Vintage Hi-Fi Info
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Safety With Hifi, Avoid Overheating Hifi & Ground Connections.
Overheating Hifi & Safety
This relates to Hifi items not designed specifically to get hot. Valve amps which get the valves hot because of the valve heaters & sometimes transformers get a bit warm too. Valve amps can overheat, so be used to the typical temperature it is, as if it gets too hot, it'll likely fail.
Obviously, you won't cover vents on a powerful amp as if you do, it'll overheat even if it doesn't seem too warm in the open as it has ventilation from under to the top vents. ↑
Pick it up and give it a good feel for how Hot it is...
No, that's not our Dating tip... It's to see how much your Electrical item overheats. After using an mains electrical item for a while, underneath especially as you may not notice it otherwise, at the back, give it a sniff as overheating usually means something may be getting hot that shouldn't. Beware excess heat may singe your nose or hand. If your electrical item gets hot beyond what you'd normally expect it to, then allow it more breathing space & add bigger higher stick-on feet to it to allow more air to circulate round it, in extreme cases drill holes in the casing, add heatsinks to the hottest parts inside if you know what you're doing only, you may lose the resell value off it, but without it a broken one as it'll soon be is totally worthless. ↑
We Do It Our Way...
The way we see Modern Electrical Equipment today is to take it apart & look for Weaknesses that are going to get too hot and fail, or purposely made weak to break & reinforce them. This sort of thing will Invalidate your Warranty, so best to do it very carefully not to leave any signs of tampering, get the security screwdriver sets cheaply on ebay to at least have a look inside & then once a year has passed & the Manufacturer warranty is over, do as we wish is our way. Getting a Flat Screen LCD TV the first one started going streaky within a few weeks. Here we decided just to exchange it, a few weeks and a failure is no good. Buy Electrical Items from Amazon & your Year Guarantee gets you a Free Return & a Replacement, if it's still in stock. The Second One wasn't great either, it started to go too bright on occasion but reset. This isn't a failure of parts we considered, so took it apart to Service it as we do Hifi & Computers. Problem solved. We noted a couple of Hot ICs so improved the Heatsinking. The plastic behind the LCD screen was not good quality so started smelling as it got warm, so we took the whole screen & bulbs off & relined it with better stick-on plastic. Ventilation was mediocre, so we even drilled more holes in the back plastic casing where it was warmer. As you'd expect, the TV has been fine now for well over a year. Because we dealt with all of it's issues, it's life will be much longer than an untouched one. The make-do, repair, service & prevent ethos in Life is sadly very unfashionable, but it saves you money instead of giving it to greedy corporations. Similarly the TiVo box has been apart twice & the V+ box similarly before it. Computer-based items do need regular servicing, but again prevention rather than cure isn't fashionable. ↑
Makers add tiny low-level feet purposely to let it overheat.
They know you don't move the thing ever usually to even notice. Manufacturers disrespect your money these days after decades of making too-good quality goods that have lasted way beyond what todays ever will. It may look tidier with 'designer features', but it'll fill a bin quicker and you'll go buy another. Move it out of that confined space, take the books off it, stop the cat sleeping on it, move it away from the radiator, don't pile items on top of each other, put it where it can get cool air ventilation, not necessarily a breeze as air moves around a lot even without open windows or you moving much. The days of hifi & TVs in horrible tacky shop-bought general wood cabinets is long gone and you bet they killed the item off early as they got too hot. Hifi pre 1975 used to have purpose made cabinets encasing single items, those are different & are good to have. We first noticed overheating killed an item for these low feet on a Panasonic VHS player, it got hot enough to warp the mechanism so was unrepairable. In those better days, just went & bought another after the Hammer dispatched the dead one, but to be sure the new one got feet ½" taller & then, unsurprisingly, it was fine & never got hot until DVD came along & it was sold. ↑
Give it Good Ventilation
Some items will generate heat & if you put another item on top, you are severely limiting the air flow. One receiver we highly rate, the Yamaha CR-2020 gets hot due to some design weaknesses. Parts that read over 80°C with the lid off can reach just under 100°C when the lid is on but ventilation is clear. But put a Turntable on & how hot will it get then? Probably another 10-30°C. This could spell disaster as older capacitors will be struggling with lid off as they are only 85°C rated & even newer ones rated 105°C will not cope with 120°C+. Unless you move the items in use which is very unlikely, the first you'll know it gets too hot is when things fail badly & you face a heavy repair bill, but will be unaware why. Putting Hifi in a Sunny Hot Window is bad too, one quality amplifier had the power amp capacitors dried out, as they were at the back facing the sun heat. ↑
Class A Amplifiers get Hot
There is a theory that Class A amplifiers sound better. We know that this isn't true at all, at least once we've fully upgraded the amp. The Yamaha CA-1010 is 100w in Normal Class AB mode, yet has 20w of Class A. On getting the amp as original, you can clearly notice a difference in the sound between Normal & Class A. It is therefore 'better' is the thinking. Not for us, once the amp is fully upgraded to a recap-capacitors level, the difference has gone. This amp we have as a reference & upgrading it even further, Class A makes no difference at all. As original, Class A does make a difference, so users of these amps need to be aware Class A means it runs Very Warm to the point of nearly Hot. Now if you have the big matching tuner, guess where it often goes... on top. So if the owner uses Class A they'll be heating up the Tuner too & it's capacitors will dry out. We heard of a Class A 30w EL34 valve amp being used by one reader. He was used to regular Push-Pull type valve amps, but the Heat the Class A amp put out was excessive, even in non Summer weather. The amount of electricity Class A uses is a lot higher, the amplifier is at Full Power constantly, even if not playing music. Apart from the Bragging Rights, there is no need for a Class A amplifier, unless you go for the 1920s Single Ended Triode type amps with 4w, but a 30w valve amp running Class A is just a sales gimmick, try living with one. ↑
If it gets very hot, it'll be failing soon
Too hot is the temperature where you don't want to keep your hand on it for 2 seconds, Excess heat = excess current = excess electric bills running it. Switch the item off at the wall if it appears to be warm in any way whilst it's supposedly off or on standby. Even those 'experts' who say some items should be turned on permanently, from hifi to computers, think of the running costs. An item doesn't fail while it's turned off. A filament lightbulb blows only when you turn it on usually, though today's lightbulbs are designed to fail spectacularly: flash bang plop on the floor, then blow the main fuse & then maybe leave you fiddling with the metal bit with pliers to get the dead end of it out especially if it's an Edison screw fitting in a table lamp, but only with the plug pulled out & the full wire in sight to prolong your electrical-buying years. ↑
You should only expect 5-10 years use
This sadly is your lot out of any item you buy today be it midprice or megabucks: hifi, bed, car, sofa, wife etc, anything less then you've bought a lousy item or you're a victim of corporate theft of sorts, pity you as you try to fix it & see it costs more to fix than buy you. "Gotcha." yell the corporations as you come back to buy the latest model. A high quality item will have one weak part you can't replace properly: the modern "old style" 100w Anglepoise lamps currently £400 have a nasty cheap bulb fitting with push in mains wires, so they spark, corrode, disintegrate & then fail in a dangerous way. Having found this built in obsolescence on 2 lamps we bought 6 months apart, both get daily use & they both failed within months of eachother in the same way. The makers offered to repair them for free, but would only replace it with the same rubbish part. Most people haven't a clue what to do so would go buy another. A wise man would buy 20 x £20 DIY store anglepoise lamps & get 2-5 years use & throw away the bad one & use the new one. A possible lifetime's supply or 8 years supply. You decide. **Now Anglepoise can take the twist Enery Saving Bulbs, the issue is now obsolete. It got ours repaired too as we made some noise about it not being able to cope with 100w bulbs, who would want those hot yellow bulbs now? Remember you are only good to a Manufacturer when you are buying & Brand Loyalty means you'll stick with them. We get tired of the con & when getting any new items check it out to see how we can upgrade it. Currently the Energy Saving Bulbs are proving not so reliable & the stupid things flicker if the cable isn't in a metal pipe in the wall etc as you need a 'CR' unit installed. The last one that failed too fast we tore apart & saw very cheaply made electronics inside it & a burnt out resistor. ↑
Overheating Valve Amps
A valve amp can overheat too, poor current balancing in design windings in transformers can make them run fairly hot & keep a check it's not too hot else it will be OK running fairly hot as designed. Sniff around the amp to smell for burning smells of plastic etc, just like you should sniff a desk lamp etc to check it's not on the point of burning the house down. Beware Swapping Valves-Tube Rolling, as we state on the Valves page this can help ruin a valve amp if you don't Re-Bias the Amp. If the amp is only Fixed Bias then Do Not Swap valves with those alleged "Better" Equivalents, which are usually ones similar but with much different spec & be sure the seller Recommending them has a big stash of them, but No Morals by selling Wrong-Spec valves that can trash your Valve amp. ↑
The built-in obsolescence of modern hifi
is why it doesn't last like the oldies do, if you are buying a pre 1977 designed unit, you are buying an item made before dirty tricks were introduced, else things would last forever & they'd sell nothing ever again. Only capacitors failing is the weak point ignoring human damage. Electrical items today usually fail as they overheat & this is what the makers want: you to go buy a new one. Just one purposely weak part can determine the life of the unit & most people today dispose rather than repair, older readers will remember repair shops for all sorts of things, are there still Shoe Repairs today? Look at the Restoration type shows esp Rick's Restorations on History channel. You can bring back to life 100 year old mechanical items to be as good as new. Try getting your descendants to try repairing your iPhone in 100 years. Oh they'll find a mint boxed one on ebay, you can bet people are hoarding these things. ↑
The world will gladly treat you like a fool with electrical items & you'll go buy a new one.
Look at iPhones, how many versions now? How many stuffed in a drawer? It's like a joke in a film set in the 1920s, Back To The Future thinks us, where they had the modern-day's hifi & then the "old crap" of the time period... "we're not letting them have this good stuff yet." ↑
BAD PANASONIC DVD PLAYER-RECORDERS.
Before Sky & TiVo boxes & other PVRs, the Panasonic DVD-HDDs were big sellers. We bought them & they failed after 2 YEARS. The one we still have that barely gets used now is the DMR-EX75. It too would have failed after 2 years, as the same problem was dealt with to the point of a 5 year old could have designed it better. The circuitry is top notch, but HEAT is the problem. Slightly earlier Pannies had a small heatsink on the power supply board that runs too hot to touch hot. Naturally this voltage regulator circuit is either under spec or poorly designed so draws too much current & can fry eggs. Solution: buy a new regulator for £5 and fit it to the metal case base using usual methods & wires to & from. Add higher feet to the unit & it'll last 10 years or until the laser part fails. The 75 model was a joke, by now it's micro circuitry like your mobile & one postage stamp size IC right at the front as you open the lid has the most feeble heatsink ever, running ridiculously hot. We added a hefty heatsink the length of the inside of the case resting it & fixing it to the output socket nearby. Drilled a row of holes in the lid of the player & it runs fine with just mild heat now it's being dealt with. To replace the failed part cynically meant replacing not just the board, but the whole DVD player system too as they were purposely linked together & matched in some deliberate way. Again with Panasonic, a VHS player a few years before DVD took off, the thing overheated & warped the mechanism weak plastic part so it wouldn't work & part ungettable. This really is the most disgusting obvious weakness for a company like Panasonic to build in purposely & treat with contempt those who used to trust the brand with an item that will definitely fail in 2 years if used as most will use the item, the web forums must still be full of questions why. A later issue that will stop the player working right is a stupid cheap capacitor hidden away under the top boards. The one we missed sadly & it blew a hole in a tiny regulator, but found one on ebay for £2 & fitted it, but it's far from an easy job. Unfortunately there were Bad Capacitors doing the rounds for a few years & there are plenty of pictures of exploded ones, we had this on Computer Motherboards & Soundcards, some can be replaced a bit awkwardly, but as with anything, you are best just buying a new one. ↑
Keeping Old Hifi Safe to Use
We know old hifi will need a full service & clean at the very least. For us, if the outside is in good condition, the inside isn't too important as it can usually be fixed. To take an amp apart, learn it & know exactly what it's about is part of the interest. We know most sellers aren't as sharp as us on knowing what to do & also there will be a diminishing few who know better than us as we're still learning and will be until we stop. It takes time to do a Service & Clean properly, but some amps can take longer, the more complex, the more to take apart & work on, beyond repairs. Basic electrical safety is an issue too, who knows what fool wired the plug or altered the length of the mains cable, we've seen some awful unsafe tinkering. Wires weaken internally on those cable gripping pieces, taped joins with twisted wires but not soldered wires that can be pulled apart, use 1 piece of cable only, refit a new one.
If an amp has been repaired, in our experience, think that the previous tech was a total idiot & check everything trusting nothing. You'll be glad you did as they will often be proven to be. They done what?. Oh yes they did...
The Parents hifi was ridiculously dangerously wired for mains, 3 items with 3 mains wire sets all hand twisted to an extension cable with electrical tape & fitted with one plug. Had they never heard of adaptor blocks or trailing multiway ones in the 1970s with young children about?
Earth cables may have been disconnected due to an earth hum loop, but earthed through an item you don't have leaving yours unsafe. Then fools using a nail in the fuse socket as found with the Leak Stereo 30-Tuner combo. You can use high voltage testers to check mains cable is good, ok for a business but damage is usually easy to spot.
We check an amp over to see it's not obviously damaged or messed with. Taking things apart to look, but ultimately you must plug it in sometime & it might still go bang within a minute. If you have Valve equipment & are not well used to it, don't plug it in even if you think it looks ok, let one who knows be the first to plug it in. Many first plug-ins will be uneventful, but if things go wrong, 300-600v is way ahead of transistor amps that are mostly 35v-63v unless very high power rated. Be safe, consider any old amp you buy to be unsafe, do not trust it or put it near items that could be damaged if there is a bang. Always use a circuit breaker & an unknown amp that's not been plugged in by another, use something plastic to turn it on, Only trust the amp to be basically safe after several hours safe on-time and before that keep checking back for smells & overheating. Unplug it if you've not been in the room a few hours with it being switched on, who knows what may happen. If you've never seen a huge capacitor connected the wrong way go pop & hiss & hot acid going everywhere, or even a little one going pop like a tiny firework, then you may do if blindly trusting an old electrical item.
Be prepared to buy more than one of the same amp (or any collectable item) to make one good one out of. You may get lucky & find a minty one, but often bits are damaged or worse some jackass repaired it badly years ago & done it without the care we'd expect today. You could end up buying even 3 of the same item to cobble together one good & if you can smarten up the 2 lesser ones to sell on at a profit, then there's a good idea. Don't respect things too much & you can progress better with them, as in any area of life... ↑
Do not give ANY credibility to these modern-style PAT safety tests
These PAT tests are now turning up as False Hope on ebay sales on used electrical items, beyond it having a very basic safety check, it's only ben tested not to go bang or have a bad cable & plug. We've read stories online & had items with stickers on that prove it's just BS & not to be trusted. A PAT test basically means they plugged it in & it didn't go bang and the mains wire/plug looking & basically testing OK appears to be the depth of it, a couple of minutes test. These are our views based on the fact any unqualified person can plug an item into a tester & rate an item safe without even looking inside, regardless of longer tests turning up leaking capacitors or overheating or whatever. It takes a trained eye to spot long term faults & what is on it's last legs. Your PAT test will not tell you faults that could prove dangerous in the future, nor will it tell you some fool has put a nail in the fuseholder, as a Leak amp had. It won't tell you wires are incorrect or damage has left Live Mains 1mm from the Casework, we've seen this more than once. It's just extra basic Health & Safety BS nonsense to stop people getting sued but means little in reality.
Only by testing an item after a thorough visual check & having it switched on for at least 2 hours, will let you know the amp is "safe" at that moment. Other faults may develop & they do, but 20+ years unused, an amp will reveal how bad it is within 30 mins, or 1 minute even.
Capacitors dry out & age leaving problems from poor sound & not allowing circuits to ground properly giving heavy distortion or in some cases being so bad all voltages were the HT one. A transistor amp 40+ years old with Elna caps in if not heavily used can still function perfectly, use it a while and only if the sound isn't what it ought to be, all the capacitors should be replaced with quality ones such as Panasonic audio grade ones. We're using a 1968 Sansui 3000A with original Elnas as we type on tidying this page, it sounds great. We did recap it later & the 'great' turned better. Some amps need running in after years of non-use, the sound can go from dog rough to very nice after a few hours playing. When upgrading capacitors, knowledge of the circuit helps and you can find most circuit diagrams for free online. Then you can weed out the bass-limiting capacitors & put in modern values. No signal (excluding tone & filter controls) should go through anything less than 1uf to 4.7uf. The Marantz 1152 from 1977 was with bad capacitors, the phono stage was dead due to dried out caps & even sealed ones read 22uf instead of 100uf. The DC offset was an unhealthy 3v+, good for speaker wrecking. If the amp is pre 1980 you can upgrade the values to the biggest that will fit in the old space, a rough idea of 2x the old value will cause no problems, only expand the sound. But only do this if you are sure it's "right" though, guessing plus electronics isn't recommended for the amateur. The knowledgable user can alter certain gain-related resistors to give more gain (& more heat) and replace crappy ceramic & tantalum capacitors with film or electrolytics. Adding a large value film capacitor across certain power smoothing capacitors adds refinement & focus as RF hash goes, as does a 100-150pf across the phono stage input as later amps will have. You can add a film 0.1uf across any signal or cathode/emitter capacitors for the same outcome. The determined valve amp upgradeer can "fine tune" the valves to their optimal peak values & hear a dynamic sound that is not meant to be heard in domestic hifi. If you don't know circuits & design, don't fiddle as you'll just wreck things. Messing with resistor values without proper knowledge of what their use is will only bring a fried amp or speakers. ↑
Beware Some Hifi Needs A Ground Connection Or The Case May Be 'Live'.
This can be done two ways: by adding a proper 3 core mains or grounding it by another item as is more usual. If you are plugging in a Turntable or any other item, this will ground it. Loudspeakers won't ground it. TV/DVD/Cable TV boxes usually have no ground connection to avoid ground hum loops and you can read 120v from their ground socket to true earth still.
The case could be at 60v to 120v AC Mains potential which can be read with a multimeter from the case to a ground point like the Earth on a plug socket. It's a 'Floating Ground' idea & the amp will still work. Only on turning on are these voltages present. Makers assumed the amplifier would be grounded by external units & in those days it would have been no problem, unless the user unplugged a Source with volume turned to zero but the amp not turned off & the shock would be apparent. How much current could flow is likely an issue too. The Mains wires are unmarked & of the Live side is connected to one wire, you can get either 60v or 120v and swapping the wires in the plug can change a 60v reading into a 120v one. The 1960s Kenwood KR33 is at 86v AC as the TK66 is until you properly Ground it. It'll not be noticeable in use, but hardly ideal & plugging in sources with the amp on might damage what you are plugging in as there is a high voltage difference. Even a 4v AC potential trashed 2 output transistors on one amp as the connector was too loose & it overloaded the amp power stages. The best way really is to rewire with 3 core mains if there is this problem, we can find no easy way out as it must be a transformer design issue as modern TVs use it. We are aware of these amps & the fact we rewire any 2 core earlier mains cable with three core means it'll not be an issue.
They'd not sell Amplifiers like this now & really only some pre 1970 equipment is with this issue. A few years later by 1971 other 2 core mains amps don't have the problem. The 1969 B+O Beomaster doesn't have this issue. It's not a good design idea having a high voltage on the case, even if it's isolated from the mains by the transformer, TV repair shops use isolating transformers & they can get you to touch a 240v section on purpose to show you're not going to get a shock or die. The switch should see the Live mains on those unmarked cables. For UK & European use marked two core wire is how it should be, these old unmarked "table lamp" style wires are not good enough. Yamaha CR-1000 from 1973 uses this but later UK ones have 3 core mains. The switch & the Mains fuse should both be on the Live side, some amps have them on opposite sides to allow the random way the unmarked wires are connected. Later amps with 2 core mains only use Ground from the Secondary, the earlier ones have Ground from both sides. The Primary 'ground' wire on some transformers is only for shielding, disconnecting makes no difference.
The modern idea is ground the the main item, the amplifier or preamp as source units wouldn't be used without the ability to hear them. We used to connect the old 36" Panasonic CRT TV to the main hifi & the TV is at about 120v potential as it's not grounded, but no metal parts to touch beyond phono plugs etc. If all was grounded then the dreaded Earth loop hum problems occur. More recent hifi is grounded in other ways avoiding the case to have a potential, a grey subject on old items. To think they used it like that, or were just lucky & hads a turntable grounding it always. The B+O 4400 has 2 core mains but no live case. Also we bought an amp years ago from a high street second hand goods chain store money converting shop & on checking the plug wiring was safe, never trust anyone else's plug wiring, we found some fool had actually taken out the fuse & soldered in a thick bit of cable. So if a fault occured in the 3A rated amp, it could electrocute you or be a fire risk. Also we've found neutral & earth swapped as well as live & neutral swapped meaning if the switch only worked on live, all was live still on switching off. ↑
Have Your Home Electrics Checked
Seems a waste of time? Not so. Things can age in those Fuse boxes that have the "Lawson" type fuses. Some will still have the old ceramic fuses with wires on screws if by 2016 they should have been long ago updated, usually no-one bothers until problems occur. We're not putting too much detail on things as YOU SHOULD NOT MESS WITH MAINS FUSE BOXES AS THEY WILL STILL BE LIVE EVEN IF SWITCHED OFF. Get an Electrician in, as with anything Electrical, don't mess with it if unsure. Only with the Main meter Fuse removed will Mains be disconnected. We found a valve amp kept picking up Hum but only when the Electric Heaters were on & in cold weather it got annoying. It made us try every possible trick with the valve amp to remedy it, but it kept humming with the heaters & was annoying. Not the amp's fault at all if no other amp we review on this site at the same address ever picked up the hum before. Poor connections result in micro-sparks, from loose connections untouched in too many years & RF noise will mess with the Mains Quality as it puts a hash on it, if we couldn't read anything, the hum is "in the wiring". Earth connections need to be checked too. Anything not hard wired will deteriorate. We sorted this ourself based on Servicing skills as we know how to Electrics safely, if only to a Domestic internal standard, not Meter Box standard. Now the Valve Amp is 'silent' with not a trace of hum, the quietest valve amp ever if all our upgrades trying to solve the hum were useful to know. The sound as of typing is 'cleaner' today. So if your home is even 10 years old, have it checked to make sure all is to Standard still, builders have to meet standards, if lazy Landlords usually won't care as no-one demands safety certificates. Even if it's 1930s fuse boxes it's useable if undamaged, be sure those Electric Stations in some areas are full of 1930s technology running at 150% spec as at our last address they were getting problems a lot, the huge spark as they reconnected the switches to the circuits still left as-was from before failure was a scary thing even for the Electricity guys. They stood several feet away with wood poles. Once a wire caught fire buried shallow underground & outed the mains until fixed. No-one spends money upgrading Electrics & takes them for granted, unless older homes are gutted to fully refurbish. ↑
Any electrical items you fiddle with once the lids are off can easily put you at risk of electrocution, death or just looking stupid as you end up binning it after you blow it up. We are far more reckless than you & we've tried these things & it's how you learn too, if you survive.
We fix amps too & it's hardly risk free though we know how to keep safe there still are surprises that will catch anyone out. Exploding parts, parts becoming live when others fail, it's all there to maim & kill you if you're careless.
Working on an amp when you forgot to unplug it can be a shocking experience, electric items are not toys once the covers are taken off, they can be and are lethally dangerous at all times without the lid. Mains voltages of 110, 240 or higher as in valve amps will kill you if you are careless.
It is possible to touch live 240v mains without knowing, if you do not know circuitry or are just careless. Mains transformers isolate you from the direct AC mains, but safe it is not.
Things we do in our hifi exploits are not ordinary things 'normal' people would think of & we have to censor some of it save it getting found by amateurs who then may fry themself in trying things.
Absolutely anything you do based on what we say on this page or any other in the HiFi pages section is your own risk & not to be undertaken by those who are not qualified to do so & even if they are, it takes years of "hands on" work to be any good. a freshly qualified book-smart tech knows very little.
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