After growing up in a house full of power tools and crafts, my brother and I spent most of our time building bigger and bigger toys. We started with plastic model kits, with help from our dad, who is a brilliant craftsman with an equally impressive model railway in the loft and garden. After progressing from kits, we spent a long time building radio controlled cars, boats and anything else we could come up with, including a model rocket powered car, which seemed a good idea at the time! Once we reached our late teens, we moved onto bigger toy cars and built several custom Minis for both ourselves, and friends.
My passion now is building custom analogue cameras. As well as basic re-trims, I’ve also built a pocket-friendly (sort of!) large format Polaroid 110, a 35mm converted Yashica 44, an Instax Mini-shooting 3D-Printed back for my Yashica 635 TLR and am currently working on a completely laser cut acrylic 4×5 field camera with motorised movements so I’m always busy!
Hamish from TVA (who is also into cameras) had seen what I was up to and got in touch through social media. After chatting about my latest build, we got onto the topic of high-end audio and doing some modification work to the classic Technics 1200 series turntables.
Having never really been bitten by the audiophile bug, I spent some time researching the current trends and found a massive range of colour styles, finishes and quality. The most common customisation is a 2-pack respray of the top plate/platter, which gives a durable finish and adds some colour to the standard turntable. Whilst these customisations are visually attractive, I very rarely go with the flow with my custom builds so I started asking about what features he actually needs from a DJ-heavy turntable for home audiophile usage.
After a few conversations, we came up with a list of actual requirements and design ideas;
- Remove tone fader completely
- Remove popup timing light
- Remove On/Off button including power indicator LEDs
- Remove all visible buttons/holes and completely smooth the top plate
- Smooth the platter entirely to remove the timing dots
- Move remaining controls (Start/Stop, 33, 45) to the right edge of the turntable
After deciding on the physical requirements, we started talking about the colour scheme. Having seen so many brightly painted decks, I liked the idea of mimicking other high-end audiophile turntables and making the Technics unit completely black with blue accent lights on the push buttons. Rather than standard matt black, I suggested the idea of using a rubberised paint that͛s used to wrap vehicles called Plastidip. This offers a hard-wearing finish with a unique texture that͛s warm to the touch. It won͛t scratch easily but can be peeled in the future if a new colour scheme is wanted. Luckily, the guys agreed with my idea so I could start the big task of stripping down the donor turntable and crack out the fibreglass/filler!
The first stage in any build, whether it͛s a car, camera or turntable is to strip everything back to basics. TVA provided both a complete working turntable and a unit in pieces so I started on the donor top plate to see what was required.
After deciding on the brief, I was going to be covering/smoothing everything on the top plate, other than the mounting point for the tone arm. Before mixing up the fibreglass, I had to get the plate clean and ready for bonding so I broke out the Fairy Liquid and got scrubbing until I was left with a sparkly clean top plate.
Before anything could be smoothed with fine filler, I had to bond support plates across the gaps to offer a solid infill. To do this, I sacrificed a donor large format darkslide (a bit of a camera) as the plastic it͛s made from is very strong and bonds well with fibreglass. Several pieces were bonded to the underside of the plate to cover the On/Off, Start/Stop, 33/45 and popup light mounting holes along with another piece inlaid where the tone slider was, to bring it just below flush with the surface.
Now all the groundwork had been done I could start laying thin skims of fine filler and sand it back with various grades of paper until all fine lines were no longer visible. During the process I sprayed numerous layers of filler primer to build up any remaining hairline scratches until I was happy with the final top layer.
Once I was finished with the top plate, I turned my attention to the platter and started building up thin layers of strong filler to gradually fill in the numerous timing dots around the edge. If the filler was laid too thickly there would be a risk of it cracking in the future so the layers had to be thin and allowed to cure fully in between.
Once the filler reached the top surface I started to sand it lightly in between layers carefully, without damaging the platter itself.
This process of filling/sanding with a block continued until I was happy with the angle all around the edge when I then started laying coats of primer. Once sprayed, all pits/scratches stand out much more easily so more layers of finer knifing putty could be used to target those.
Eventually, after what felt like 457 layers of filler/sanding/primer I was happy with the finish all around (I͛m fussy!) and could spray the top primer coat so the platter was ready for the final finish.
Taking a break from filler and paint, I moved on to the electronics from the turntable. Having never worked on a Technics turntable before, I downloaded several wiring schematics and guides to understand how the circuitry worked and where I could solder new illuminated pushbuttons to the existing points.
After working through the circuitry, I found that the turntable doesn’t use basic latching buttons for its͛ functions and instead triggers microchips with momentary buttons so it wouldn’t just be a case of replacing a switch. Like with all electronics, I had to first identify the voltages in use as they vary between 240v, 20v and 3v at different points across the circuits and I didn’t want to release any magic smoke when trying to play a 45!
I finally settled on black 3v LED illuminated push buttons and wired those to the original board that held the Start/Stop and speed controller buttons. With the Tone Fader hardware removed from the top plate, there was a perfect space below it to fit the circuitry alongside the new pushbuttons. These were fitted through the rubber base plate and staggered comfortably apart. The three illuminated push buttons are the only external controls on the turntable.
When the unit is off, they are not obviously visible. When switched on, the Start/Stop button is illuminated along with the button relating to the speed selected –Start/Stop –33 –45.
By utilising the original circuit, it could then be simply reconnected to the main circuit board and all functions work as per its͛ standard design. The only step required was to disable to Tone Fader control by jumping the central pins on the main board using a standard computer jumper.
The electronics work on the turntable was now complete and I could go back to spraying the top coat finish. When first sprayed, Plastidip goes on with a very wet uneven appearance, which is always off putting! However, once it dries off in the heat, it ends up a lightly textured matt with a slight rubbery finish.
Eventually, after between 6-8 thin coats, I was happy with the final finish. Once dry, I would begin the re-assembly process and finally see the completed unit.
The simplest way to re-assemble was to have the original donor unit alongside the new unit so I could transfer each component individually. This meant that there was no guesswork or spare screws, which is always a bonus!
Finally, the new uniquely modded Technics SL1200 was ready to go and I could test the new turntable. Whilst I knew that the electronics all worked, there is still always some trepidation testing any new build so I was happy to see that everything worked as it should.
I really enjoyed building something different from my usual work and am really looking forward to seeing what the guys at TVA do to it next …
Thanks Steve, it looks amazing… now time to make it sound amazing with a few upgrades