Welcome! Here are my opinions. Others may fill in additional details.
(1) Is it ridiculous of me to think that I might play modern records on it? First of all, the geometry of early acoustic recordings is different from modern recordings. You would not hear the fidelity of the recording on Edison or Victrola acoustic machines, and you would damage the modern recordings while trying.
(2) Once you crank, how long will it play? Really strength of spring dependent. Early Edison cylinder machines had spring strength designed to at least play through a 2 minute or 4 minute recording, dependent on the machine type. As spring motor machines evolved, the length of playing time also increased. By the time Edison's Amberolas and Diamond Disc machines appeared, it was not uncommon to get through 2 or 3 recordings easily without a rewind.
(3) Will any old record play on any phonograph? The short answer is no. Edison records were specifically made to play exclusively on Edison equipment by virtue of their being vertically cut, as compared to Victor records being laterally cut, and made to play on Victrolas. Note that Edison machines used a sapphire or diamond stylus sized to the groove of the Edison recordings. Victor machines used steel needles mainly, also sized to the groove of the Victor records. Edison stylii were intended to be permanent, completely reusable, and having minimal wear to the records. Victor needles were intended to be single play, not reusable, and would have wear consequences to recordings if reused.
(4) Is it true you should replace the needle after only 2 plays? Better to replace after every play on Victrolas. Also, remember the cardinal rule. Never play Edison thick records on a Victrola, and never play Victor records on an Edison Diamond Disc. The only exception to the cardinal rule, is with the use of a lateral-cut adaptor on Edison Diamond Disc machines (such as a Kent), that replaces the Edison reproducer with a Victor type soundbox. I think there may also have been adaptors made to allow Edison Diamond Disc records to be played on a Victrola. Of course, none of this was sanctioned or encouraged at the time by either Edison or his competitors.
Gibsonj has given you good advice pertaining to the questions you asked. I'll go a step further and answer a question you didn't ask: "What's the best talking machine for me at this point?"
You mentioned that you're a musician, and with that in mind I'd recommend one of the common Victrolas. ("Victrola" was a trade name owned by the Victor Talking Machine Company, although the term came into generic use.) My reasoning is that you won't need to pay an arm and a leg for the machine, and a wide variety of recorded music will be readily available to you for very little cost (sometimes free). There are millions and millions of 78 rpm records from the 19-teens through the 1950s sitting in attics, barns, and basements. These discs usually sell for 50 cents or a dollar apiece, although you can often find them by the boxful for a couple of bucks at flea markets, yard sales, and antique shops. Once you start looking for them, you'll quickly become adept at recognizing the era in which the recording was made, and you can seek out your favorite music by general type, title, and artist. A $10 box of 78s will get you started. There are scores of different companies represented on the record labels, but most will be compatible with a Victrola.
The Victor Victrolas themselves are well-built, reliable, and easily repaired. As for which Victrola, you can often find 1930s/40s portables for less than $100. These will look like an old suitcase; covered in leatherette of various colors. If you want something more attractive for your home, you can find a tabletop Victrola IV (oak) or VI (oak or mahogany) for usually less than $200. I'd recommend the VI if you want to play a lot of records, as it has a double-spring motor and won't need winding as often. Neither the IV or the VI has a lid. Tabletop Victrolas with lids are the VIII (oak) or the IX (oak or mahogany). These are usually less than $250. (There are also table models of the X, XI, and XII, but these are scarce an unlikely to be found these days "in the wild.")
Floor-standing Victrolas are plentiful and usually inexpensive. Easily-found models include the X, XI, XIV, XVI, 80, 90, and 100. There are others too, but you're sure to find one of these once you start looking. These are all "upright" models - meaning they're taller than they are wide. If you like the Edison "Baby Console," you might like one of the Victrola consoles. These are usually quite inexpensive, although the same quality as the uprights. There are many of these console models, but the ones most often found are probably the 210, 215, 220, 240, and 260. You can't go wrong with any of them - provided it's all there and working.
Once you bring home your new machine, it's important to have the motor cleaned & lubricated. If you or someone you know can't do this, let us know your city and someone will be able to recommend someone nearby. The machine's sound box (needle head) will also need to be rebuilt to play records properly. Many newcomers neglect this vital step, but the hardened rubber gaskets in the sound box will play the records poorly and wear them out quickly.
New steel needles are readily available for around $5 per 100, and less if you buy in bulk. (Don't use a needle you find in a Victrola unless it comes from an unopened package!)
Post by rachaelstarr on Jun 21, 2011 12:46:14 GMT -5
wow, thanks so much! This does make things a lot easier to understand now. It does seem like for a first timer, that I should probably go with a lateral playing machine so that it will be easier to find records. So, on with the search! I will definitely keep in mind that I need to have whatever I end up getting 'tuned up', so I'm sure I'll be back to find a resource for that!
Welcome to the world of vintage music. I have a bit different take. Of the standard type record machines using steel needles I find that of the many out there the Brunswicks are among the best at a coaxing a bit more tone out of many records due to its large diaphragm which produces the sound. They are high quality motors which seldom are noisy. Being a bit less popular often one can be obtained for less than the popular Victor machines. (which I find harsh on many records). Edison disc records are also able to produce tones that are more realistic and have a presence that most others fall short of. But they demand good records and the diamond needle has to be in good shape. The records are also harder to get, although at the moment the prices are off and many can be had on ebay at comparatively reasonable cost. Of the edisons I would look for a Official Laboratory model as they used the larger horns which produce the best tone. But to get going any of the major brands will be fun and as mentioned if you choose a standard flat disc type machine there are lots of things available at reasonable prices to enjoy.