Unusual gramophones

Gallery opened: 29 June 2019

Updated: 13 July 2019

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One of the many disadvantages of gramophone discs is that the linear velocity of the groove moving under the stylus is not constant. As the arm moves toward the centre of the disc the diameter is less so the groove velocity is also less. This means the signals cut into the groove walls are more cramped and distortion increases; it is usually called 'end-of-side distortion' and it is nasty. This problem remains today with microgroove vinyl discs.

Left: World Record Controller fitted to gramophone: 1922-26

An answer to this issue was invented by Noel Pemberton-Billing, when he was not making a nuisance of himself in other ways. He called it the World Record Controller. This sounds like it is some sort of Olympic committee but it is not.

The system comprised an auxiliary governor that could be retro-fitted to existing gramophones, and specially-cut discs. These were turned at 33 rpm rather than the standard 78 rpm, to give over ten minutes of playing time, much longer than the standard discs. This presumably gave Billing problems with 'end-of-side distortion' and so the auxiliary governor was designed to initially slow down the turntable and then gradually speed up the rotation as a disc was played.

The picture shows a rubber-tyred wheel resting on the record surface. It was coupled to a small fly-ball friction governor which can be seen just to the right of the wheel, which kept the linear speed under the wheel constant by braking effect as the wheel moved toward the centre of the disc, moved by a feedscrew. This feedscrew was turned by a worm and pinion, which was itself driven from a friction wheel coupled to the rim of the turntable. This is the small white wheel at bootom right of the picture.

Since the speed was much reduced from 78 rpm to 33, the existing governor in the gramophone did not act; it was not necessary to dismantle the gramophone to disable it.

The system only worked with the specially-cut World Records, which were expensive, and only a poor repertoire was available. For these reasons it did not thrive, even though it appears you could switch immediately back to standard 78 rpm discs simply by lifting the braking wheel from the disc.

Here is a demonstration of a World Record Controller on YouTube. The wow is horrible, and it is clear there are real problems with speed control, probably due to the braking wheel slipping on the disc surface.

Left: The World Record Controller: 1922-26

To the left is the worm drive for the feedscrew. The horizontal rubber wheel to drive it is missing; normally it would be between the two metal discs. The vertical lever engages with the screw like a half-nut, and can be disengaged by moving the upper half of the lever to the left, to prevent the arm moving when conventional records were being played and the Controller was not required.

The fly-ball governor presumably operated in the usual way by introducing more friction as the balls moved outward. Its shaft vanishes to the right into the brake-wheel housing, and the exact method by which it is driven is not visible; probably small helical gears.

The function of the small knob on top of the arm is unknown- perhaps it was just for lifting the arm.

Left: The World Record Controller: 1922-26

This is a close-up of the top picture, showing the Controller mounted on a gramophone.

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