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Servicing the Legendary Technics SL-1200 Direct-Drive Turntable

I’ve just finished servicing three Technics SL-1200 direct drive turntables. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this legendary design and look at some basic cleaning and servicing techniques.

I’ve written a review of the Technics SL-1200 series which you should also take a look at.

The Technics SL-1200 hit the market in 1972 and there was nothing else like it when it was first released. It was so popular over the span of its production that over one million units were manufactured when production finally ended in 2010. With the resurgence in vinyl, thousands of people have actually petitioned Matsushita (Technics’ parent company) to try to have the deck re-released to market.

UPDATE – They were successful! You can once again purchase these wonderful turntables

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History

To briefly explain the nomenclature, the SL-1200 models are silver and the SL-1210 models are finished in gorgeous satin black. Various iterations were released over time. The mark 2 is very common but the deck went up to a mark 6 release, each successive mark having better tonearm wiring, fancy piano finishes and the like.

So what is, or was, so good about the Technics SL-1200? Easy, the SL-1200 was to wobbly belt-drive decks what a BMW is to a Lada. Yes, the Lada is simple and for some, that is the most important thing. But in performance, technology and engineering, the BMW walks away from it and so it was with the SL-1200 when it was released. Other manufacturers were scared and so they should have been.

You have to remember what the market looked like when the SL-1200 was released. Rumbly, wobbly suspended chassis belt drive decks were everywhere – Linn LP-12s, ARs, Sotas and so on. These decks were nice enough to look at but lacked the ultimate precision that only a Japanese manufacturer could build into the design. Critically, they also could never be used in the growing DJ market space, where a solid, non-wobbly deck that still had excellent environmental isolation was needed.

Servicing

So let’s have a look at several decks being serviced here in pictures. I have annotated each image to explain what is going on.

Cleaning

So what do I look out for when servicing these decks? I service a lot of them so I have certainly noted some trends. They are usually very dirty, so I clean dust the whole deck and arm assembly with a soft brush and then clean the platter and deck very thoroughly with a special foaming cleanser I use. This removes most of the grime that builds up over the years.

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The first thing I like to do is to remove the lid and platter for cleaning. This then enables me to get a better look at the deck itself and start cleaning dust and dirt away.
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Close-up of the Technics gimbal-bearing arm assembly, with anti-skate force adjustment, arm height adjustment and arm lift lever.
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Removing the headshell allows for proper cleaning of the headshell connectors, rubber grommet and stylus assembly.
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Using a very soft paintbrush, I whisk away dust and loose dirt before I get into the serious cleaning…
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And now we begin the serious cleaning – foaming cleanser is my ultimate tool for this type of baked-in grime
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This foam has to penetrate and one must be careful when applying the foam. I don’t suggest you do this unless you have plenty of experience working with sensitive electronic equipment.
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The foam works through the grease and grime, its an amazing product for this type of work

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The foam must be very carefully removed and the deck dried. This leaves a clean, protected surface.
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Notice how much better these controls look after cleaning

The Motor

The motor or spindle bearing certainly almost always needs lubrication. I find that I need to run decks for several hours whilst checking the bearing occasionally to see if the drop or two of oil I added initially has been drawn down into the bearing.

Most often, I need to add another drop or two and then leaving the deck playing for another couple of hours. You can tell then the oil has finally worked its way through when the spindle itself turns much more freely when spun between your fingers.

You need to look out for loose spindle bearings on these decks. Guys lean on the platter, stack things on them, drop them, throw them in the back of car boots and so on. Any wobble or free-play in this bearing will require a replacement. Lids are often broken or missing completely. Again, they can be replaced.

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Now we come to the motor. You will note I have applied a tiny amount of special synthetic lubricating oil to the bearing shaft, right where it emerges from the bearing well. I like to leave this now, with the deck running, for several hours.
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At this point, we can also clean the platter. I use a foaming cleanser here as well, with a toothbrush for the strobe markings to really get in there and loosen the dirt.
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The deck is ready to receive the platter and a final arm geometry and cartridge alignment

Deck Number two…

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This is SL-1200 number two. These second two decks were both quite a bit more worn than the first Sl-1210. These silver SL-1200’s had clearly been exposed to DJ use.
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Lots of sweat and nightclub induced corrosion visible here.
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Look at what came off just this platter alone.
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I give the whole deck the treatment here

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You’ll notice here how much better this deck looks after a thorough cleaning.
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Much less corrosion visible
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Switches look nicer too
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I clean the headshell before I install a cartridge
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The Ortofon 2M Red is a favourite of mine for replacing the shitty DJ cartridges that you often find on SL-1200’s. This allows for an easy upgrade path for my customers, without requiring even a cartridge realignment.
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They look great on the SL arm and headshell and they fit the headshell well too. They are also easy to align on this deck and suit the mass of the tonearm.
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Finished SL-1200 number two, ready to play records for another 10 years.

 

Deck Number Three!

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Alright, we are up to SL-1200 number three here and this one was bit rougher than the others I reckon.
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Check out the crud on this old girl.
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And spot the missing cantilever and stylus. My customer told me he couldn’t get a proper sound out of his records – this explains why.
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Notice how rancid the strobe markings are on this deck. This one has taken a beating.
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The platter gets a thorough cleaning.
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Then the deck…
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And that means ALL of the deck. I very carefully clean the motor after this and you must be ultra-careful here as there are hair-thin wires leading to the inside of the stator here.

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This is a massive improvement over the before shot
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Doesn’t that look nice. Sounds great too, way better than those awful Stanton 500 carts.
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Finished SL-1200 number three, new cartridge and good to go.

Improvements

With all the servicing done, I often fit a new cartridge. This is because SL-1200s often come with cheap Stanton DJ-style carts that are just awful. I like to fit at least an Ortofon 2M Red, and then my customers can upgrade the stylus assembly as they need to, at a later time.

The 2M range is wonderful in that the body of the cartridge is common to all, but the critical stylus assembly is upgradable from Red, to Blue, through to Bronze and Black. Each time you get a better gem on the end of the cantilever, able to dig more detail out of the groove due to a finer profile and lower moving mass.

Finally, look out for all sorts of dodgy ‘added features’ that people with no idea about turntables or electronics seem to love to add to these decks, usually causing problems in the process. Things like added LEDs, ridiculous platter lighting etc all spell trouble. You want a nice original deck that hopefully has been well cared for if you are in the market for a Technics SL-1200.

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Liquid Mike

As a kid, I cherished my Tandy 200-in-1 electronics project lab, Dick Smith electronics kits, my Dad's hi-fi and my own first proper system. Later, I created Liquid Audio to help keep classic hi-fi gear alive and well. Our mission: to deliver TLC for classic Japanese, American and European hi-fi stereo equipment.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. samuel

    hello mike. thank for the tutorial. what other cleaner can one use if you cant find the foam cleaner? thanks

    1. Mike

      Hi Sam, you can use a mild detergent and water mix if you can’t get the foaming cleanser. You’ll need Mouser, Digikey, RS etc to obtain the right products, but it’s worth it.

  2. Mark

    Hi, Where do you get it in australis , and what type of foaming cleanser do you use please
    Thank you for your help
    Kind regards
    Mark

    1. Mike

      Hi Mark, when you ask where do you get ‘it’ – what exactly are you referring to? I use Ambersil foaming cleanser and many other Ambersil products. Regards, Mike.

      1. Mark

        Hi Mike, I meant the foaming cleanser sorry for the mistake , also just wondering where you can buy the cleanser and how much it is ..
        Thank you for your help very good info
        Kind Regards
        Mark

        1. Mike

          Hi Mark, no worries and my pleasure re the articles and info. All of the products I use are available from industry/commercial suppliers like Element14, RS and Mouser. You can’t find these products in retail stores. Cheers, Mike.

  3. Luke

    Hi Mike, thanks for a great article.

    I’ve found a source for the foaming cleaner. Can the spray potentially harm electronics? I assume you wouldn’t want to fill small crevices etc with it but would small amounts harm anything?

    Cheers.

    1. Mike

      Hi Luke, yes it’s great stuff, use it sparingly and no you don’t want it getting in electronics, but for any chassis or plastics parts, it’s great.

  4. Zeno

    Great tips Mike! My 1200 looks pretty shiny now!
    I’m still trying to remove all the grime and dirt from the black rubber base. I tried soap and warm water but i’m not completely satisfied, i didn’t want to use alcohol. Any suggestion?

    1. Thanks Zeno, I would go back to a foaming electronics cleanser, I use these sorts of products for much of the cleaning I do.

  5. Pedro

    Hey Mike! Thanks for this amazing article and tips. I bought the Ambersil Amberclens, but before applying in the turntables, I wanted to ask you about the proper way of doing it. How long should I leave the spray reacting in the turntable? Also, to clean the residual liquid I use some paper towels? Thanks again!

    1. Liquid Mike

      Hi Pedro, glad you found this useful, just a quick application and wipe away will do it, paper towels work well.

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