  Have a listen to one of my favorites.

Here's a manual for these phonographs and here's an early brochure for the various models available.

This ad appeared in the January 4th, 1920 St. Louis Globe-Democrat (my home town), so it's very possible this phonograph came from there.


  1. man, you got this for $60?? it's gorgeous! i'm so impressed that you just dive in and take these things apart and fix them. if it was last serviced in 1924, they got a lot of use out of it. maybe i'll get a chance to hear it in person in January...

  2. Cool - I love that old scratchy sound it makes. Great choice of record.

  3. That is so neat! I love the sound as well. Well worth the $60 bucks.

  4. oh, i meant to mention earlier that they probably went with "80" thinking, "78? whatever -- 80 is close enough!"


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