Philco Beam of Light Restoration, Part 2

The Philco Beam of Light pickup works on a highly unique principle, one that was unheard of in the 1941/1942 era where it was in production.

Beam of Light Pickup

Essentially, the pickup has a specially designed light bulb, operating on a high-frequency AC voltage, that shines through a small focusing lens. This light reflects off a pivoting mirror at the front of the pickup, and shines onto a silicon wafer. This generates a voltage which is then amplified.

The mirror pivots on a vertical shaft which is connected through a small arm to the needle. When the needle vibrates in the groove, the vibration is leveraged to the mirror, which rotates and alters the amount of light hitting the silicon wafer. This, in turn, creates a modulated signal to be amplified.

In practice, the system seemed delicate and prone to needing adjustment. But the sound quality in well adjusted units seems to be superior to the traditional phonograph pickups of the era; especially since a tracking weight of 1 1/2 to 1 5/8 oz. can be achieved, extending the life of records.

My unit needed a good cleaning. I was pleased to find that the bulb was still working, having tested it by connecting it to a 1.5 volt ‘C’ battery. However, after a few minutes, the bulb socket began shorting out due to the degraded rubber bushings inside. I dismantled it and used shrink tubing to protect the center portion of the bulb socket.

20141130_182806537_iOSOnce the bulb was up and running, I re-installed it into the head of the tonearm. The needle and arm were detached from the mirror shaft, so I re-soldered that. I also cleaned the silicon wafer and ensured there was good contact with it and the metal frame that holds it. Once it was all back together, I re-focused the light onto the wafer, and tried it out with a record.

Disappointment was the result. The audio was very low, and the noise very high. I tinkered with the focus and alignment of the beam, but I felt fairly confident I had that working correctly. Tinkering further, I grabbed the top of the mirror shaft with my surgical pliers, and twisted. Very suddenly, it began to move freely. The rubber bushings seemed pliable, so I used some silicon lubricant to try to free it up. My next play seemed far better; though the volume was maxed, the quality of the sound was very good.

I have not had a lot of time since December to work on the phonograph, but I am anxious to continue working on this restoration. It will be a real treat to get it working fully again.



Philco Beam of Light Restoration, Part 1

A couple of years ago, I purchased a 1941 Philco 41-620P record player. This model is unique in that it was ONLY a record player, not a radio / record player combination. It was in sorry shape, with a disintegrating power cord, no tubes and a seized motor. I cleaned it up, replaced wiring and bad capacitors, and put it into service.

PhonographThis unit was originally fitted with a Beam of Light pickup, but had been replaced at some point with a more traditional crystal pickup. I worked with this, replacing the fractured crystal with a modern piezoelectric element, and purchased a new stylus for the cartridge.

This worked for a long while, but I wanted to be on the lookout for the correct pickup – the Beam of Light. An opportunity arose in December on eBay – a record changer from a larger Philco radio phonograph came up. Due to the weight of the changer, it was local pickup only – but, as it happens, it was in Syracuse, NY – not too far to drive! The price of $10 was right too.

So, I drove out the day after Thanksgiving and picked it up. I separated the tonearm and pickup from the record changer, and began the process of cleaning it up and restoring the head for use.




I am perpetually short of storage spaces for books. My original iteration of shelves in the home office was good and inexpensive. I used decorative L-brackets, wall anchors, and white melamine shelving of varying lengths. It came out looking pretty well.

Admittedly, the cheap shelves sagged a little under the weight of the books, but they got the job done.

Until they decided they were done.

Fallen Shelf

So, I tore them all out; it’s frightfully difficult to find studs in a wall that is made of plaster and lath. Conventional stud finders don’t work well because the lath will throw off the reading. My technique is typically to drill a small hole, insert a bent wire and twist it around – usually I can find the stud and estimate the distance from my hole to the stud on the outside of the wall.

I wanted a far more robust shelving solution, so I went to Lowe’s and procured a shelving system – consisting of a horizontal top French cleat, fastened to studs, with vertical standards that hook on to that and are then also screwed into studs down their length. To these I attached 9″ shelf hangers, and attached 1×10 pine boards as the actual shelf.


The pine boards are stained with a red mahogany stain, and then spray lacquered with a glossy lacquer. I usually go over them with #0000 steel wool between every few coats of lacquer. Once they have stopped smelling of lacquer, I bring them into the house and wax them, mounting them to the shelf brackets with a 2″ self-drilling deck screw. Gravity would hold them just as well; but I like having them attached.

There is more shelf space now as the shelves have no gaps, but I have yet more to add. I’m tackling this process more slowly as the pine boards are more expensive than melamine, plus the cost of the lacquer. But the overall effect is far better – and matches the desk that I built for the office as well.


Yes, I also need to stain the ends of the shelves…

1934 Smith Corona Silent Portable Typewriter

My mother gifted me this 1934 Smith Corona, as she knew of my mild mania for typewriters. It really is in beautiful shape, with the slightly worn outer case opening to reveal a true gem with almost flawless maroon paint. The key action is also smooth and effortless.

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2014 Pageant of Steam

This past August, I visited Canandaigua with my sister in-law’s husband, Spencer, to take in the 54th annual Pageant of Steam. We had a great time, with me expounding at length on the various models and types of tractors as we strolled the grounds. I am always impressed in particular with the old kerosene prairie tractors, and love watching them fire up and drive around.


See the end of the post for a grouping of short videos from the event!


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Organ Music

Yesterday, during my lunch break at work, I broke out my camera and microphone and made my way down to the chapel to do some recordings of the 1906 Wm. & Chas. Pilcher Pipe Organ that was installed there in 2012. Since it’s the Christmas season, I stuck mostly with Christmas music. Below is ‘Joy To The World’.

Sodus Point, New York

My fiancee Sarah and I visited Sodus Point for the day, and enjoyed the sights. We visited the lighthouse museum, climbing all the way to the top, and went down onto the pier to enjoy the lake. We also enjoyed a very tasty stop for some ice-cream – I had my childhood favorite, Bubble-Gum!

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Lighthouse & Museum

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