Doug Franck is diagnosing a phonograph, a 1908 Edison Standard Model C. “It’s a spring problem,” he concludes after removing the lid and spinning the hand crank. His young customer holds up a grease-blotched hand. “It’s well-oiled,” she says.
“Ah, this is nothing,” he replies. “Sometimes I open one up, and it’s like opening a box of oil.” It’s not something you say about a CD player.
Franck opened Las Vegas Phonograph Co. on Decatur Boulevard in February, specializing in antique wind-up phonographs, radios, cameras and telephones. The antique music players, which play cylinders or flat discs and amplify sound through a horn, sell for $350 to $10,500 and come in table-top and cabinet versions.
Thomas Edison discovered how to record and reproduce sound in 1877, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that phonographs gained popularity. Though wind-up models eventually lost favor to electric ones, they remain coveted among collectors. “They make a sound that you can’t get anywhere else,” Franck says. “It will reproduce every imperfection in the record.” Those imperfections are a selling point for record players, with fans contending that the ever-changing sound enlivens the musical experience.
Franck says his customers are locals, East Coast Americans, Europeans and Chinese businessmen. “There’s a lot of people who grew up in the digital age who have decided to look back and see what the analog age had to say, and they like it. Obviously I do—I have 40,000 records at home.”