Linear tracking turntables are significantly more complex than your average pivotal arm turntable. Linear mechanisms need regular maintenance to keep them running at their best – and to prevent mechanical errors causing damage to your precious vinyl.
One of the most prolific manufacturers of consumer-grade linear-tracking turntables was Technics/Panasonic. During the 70s, 80s and even 90s, Technics produced a huge number of linear tracking turntables – many of which are still in use today, and many of which can also be found on the second-hand market. I myself have owned countless Technics linear tracking tables – and each one has been meticulously serviced and restored to full working order.
It’s my goal here to share some servicing and maintenance tips with you in this post. Basic maintenance of these machines is not hard to carry out, can be done at minimal cost, and takes little time. Hopefully this information is useful to some of you out there – though I won’t be held responsible for any damage you should cause yourself, your turntable, or to any other human being, animal, or inanimate object as a result of following these instructions. With that in mind – let’s get started.
The Linear Mechanism.
The main cause of mechanical failure in these turntables is dry lubrication. The tonearm rail and gears are coated with a layer of thick grease which, after 25 years, forms a dry, sticky substance. It’s not particularly difficult to remove – depending on your turntable model, accessing the mechanism usually involves removing either the mechanism cover from inside the lid, the lid itself, or both. The correct service manual for your turntable is invaluable at this point – many of which can be obtained from Vinyl Engine.
Once inside, remove all grease and lubrication using 1 of many commercially available cleaners – alcohol works best. On many models, it’s necessary to remove the tonearm rail to clean it properly – if you don’t, you’ll have to continuously move the tonearm back and forth by hand to ensure all the old grease is remove from its bearings. While your’e in there, don’t forget to clean the pulley of the little DC drive motor, as well as the pulley connected to the worm gear.
Once the grease has been removed, relubricate by applying a thin layer of dry teflon lubricant to the tonearm rail. You can also apply this to the drive gears – or you can use thin gear/bearing oil, either will work.
While you’re inside, it’s a good idea to replace the tonearm drive belt. These small square belts are readily available online. If you don’t have one to hand, cleaning the belt will generally serve to keep it running until you’re able to obtain a new one. Once complete, the mechanism should run smoothly, with the arm traversing evenly across the record at a continuous and steady speed.
The Main Bearing
The final step in the maintenance of these turntables is to re-oil the main bearing. This is done by removing the platter, and then the bass of the turntable. A small bracket beneath the spindle needs to be removed to reveal the C-Clip securing the spindle in place. Remove this clip with a small, flat-bladed screwdriver – at which point, the spindle should come free.
With the turntable up-side-down, removing that C-Clip can at times be difficult as it’s impossible to get a screwdriver between it and the base of the motor board. I find that placing a ball of scrunched up paper, a scrunched up cloth or some paper towels between the end of the spindle and the lid pushes the spindle out and makes that clip much easier to remove and install.
Next, it’s time to clean everything. Clean the spindle, the spindle hole, and the small bracket which you removed earlier with the same cleaner you used for the linear mechanism. Make sure to get every last drop of old bearing oil from inside the spindle hole.
Next, replace the spindle and its C-Clip. Put a drop or 2 of turntable bearing oil on the bearing end, and replace the bearing bracket. Next with the turntable right-side-up, apply several drops of bearing oil to the shaft of the spindle, by lifting the spindle by hand and applying the oil in the gap between it and the motor board. turn the spindle to allow the oil to drop down into the shaft. Do this until the spindle doesn’t rub on the surrounding metal – the result should be a free-spinning, silent-running bearing.
Note – this procedure differs somewhat on the SL-10 turntable and its variants. These turntables use a mechanism similar to the Technics SL-1200, and are disassembled from the top down.
And that’s it. That’s all the regular maintenance these turntables require. Linear tracking turntables do have several adjustments which should be checked if the turntable has been sitting for a long period of time (several years or more). However, these adjustments require specialist equipment, so we won’t touch on them here. If, after following the instructions in this guide your turntable runs smoothly and sounds good, it’s generally safe to assume it’s running within spec and that, for now at least, adjustment isn’t necessary.
In a future post, we’ll discuss adjustment of the track detection mechanisms, as well as maintenance of fully and semi-automatic pivotal arm turntables. That’s all for now – e sure to share your maintenance tips in the comments below!