It used to be that only someone over the age of 50 could proudly tell you the name of their first vinyl record. But vinyl records are hot sellers again and millennials are doing a lot of the buying. In fact, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, in 2019 U.S. vinyl sales grew by 14.5% — continuing a decades-long increase in vinyl sales. It’s this same love of vinyl that led Jeff Brough to find his passion for restoring mid century modern stereo consoles. Along the way, he realized he was restoring much more than just a record player.
I spoke with Jeff in his shop, Swag, located in an old yellow building along the main street of the small northern California mountain town of Boulder Creek (population just under 5,000).
His shop is meticulously arranged and primarily stocked with mid century modern stereo consoles and a solid collection of vinyl as well as other vintage treasures from the mid-20th century.
How did you get started in restoring stereo consoles?
“I spent about 30 years in Silicon Valley working in the tech industry. After I left the tech industry I had more time to pursue my music passion. I’ve always been a musician – mostly percussion and singing harmony. I play in a couple of bands.”
“So I’ve always been a music fan but I also have an interest in good design. I had been getting back into vinyl records and had purchased a portable record player and was disappointed in the sound. I came across an old stereo console listed for sale on Craigslist. The guy called it a big monster and just wanted to get it out of his house. The sound was much better than the player I had. That experience got me interested in these big stereo consoles from the 1950s-1960s.”
“I found the next one while looking for vinyl online. The seller also had a stereo console with a bar on one side and the record player on the other side. It was non-functional so he sold it to me for $75. I’m good at fixing mechanical things like the turntable but not the electronics like the tubes and speakers so it looked beautiful but wasn’t functional when I sold it for $750. It always bothered me that it didn’t work.”
“But a year after it sold the person who bought it asked if I wanted it back – she was remodeling her house and didn’t want it anymore. I have since robbed it of its components for other restorations. So that story has a happy ending!”
“I took the money from that original sale and started looking for more consoles to restore. I watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to restore them! I often use a stethoscope to diagnose what needs to be fixed.”
“My business really took off though when I found someone who could fix the tube technology. These people are electronic wizards and I was very glad to find them. Now I had the ability to purchase any console I wanted and would be able to completely restore it including the cabinet, the mechanical and the electronics. Tube technology sounds great because it is a much warmer and richer sound than solid state.”
“I try to keep the original pieces and restore them instead of replacing with new parts. The only modern touch I sometimes make is to add a discreet Bluetooth module. I try not to modernize them because it is like putting 18-inch wheels on a hot rod.”
Why mid century modern?
“The look is timeless and the size of these stereo consoles is right for the smaller homes that many people live in now — especially millennials. It is a well-known trend that younger people are into vinyl records. They need a record player to play them on and they want mid century design.”
How do you find them?
“I go to estate sales, flea markets and other secret places – I’m my own picker. I also take commissions if someone owns a console and needs it restored. I love buying from a private seller — someone who is selling his or her father’s console, for example. In the1950s and 1960s these stereo consoles were often the hubs of where the family gathered. So they have lots of memories associated with it and they love that it will live on in someone else’s home and not end up in the landfill.”
Do you have a favorite manufacturer?
“I love the sleek design of the West German models. They just have a bit more design flair to them. The U. S. manufacturers were a bit boxier with their design. The most popular German models in the U.S. were Grundig, Telefunken and Blaupunkt. The popular U.S. models were Magnavox, RCA, GE and Zenith. I’ve restored all of those models and more.”
I see that you give them names?
“Yes, it is very hard to let them go once they have sold. I give each new owner a birth certificate. I give each console the first name of the previous owner and the last name is the manufacturer. If I don’t know the name of the owner I use a geographic name or some identifier of where I purchased it. The date of birth is the year the console was manufactured. So for example, I have a Josephina Zenith born in 1959 and a Zoland Blaupunkt born in 1958 in my shop right now. I also have a Prawn Telefunren born in 1960 – Prawn because it was purchased from a San Francisco fisherman who didn’t know the name of the original owner.”
“The birth certificate also includes stats on the console like if it is tube or solid state technology, does it have a stacking mechanism to play 45s, etc.”
What was your first vinyl record?
“My first vinyl was a little blue and white tote of 45s my brother gave me that included Elton John – Daniel, Chicago – Stronger every day, King Harvest – Dancing in the moonlight and Rare Earth – Get Ready. These songs are permanently etched into me.”
Looking for more about mid mod collections? Check out this post on retro kitchen collectibles.