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 Post subject: Wollensak T-1500
PostPosted: Jun Sat 23, 2018 12:38 am 
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Joined: Jan Thu 01, 1970 1:00 am
Posts: 4227
Location: Boston, MA USA
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This is the Wollensak T-1500 tape recorder I found at a regional antique festival in MA. I was mainly curious rather than interested, as I have an excellent stereo tape recorder which I use frequently, and didn't really have much need for a mono machine. But this model has great historical significance, and when I saw that it was complete with its original vinyl slipcover and all accessories (including the very hard-to-find power cord), I offered $10 and it was in my hands.

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Wollensak T-1500s were ubiquitous when I was growing up. They were in every school, office, and in the homes of individuals who could afford them. Tape recorders in the 1950s and 1960s were personal luxuries and the Wollensak was definitely on the high side -- $200, when $2500 would buy a new Chevy. They were the first mass market tape recorder to offer true high fidelity performance, and became renown for their powerful 10-watt push-pull amplifier, easy controls, rugged all-metal construction, and particularly compact size (more on this later).

The T-1500 was the key member of a series that included the T-1515-4 (mono record and stereo playback through an external amplifier), T-1500SS (solid-state amplifier), and T-1580 (4-track stereo record and play). All were housed in a compact metal case. The T-1500 was introduced in 1958, replaced by the nearly identical T-1500SS in 1967 which continued as an "AV" model until 1981 for a 23-year run. Going by date codes my machine was made in mid-1963.

The machine seemed to have been stored in a dusty, damp environment but the vinyl slipcover was effective -- the only corrosion was on the metal handle which projects through the slipcover, and the machine was quite clean. My wife is very concerned about items from the antique festival carrying small creatures into the house, so while still in the garage I popped the bottom cover off the Wollensak. Except for a couple of very small very dead spiders it looked pristine inside, nearly brand new, and with no evident attempts at servicing. So far so good.

In spite of all my experience using these machines over the years, I had never attempted to repair one. It became clear very quickly that they are constructed very differently from any other tape recorder. Instead of merely lifting a chassis out of a Tolex-covered wood case, the Wollensak is opened by disassembling the metal clamshell -- unscrew the fasteners holding the sides to the chassis which releases the front panel. The machine is constructed with three chassis: amplifier, transport bottom holding the motor and reel spindles, and transport top holding the controls and head assembly. Removing the amplifier for recapping was easy, but the very compact and congested chassis meant that the four FP cans had to be re-stuffed, no under-chassis space at all! There were two plastic tubular capacitors which I replaced, but all other capacitors were ceramic or mylar film. All resistors checked out well within tolerance and seemed to be the superior A-B type rather than the drifty IRC.

Recap done I reassembled the unit to test. After a thorough cleaning and demag I tried a full-track tape I had recorded years ago and was very pleased at the excellent sound quality, just as I had remembered. I was not pleased at the wavering speed, grinding noises, weak takeup, and no fast-forward. Now it was time for a complete disassembly including separating the two transport chassis. This is not for the faint of heart, but is necessary to replace the stretched takeup belt and to thoroughly clean and re-lubricate all the idler linkages. The joys of a single-motor tape recorder! Reassembly was extremely fiddly and took several attempts to get everything in the mechanism lined up and engaged correctly. If I have to do it again I will be able to much more quickly!

Reassembling the metal case is also fiddly, but when lined up correctly everything goes together and is very secure. The machine was clearly designed to be disassembled for repair, but the very compact construction does make it complicated.

And it was successful! The T-1500 operates at 100% and the controls feel just like I remember them. I made a test recording and was extremely pleased at the performance. It could use an increase in bias to conform to the low-noise tape I have, and I really should tweak the head azimuth but am not rushing to do so because the adjustment still has its original seal on it, and the machine does interchange tapes very well.

This historic machine is a nice addition to my collection.

-David


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 Post subject: Re: Wollensak T-1500
PostPosted: Jun Sat 23, 2018 1:37 am 
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Joined: Jan Tue 26, 2016 7:37 pm
Posts: 161
Location: Lexington, NC
I have many fond memories of the Wollensak. I worked in the media center of my high school for two years and got to know the school's recorder very well. I remember taking apart the take-up spindle and finding leather-faced surfaces to aid in braking. I don't know if all the models had this, but I was impressed. David, you describe the assembly and reassembly well. They are very compact units, especially the stereo versions.

I also remember the excellent pause control on these recorders that could almost imperceptibly edit out snippets very well, as good or better than cutting the tape. The only problem was the pause control lever was metal and cut into your index finger and didn't lock down. It made edits without a click or a pop and no speed variation and it worked really well editing music with its instant start and stop.

Yes the power cord is hard to find. I also recall the mikes for these machines worked exceedingly well for such a small mike. They also had an odd plug on the end, not quite the usual size phone plug. That plastic slipcover is great to have and you can put the power cord and take-up reel in there. The cord will also fit under the white metal cover, but not easily.

Thanks for telling everyone what you had to do to bring it back to life.


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 Post subject: Re: Wollensak T-1500
PostPosted: Jun Sat 23, 2018 3:34 am 
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Joined: Jan Thu 01, 1970 1:00 am
Posts: 380
Location: Olympia, Washington
Years ago, I had Wollensak 1520AV recorder. For a solid state model, it was excellent!


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