Linn Sondek LP12 Turntable Recommission & Restoration

There aren’t many vinyl lovers who don’t know of the Linn Sondek LP12 turntable. In this article, I recommission and restore a beautiful LP12 that hasn’t played vinyl for 20+ years.

The Linn Sondek LP12 is a famous belt-drive deck from the somewhat enigmatic Scottish manufacturer, Linn. In fact, the LP12 is so famous it even has it’s own Wikipedia page. Incredibly, it remains in production to this day, over 45 years since it’s 1972 debut. That’s an extraordinarily long run for anything, let alone a hi-fi turntable.

Much has been written about the LP12, both positive and negative. Wherever you stand, I’m not out to change your mind. For folks who’ve gone down the Linn rabbit hole, there isn’t much that will entice them back out. On the other hand, some who’ve seen and heard the LP12 will never go down that rabbit hole. Ultimately, it’s a polarising machine, but a lovely one, too.

You can buy one locally if you’d like, from my good friend Pierre @ Revolution Turntable, starting from around $4,500 AUD.

Linn Sondek LP12

In reality, and as I tell ALL my vinyl and turntable customers, a good belt drive, idler drive or direct drive turntable is a  good turntable, period. There are great decks in each category, with strengths and weaknesses based not only on the mode of platter drive. It’s very important to understand this and so it is with the Linn Sondek LP12.

Here, we have a somewhat crudely built deck, especially older units, that can sound very good, when properly set up, with a good arm and well-matched cartridge. The pitch and speed issues inherent in belt drive designs are moderated in the LP12 by a good bearing and heavy platter. Isolation is good and noise levels are generally low.

Is the LP12 the ultimate, at anything? No, there are better sounding decks out there. BUT a well-fettled LP12 sounds fantastic and makes a great vinyl replay system. There’s a strong upgrade path that yields incremental improvements, and so we find ourselves back where we started, with the legend of the LP12…

Recommissioning the Beast

People ask me what’s involved in recommissioning a deck like this LP12. In this case, the deck hadn’t run for 20+ years. It needed a from the ground up inspection, parts audit, disassembly, clean, reassembly, new belt, cartridge, full setup and test.

The deck could also benefit from a new SME arm board and suspension springs, but she will come back to me for these things. My brief was initially to get her back into service so her owner could listen to her again, without spending a fortune.

Anyway, enough gasbagging. If you want to watch my video about the LP12, please do so, below.

Inspection & Disassembly

Linn Sondek LP12 pre-restoration
The Linn Sondek LP12 as she arrived. The best part is I had a cleared workspace at this point, ah the memories…!
Linn Sondek LP12 pre-restoration
Getting ready and just noting a few things. We will need a new Linn drive belt, genuine bearing oil, suspension adjustment etc.
Linn Sondek LP12 pre-restoration
Lid off…
Linn Sondek LP12 pre-restoration
Then platter and sub-platter…
This LP12 has a beautiful Fidelity Research FR1 Mk3 attached to it, one of the cartridges I use. This one is badly damaged though.
And that’s because the stylus was allowed to do this! That’s right, the gem has actually gouged a slot in the wooden arm board of this Sondek. This happened during a move my customer made, many years ago. I can obtain new arm boards from Linn, her owner will probably have me fit one when the deck comes in for her next service. I’ll likely fit new springs at that time.
Removing the base reveals more work to be done.
Linn Sondek LP12 pre-restoration
Some bright spark had bound up the SME arm connector with horrible brown packing tape. This is the stuff that leaves that awful sticky residue. Don’t ask me how long it took to sort this out…
The less said about this, the better…
Linn Sondek LP12 stripped
Pretty much just a chassis now.
The lovely SME 3009 series 2 improved tonearm, with a little of that residue still in place.

Cleaning & Servicing

This next stage involves removing layers of crud, some cosmetic improvements, cleaning and lubrication and so on.

Linn Sondek LP12 cleaning
Chassis first…
I like to touch up paint blemishes where I can. Remember, this was not a ‘make the deck like new’ but more of a recommissioning exercise.

Linn Sondek LP12 oiling wood
This is also a great time to oil the beautiful wooden LP12 cabinet. I use a premium Australian Cedar oil for this type of woodwork.
Linn Sondek LP12 oiling wood
This image shows the amazing difference the cedar oil makes, even after a first pass. I typically make several passes with old, thirsty wood.
What an improvement, after just one pass.

Linn Sondek LP12 detailed

New Cartridge & Suspension Setup

This fabulous, original Fidelity Research FR-1 Mk 3 has seen better days. The cantilever is bent and needs a new gem. I have an excellent re-tipper and this cartridge can be refurbished to like new condition, but we didn’t opt for that here.

For several reasons, I advised the owner to go with a good moving magnet cartridge. The FR-1 is not ideally suited to the SME 3009, being too heavy and stiff for the arm. We also needed to get this deck playing records ASAP.

Poor FR-1 Mk 3…
Fidelity Research FR-1 Mk 3 damaged
A worn diamond and bent cantilever don’t make for a pleasant record playing experience. Interesting to note that the FR-1 is a fabulous cartridge, but not well-suited to the SME 3009. It’s too heavy and the compliance is too low to really work with this arm. Whoever installed it all those years ago goofed.
Fidelity Research FR-1 Mk 3 damaged
This happened as the diamond carved that lovely arc in the arm board I think…
My customer’s budget and equipment led me to this excellent value cartridge, mechanically well-suited to the 3009.
On it goes. Note I’ve also mocked up the sub-platter, platter and mat for suspension adjustment. I chose to re-use the original springs because their memory isn’t too bad and the deck came back into balance quite nicely. I’ll possibly replace the springs when she comes back to me for a few more bits and pieces, next service.

Ortofon 2M Bronze

Linn Sondek LP12 setup
Note the LP12’s cleaner underside and suspension adjustment springs. I checked/tightened everything of course, too.
Linn Sondek LP12 setup
Suspension adjustment and wiring tidying details.
Linn Sondek LP12 setup
Linn used this arrangement on older decks to preload the bearing in these cheap clock motors. I added a drop of synthetic oil to the thrust bearing.
Linn Sondek LP12 service
With the suspension adjusted, it’s time to add some genuine Linn bearing oil to the clean bearing well. This stuff isn’t cheap.
Linn Sondek LP12 service
That’s how clean the bearing must be before adding oil.
Linn Sondek LP12 service
And here she is, with oil, re-levelled suspension and new genuine Linn drive belt.

Linn Sondek LP12 service

Final Adjustment & Testing

Nearly done now and all we have left to do is set all the critical tonearm adjustments. That includes the things most people don’t do properly – vertical tracking angle (arm height), azimuth, lateral balance on the 3009, anti-skate and of course overhang (with an SME protractor) and tracking force.

Quiz question: All done except for one thing – can you tell which it is..?
Linn Sondek LP12 service
Time for testing, with actual records!

The Recommissioned Linn Sondek LP12

So, here she is, in all her glory, the recommissioned Linn Sondek LP12. She sounds fantastic, as one would expect of this fairly basic but well setup older deck, with lovely arm and cartridge.

Linn Sondek LP12 restored
The lid looks great after a deep clean and polish. Her owner was stunned when he walked in. remember how it looked before..?

Linn Sondek LP12 restored

Linn Sondek LP12 restored
Cleaned, original mat.
Linn Sondek LP12 restored
Cleaned, touched-up arm board and tonearm.

Nice, level suspension and even platter height above the top plate.
Linn Sondek LP12 restored
Clean platter and restored wood details…
I love a bit of restored wood, so bear with me…

Linn Sondek LP12 restored

How nice does this look? I’m very pleased with the results.
Linn Sondek LP12 restored
Finally, the complete and finished deck, in all her glory.
Linn Sondek LP12 restored
Stunning. Her owner and I were very pleased with this one!

As always, if you would like me to look at your Linn Sondek LP12 or any other classic belt drive deck, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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