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It was thirty years ago that my husband and I bought our first phonograph. It didn’t work but it came with a box of cylinder  records and that was intriguing. We were doing an outdoor antiques show at the time and it was just slow enough that 
Robert had the time and talent to make the phonograph work. When he finally wound it up the sound carried across the 
lawn to entertain all of the vendors and buyers. At that point were hooked. In the following years we bought and sold many 
phonographs always encouraging our buyers to enjoy their purchase and not to be intimidated by it. We made it easier by 
providing some standard information which I would like to share with the Ruby Lane community.

The following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding cylinder phonographs and cylinder  records. Keep in mind there will always be an occasional exception to the rule.


Occasionally your machine will need a little maintenance. Originally, most phonographs came with a tube of grease and a  small oiler for this reason. Using a light weight oil such as a sewing machine type, apply a couple of drops to the long 
threaded lead screw which is located to the left or directly behind the mandrel where the cylinder goes. Also put a few drops 
of oil on the bar along the back & the ledge across the front that the reproducer carriage rides on and on the pivot points. 
Once in a while you will also need to apply a light weight grease to the gears of the motor and a little oil to the pivot points & 
pads of the governor (usually a three weighted mechanism that spins while the motor is running).

If your machine has a large horn you need to be certain that it does not cause the machine to bind up. With one finger you  should be able to move the carriage back and forth along the ledge (the needle should not be engaged for this test). It 
needs to be moved on the ledge and not float above it or cause drag. If you can’t do this, the horn is hung incorrectly and 
the phonograph will not play properly. Lengthen or shorten the chain from which the horn hangs until it moves freely.

A "C" reproducer is for playing 2-minute records. An "H" reproducer is for playing 4-minute records. There are many other  reproducers but these are the two most common.

If you purchased a phonograph which plays both  2 and 4 minute cylinders, remember you have to make the necessary  changes. You must change the speed with the gear changing device to the appropriate speed for the record you are 
playing. Then you must select the appropriate reproducer, as described above to co-ordinate with the speed and cylinder 
you've chosen. If you have a reproducer with two stylus, check to see that the co-coordinating stylus is being used by 
rotating the plate on the underneath side of the reproducer. The stylus you want should be positioned at the top side of the 
reproducer. If you consistently use the wrong stylus with the wrong record you can damage the record (if it's wax), and you 
will damage the stylus. If you play a record at the wrong speed it will not sound right and you will end up doing damage to 
the grooves of the record and the stylus.


BLACK cylinders are 2-minute records UNLESS there is a 4M along the title edge, then it is a 4-minute record. Many black  cylinders are made of a hard wax but some are made of a plastic material like celluloid. These were made by a variety of 

BLUE cylinders are 4-minute records. These, generally called Blue Amberol, are made of a plastic material similar to  bakelite. These are typically made by Edison.

The mandrel of the phonograph is tapered and the cylinders only go on one way. A general rule is that the title edge faces  the right. Do not try to force a cylinder onto the mandrel. The cylinder should fit snuggly but don't try to push it on too far or 
it may break, especially if there happens to be a hairline crack. When removing the record it is best not to pull it off, instead 
push it off from the back side supporting the front edge so you don't shoot it off onto the floor.

Determining the condition of a record is an uncertainty at best. We all take our chances when buying them. Most places will  not take them back (I haven't found one yet). It's also seldom that you get the opportunity to listen to them before buying 
them but here are a couple of tips to consider when looking to purchase cylinders:

Check the shape: they should be round. Some, especially ones with plaster or cardboard inside liners, can become  misshapen and deformed, especially if they have been subjected to moisture. Also check to see that no chunks of plaster 
are missing from the inside.

Check the outside appearance. Look for a consistent sheen to the groove pattern. Look for cracks and deep scratches  across the grooves. A consistency in color(whatever color) is preferred, but not always a determining factor. Then cross 
your fingers!

And yes, cylinders can be cleaned-Gently! Records with plaster or cardboard liners should be cleaned lightly with a soft,  moist...not sopping wet, rag using mild soapy water. DO NOT immerse the cylinder. Always work with the groove pattern, 
not across it. The same is basically true for the wax cylinders. Care should be taken to leave the cylinders and any cleaning 
water to sit side by side for several hours to allow them to become the same temperature, otherwise you may end up with a 
cracked cylinder. Lastly go over the cylinder with clear water and gently dry off. Be careful that you don't apply a lot of 
pressure to a wax cylinder as you can literally crush them, especially if there happens to be a hairline crack.

Please understand that I cannot give each person a lesson on the use of their specific machine but I hope these tips will  help you to feel more comfortable with your phonograph. Most importantly, don't be afraid of your phonograph, play it and 
enjoy it!Phonographs & Their Records

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