By: Royston Maybery 2007




The Machinist’s Phonograph

Hear it Play:

I'm Old but Awfully Tough (Cal Stewart, Columbia 2 minute brown wax, Date:1898)

Casey Jones (Arthur Collins, Indestructible 4 minute, Date:1910)

Medley of war Songs (New York Military Band, Edison 4 minute blue amberol, Date:1912)

Hungarian Rag (New York Military Band, Edison 4 minute blue amberol, Date:1913)

Let Me like a Soldier Fall (Charles Hacket and Chorus), Edison 4 minute blue amberol, Date:1913)

Soldiers of the King (Joseph A. Phillips, Edison 4 minute blue amberol, Date: 1914)

When You Wore a Tulip (Walter Van Brunt, Edison 4 minute blue amberol, Date: 1915)

Call Me Your Darling Again (Elizabeth Spencer, Edison 4 minute blue amberol, Date:1916)

Joan of Arc. (Vernon Dalhart, Edison 4 minute blue amberol, Date: 1917)

Lullaby. (Helen Clark and The Shannon Quartet, Edison 4 minute blue amberol, Date: 1918)

Keep the Home-Fires Burning. (The Homestead Trio, Edison 4 minute blue amberol, Date: 1919)

Video Clip:

Smiler Rag (New York Military Band, Edison 2 minute Gold Moulded, Date:1908)

Compare with some contemporary 78s:

Good Luck to the Boys of the Allies (Louis J. Howell, His Master's Voice Victor 10" disc, Date: 1916)

Goodbye Broadway, Hello France (Peerless Quartette, Columbia 10" disc, Date: 1917)





The phonograph, invented by Edison in 1877, was the first machine to record the human voice.  Edison’s vision was for a business dictation machine.  However, from the latter years of the 19th century to 1929 the phonograph became a medium for recorded music.

            The recordings were cylindrical with a spiral grove on the outside which functioned much like the disk records that preceded compact discs. Unlike many 45s and 78s which were purely lateral recordings,  phonograph cylinders were vertical recordings. That is, the stylus followed a vertical path over hills and dales rather than the zig-zag  path common on mono discs.  Later stereo records were to employ both systems in one groove; lateral and vertical. This last fact is significant in the building of my own phonograph.

Cylinder recordings are collectables which have their own dedicated following.  They offer a view into the popular music from the era of our great grandparents and are a valuable primary source for many historians. 

Cylinders came in a variety of sizes; two minute and four minute duration,  four inches to six inches long, two and a quarter to five inches in diameter. All of these required a different machine for playback.  Specifically the two and four minute cylinders have a different groove pitch; one hundred grooves per inch for the two minute, and two hundred for the four minute.

There is a modern machine currently available on the market which is capable of playing all the various cylinder formats.  It weighs over 100 lbs and costs sixteen thousand dollars and change. For this reason I decided to build my own and being a licensed machinist I decided to call it:  “The Machinist’s Phonograph.”



























Plan View



The Machinist’s Phonograph plays both two minute and four minute cylinders. To do so, the lead screw drive ratios can be altered by moving the belt to the set of adjacent pulleys.  The sizes of the pulleys were calculated to maintain both ratios (1:5 and 1:10) while at the same time using the same belt  The belt  is made from an elastic material and thus allows some stretch.  Because I used a flat belt with crowned pulleys from the mandrel spigot to the lead screw, the inaccuracies due to belt slippage or other machining factors are compensated by the tone arm which  has lateral pivot.  However, this is not noticeable as the tone arm has good linear tracking on both two and four minute cylinders.


















End Elevations

(showing two cylinder sizes)



With the use of different sleeves the tone arm can be raised upon its mount to accommodate pathé intermediate and 5 inch cylinders. Different diameter mandrels can also be easily attached to the drive spigot. The lead screw has  6½ inches of usable travel so it will also accommodate the longer 6 inch Columbia cylinders.

            The current tone arm cartridge holds BSR 78 sapphire stylus from a stereo turntable.  Eventually this will be replaced by a Stanton cartridge.  The treble channel normally wired for lateral recordings has been re wired for vertical.  This allows a clear signal to both speakers.  For 2 minute wax cylinders a glass ball stylus is used (the design of which is courtesy of Mr Lomas. see: phonograph makers’ pages

The knob at the front controls the speed of the AC motor. Its original purpose was a wall mounted switch designed for a domestic fan.  Speed selection is done by ear.  Though a strobe light is a possible future addition.




 Nylon with Steel Axle.

The arrangement below allows ill fitting cylinders to be played without the need for reaming. The taper is: ”ø over 4” length.




















Nylon was used for the pulleys, the mandrel, the tone arm, cartridge holder, and carriage. The rest of the machine is made of aluminium. With the exception of the lead screw, the carriage rail and the spigot upon which the mandrel is mounted, these are steel. The spigot runs in plain oilite bushes pressed into reamed holes in the two vertical aluminium uprights. The belts are vacuum cleaner belts.  The box is wood. The motor is an AC fan motor.  There is a bit of a whirrr from the machine but it is completely drowned out by the recorded sound.


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