Wurlitzer 1015Tom's Jukebox Resource Centre

Jukeboxes in the UK - Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to a few questions that I have asked, been asked, or seen asked that may be of help. As a 'non-expert' please understand that much of this is gleaned from reading what the real experts say. If you find any errors or ommisions then please let me know and I will correct them immediately.

The Questions:

  1. Can you tell me a bit about Jukeboxes?
  2. So why are they called 'Jukeboxes'
  3. Can I buy my own jukebox?
  4. Where can I buy a jukebox?
  5. How much does a jukebox cost?
  6. Are old jukeboxes reliable?
  7. Can I play my own records in a classic jukebox?
  8. So what is 'dinking' business then?
  9. Can I still buy 45s and 78s?
  10. Can my 78 player be converted to play 45s or CDs?
  11. Can I restore my own Jukebox?
  12. Are parts still available?
  13. Can I import a jukebox from America?
  14. Where do I start with my restoration?
  15. Who can help me when I get stuck?
  16. Where can I find out more information?
  17. Glossary of terms

The Answers:

  1. Can you tell me a bit about Jukeboxes?
    There is a lot to know, but here is a bit of background information: There are four main manufacturers of Jukeboxes that you should be aware of, AMi, Rock-ola, Seeburg and Wurlitzer. Wurlitzer (with designer Paul Fuller) were the kings of the 'golden age' a period that lasted up until about 1948. The machines from this period are often referred to as 'dome tops' on account of their shape and are heavily influenced by art-deco with lots of coloured plastics and lights. They exclusively play records at 78rpm and rarely allowed more than 24 selections. In 1948 everything was to change as jukebox design entered the 'silver age'. Seeburg produced the M100a which was the first jukebox to allow 100 selections. The machine was a radical departure from previous designs and single handedly broke Wurlitzer's dominance overnight. 1950s automobilia was the main influence of this period with plenty of glass 'windscreens' and chrome fins appearing. A recent revival of interest in classic jukeboxes has lead to manufacturers producing CD jukeboxes based on the original golden age designs.

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  3. So why are they called 'Jukeboxes'
    There are many possible derivations of the word, but the most likely is from the West African word dzugu meaning 'wicked' and was first used in english with a sexual association. Eventually it came to signify a brothel and then, by about 1930, a cheap tavern where lively music is played - a juke joint. Jukebox itself dates from 1937, before which manufacturers referred to their machines as Automatic Phonographs or Coin-operated Phonographs.

    - From Made In America by Bill Bryson

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  5. Can I buy my own jukebox?
    Yes. There are loads of jukeboxes about wherever you are. They are available from all periods dating from the 1920s, right through to CD jukeboxes that are still in production.

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  7. Where can I buy a jukebox?
    There are many Jukebox dealers in the UK. I have put together a list on another page of dealers that I am aware of (let me know if there are others). Most of the dealers will sell you an unrestored restoration project, but they are mainly in the business of selling fully restored machines. Also check out the local small ads in your free papers as they also appear in there from time to time.

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  9. How much does a jukebox cost?
    A jukebox will cost anything from £400 to over £10,000 depending upon model and condition. Machines from the 1970's tend to be the cheapest as they have hidden play mechanisms and are generally considered ugly. The chrome and glass machines from the 1950's and early 1960's are the most expensive of the machines that play 45's, but the big golden age dome top models that play only 78's are usually the most expensive.

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  11. Are old jukeboxes reliable?
    Jukeboxes were designed to take abuse. In there natural surroundings they were left switched on all day, played thousands of records hundreds of times, and often had cigarettes, coffee and beer dropped into them. As a result a reasonably well restored machine is quite able to cope when used in a domestic environment and is usually very reliable.

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  13. Can I play my own records in a classic jukebox?
    Definitely. Be a little careful when playing your treasured 78s in an old jukebox as sometimes the tone arm can be a little heavy and quickly 'eat' your favourite records. Contact a specialist for advice on tone arm adjustments that will reduce this risk. The same also applies (but to a lesser extent) with 45s, and on top of this, 45s in the UK will usually need to be 'dinked' (i.e. the centre hole will need to be enlarged to fit onto the turntable correctly).

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  15. So what is 'dinking' business then?
    7" records that play at 45rpm in America have always had a large centre hole (indeed I have seen Americans ask why they have seen 45s with small holes). The main reason for this is so that record players could automatically select the correct speed at which the record should be played by using a mechanism to establish the hole size (i.e. big hole=45rpm, small hole=78rpm or later 33rpm). Jukeboxes, being predominantly of American origin follow this same standard. Dinking is a term used to describe enlarging the hole on European 45s to allow them to play correctly on American equipment. Special tools for this purpose are available from most UK dealers. Be very careful if you try to make your own device as the hole must be central otherwise play will be uneven, and the correct size (this effects some models of jukebox more than others).

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  17. Can I still buy 45s and 78s?
    Yes. There are still small runs of 45s being pressed of a lot of current music. Much of this is now having to be imported from the States, and it is steadily becoming harder to get hold of. There are also loads of second hand records still about. Check out car boot sales (a cheap and plentiful source of peoples old record collections), charity shops, and look out for record fairs in your area. I will put together a list of UK record suppliers when I get time.

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  19. Can my 78 player be converted to play 45s or CDs?
    Yes it can, but if you want my advice, don't do it!!! If you really want a jukebox that plays your 45s or CDs then buy one that was designed to do it and leave these antique machines alone for enthusiasts who have 78s.

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  21. Can I restore my own Jukebox?
    Yes. I did it and I have no special skills. Be prepared that you will need the following:
    • Lots of space.
    • Lots of spare time.
    • Lots of cash (depending upon the model and condition of the machine).
    Always try to buy a complete machine as some parts are very hard to get hold of. Try and find a friendly local enthusiast to help you out, and never take a seller's word as gospel (remember... they are trying to sell it). Try to look at several machines before buying, and always do a little research first - it is essential to have some idea of what you are talking about. Restoring to a high standard is difficult and will probably need some work to be left to the pro's (chrome work, for example can only be carried out following strict industrial guidelines).

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  23. Are parts still available?
    Well yes and no. There are a lot of old machines around that are beyond repair and are being broken up for parts. There are also a lot of reproduction parts being made by/for enthusiasts. Having said that... some parts are pretty scarce, and the part that you need will almost certainly be the one that everyone else needs and is therefore be the most difficult to find.

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  25. Can I import a jukebox from America?
    Jukeboxes are much cheaper and more plentiful in the states, (it being the place of origin for most of them), and some people do choose to import machines to save a few pounds. Be aware of the following:
    • You are probably buying unseen.
    • You will need to pay import duties. (These are not the kind of things that you can sneak into the country in your sock).
    • Shipping an object of this size is not cheap.
    • Mains voltage and current cycles are not the same here so even a fully restored machine will require some alteration.
    You really need to know what you are doing to import from abroad, but it can be a way of saving a bit of money. It is advisable to buy off an American dealer as they generally give good advice and often have export experience, but it is always a case of 'buyer beware'.

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  26. Where do I start with my restoration?
    I suggest that use the following as a guide to starting your first restoration. Each machine has its own features and problems, so adopt this to suit your machine:
    • Buy a service manual for your jukebox. These are available in reproduction form for virtually all makes and models of jukebox and are invaluable for trouble-shooting and making fine adjustments.
    • Clean up as much as you can (most restoration projects are in a real mess when you receive them, having been stored in a barn or shed for years). Get rid of as much of the dirt and grime as you can, being very careful not to throw out any genuine parts that have fallen into the casing during transit (be careful with that vacuum cleaner), or damage any of the delicate switches or mechanisms. Do not splash too much water about as some components (transformers etc) do not mix well with water. If you think you have been a little too liberal with the water then allow the machine to dry out for at least a week before touching the power supply. (Note: Make sure that you label any parts as you remove them. If you are unfamiliar with Jukeboxes then you will soon end up with a large jigsaw puzzle, and a box of un-used bolts and screws)
    • Ensure that the mains power supply is safe. Many old jukeboxes (AMis especially) used rubber mains cabling which is very prone to corrosion. This will need completely replacing. A transformer will also need to be fitted if the jukebox was built for USA use. Only when all this has been done can you even begin to think about switching on the power.
    A lot of models do need model specific work, so if you are in any doubt get some advice off an expert before you start it up. Other jobs that are advisable include having the Amplifier re-built (capacitors only have a life span of about 30-40 years so most classic machines will need these replaced), replacing the stopping switches, (these are also prone to go, so replace these whilst you have the chance), cleaning/adjusting the leaf switches, and re-chroming any damaged chromework.

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  28. Who can help me when I get stuck?
    There are two main sources of help that I have used when I have become stuck, and between them they sorted out all the problems that I have come across to date:
    1. Local dealers.
    2. Internet groups.
    My local dealers have been very helpful to me (especially if they can sell me a part!!) It helped, I guess, that I bought my machine from one of them. I have also had a lot of help from the jukebox news group alt.collecting.juke-boxes, the mailing list "jukebox-list" (to subscribe send an e-mail to majordomo@west.net with the words "subscribe jukebox-list" in the body of the mail) and the mailing list "British Jukebox Owners" (to subscribe send an email to bjoforum-subscribe@egroups.com).

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  30. Where can I find out more information?
    There are loads of jukebox resources on the Internet. Have a look on my page of links to find out more, and to find some real experts.

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  32. Glossary of terms:
    Jukebox specific terms that you may come across (in alphabetical order):
    • Bubbler - Refers to a jukebox that has bubbles of gas moving through liquid filled tubes. The best known 'bubbler' jukebox is the Wurlitzer 1015.
    • Dinker - A device used to enlarge the centre hole on a record for that it can be used in a jukebox. It is usually some kind of allen key driven clamp that bolts through the original centre hole, and is rotated until it cuts through the plastic.
    • Dome Top - This refers to machines of the 'Golden Age' which had round, arch shaped tops.
    • Flutter - The effect produced when a record rotates too quickly, i.e. everything sounds higher than it should. (See also 'wow').
    • Free Play - The state of a machine when it does not require coins to be deposited in order to make a selection. This usually requires an alteration to the credit unit wiring.
    • Fuller, Paul - Chief designer for Wurlitzer from 1939 to 1948, responsible for many classic designs of the 'Golden Age'.
    • Golden Age - The 'art deco' style of jukebox design. A period ranging from about 1938 to about 1948.
    • Select-o-matic - A revolutionary selection mechanism introduced by Seeburg in 1948 that allowed 100 selection (and later 200 selection) jukeboxes for the first time. It enabled Seeburg to break Wurlitzer's market dominance almost over-night.
    • Silver Age - The 'automobile' style of jukebox design. A period ranging from about 1948 to about 1965.
    • Leaf Switch - A contact switch frequently used in older jukeboxes consisting of thin sprung copper strips fixed in an insulated material at one end, but free to make/break contact with each other when pushed together/apart at the other.
    • Wallbox - A small, remote control unit that enabled jukebox selections to be made without having to be at the main machine. They were commonly used in diners so that patrons could make selections from their table.
    • Wow - The effect produced when a record rotates too slowly, i.e. everything sounds deeper than it should. (See also 'flutter').

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Tom Harvey, jukebox@tomh.demon.co.uk
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This Page was created on Sunday, 21st March, 1999.
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