LEXINGTON- Even though Brian Gorrell is retired, he spends a lot of time in his basement working … and even more time playing.
He plays discs produced in the days before radio on machines that allowed people to enjoy music in their homes.
Gorrell has more than 200 phonograph, including some of the very earliest produced by Thomas Edison’s company in the 1880s that play wax cylinders. He finds them at estate sales, online auctions and antique stores. If they’re not in working order, he does his best to fix them/
“Basically, there are enough collectors in the world and especially the US, that you can get parts, ” he said. “And for difficult parts, there are craftsmen that make the parts so we can still listen to these as they did 100 years ago.”
Over time, phonographs became pieces of furniture., so many of them have the horns hidden behind cabinets.
Many people dismiss the players today because they think they sound scratchy. Gorrell says those people should get in the groove.
“In reality, if you have a fresh needle, say for a disc player, and a good record, it’s remarkable the sound you get and the fidelity just coming out of an acoustic horn.”
Even if you don’t know much about phonographs, you’ve probably used a term associated with them. Many of the models didn’t have volume control, so if you wanted to quiet them, you told someone to “put a sock in it.”
Brian, a retired band director and music teacher, has found some like-minded people in the region. They formed a chapter of the Antique Phonograph Society and meet monthly to share knowledge. And he’s always on the lookout for another machine. His collection also includes music boxes and a nickelodeon.
He’s run out of space in the basement.
“If I bring something new in, something of equal volume taking up space has to leave,” he said.
Now, when Brian fixes up a phonograph to sell, he finds the buyers are mostly young people who are fascinated by something that works so well without electricity.
“A lot of the fun is sharing it with somebody. Letting them see your passion and seeing their reactions,” he said.
His passion is to ensure that 19th century machines keep bringing joy well into the 21st century and maybe beyond.
Many people call the players “Victrolas,” but that was a brand name. Gorrell said “phonograph covers all disc and cylinder players. Outside the U.S, they’re often called “Gramophones.”
You can find Gorrell each month at the Athens Schoolhouse Antique Mall. His booth is in the gym.
Spirit of the Bluegrass is sponsored by Regency Memory Care.
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