THE SCHAUB LORENZ MUSIC CENTER


  Devised, researched
 and written
  by
  Peter King Smith BSc

                                                         The mid-1960s, German-built multi-track tape recorder with FM/AM/SW radio

  Mike Solomons: Repairer

Oracle

Walking encyclopedia on hi-fi & audio

While trawling the Internet again, I came across a small radio & hi-fi business in north Harrow. The owner, Mike Solomons, turned out to have 40 years' experience of repairing radios and hi-fi equipment. Not only that, he seemed to be a walking encyclopaedia on audio and hi-fi equipment, and, as I later found out, receives a constant stream of phone calls and e-mails from members of the public wanting to consult the 'oracle' about audio and hi-fi products and their reparability, among other things. 

 

Repair workshop on Henson's premises (1970)
After an exchange of e-mails, I arranged for Mike Solomons to repair my Schaub-Lorenz Music Center for me in the coming months. What I found even more amazing was that this audio/hi-fi repairer had actually set up a repair workshop in the early 1970s, in the very wholesaler's premises where I had bought my first Schaub-Lorenz Music Center back in 1969: Henson's of north Finchley! But I am running ahead of my story...



Starting out

Solomons quit school after mock 'A'levels

Despite enjoying a grammar-school education, Mike Solomons admits that he did not do well at school, and simply upped and walked out after mock 'A' levels. The school was "too specialised in the Arts", he said, whereas Solomons was more "practically" gifted.

 

Modest start-up capital

Mike was only too happy to talk about himself, his past, and to share his recollections of repairing Schaub-Lorenz Music Centers. Mike started out in the repair business with £20 in the bank, his late grandfather's car, and some test equipment and components originally bought for his hobby.

 

City & Guilds in 'Radio and TV Repairing'

Undaunted by his bold decision, Mike obtained a City & Guilds qualification in 'Radio and Television Repairing', and has been running a radio and hi-fi repair business under various names ever since.

In search of new business

Solomons pays wholesaler Hensons a visit

It was after setting up a radio and hi-fi business in Edgware, London (Radio & Hi-Fi Service) in early 1970, that Mike heard about a small UK wholesaler called R. Henson Ltd of north Finchley. One day, Mike happened by Hensons the wholesaler, intending to buy goods and drum up some work for his new repair business.


Schaub-Lorenz sells off faulty machines

Standard Elektrik Lorenz's consumer sales division, Schaub-Lorenz, was forced to buy back large numbers of faulty units from unhappy German retailers, and in order to cut their losses, had to sell off the (returned) troublesome units to various interested parties, one of whom was Henson's.


Hensons buys machines from Schaub-Lorenz

Hensons had "....bought a batch of these faulty machines as scrap..." from Schaub-Lorenz, had them shipped to England, and were already selling them by the time Mike turned up on the scene. At that time, Mike says: "Henson's was being run by a father and two sons, and at least two other employees".

 

Repair facility set up to handle guarantee work

Mike Solomons believes that in the early days, music centers were sold without warranties and therefore carried a cheaper price tag. By the late 1960s, however, the sale price had risen, presumably to cover the cost of the one-year guarantee Hensons offered on later machines. As it turned out, this was a wise decision, as many of the machines failed within three months of purchase, obliging the wholesaler to organise a repair facility.


Selling prices in UK

The price customers paid for a music center varied widely:

  • Mike Solomons recalls that the later units that Hensons purchased from Schaub-Lorenz were "new, unused stock", and so although they were more expensive (± £89) [1], they were probably "better value for money" than the used or recalled music centers that he had been used to repairing earlier on 
  • The author recalls paying £89 for his machine
  • Lasky's, a retail chain, bought up a large batch of these music centers, probably from from Hensons, and sold them for £69.95 [2]
  • Michael Poll in South Africa purchased his 5001 music center second hand in Woodside Park, north Finchley, London, in August 1968, after seeing an ad in the personal column of The Times; although he cannot remember exactly how much he paid for the machine back then, he did keep a flyer that advertised the price of the 5001 Music Center at a staggering 275 guineas (£288.75) (see Adverts)
  • Mike Solomons had also heard of music centers being advertised for £275, but never met anyone who had paid anything like that for a first-hand machine

Selling prices in Germany

In Germany, the launch price of the music center was DM 1248. For an extra DM 48, you could purchase the optional, four-legged metal stand. Source: www.vintage-radio.com.


The launch price of the 5005 radiogram model, which included a record player, radio and tape recorder, was DM 1498, although the author has come across erroneous reports that the 5005 model was twice as expensive as the 5001 model (i.e. DM 2496).


Footnotes 

1. Author.

2. See Lasky's advertisement for the 5001 Music Center, showing selling price (late 1960s) in 'Sales adverts (5001)' in Miscellaneous.


Synergy

Selling disaster

Henson's soon discovered that the machines they'd bought were, according to Mike, "extremely unreliable", making them a "selling disaster". The failure rate of these music centers, Mike said, was "never better than about 90%, on or within three months of delivery".

 

Hensons desperate to repair faulty machines

Mr Henson Snr. was "desperate to get these machines working". During his visit, Mike Solomons and Henson Snr got talking and quickly recognised the synergy between their respective businesses. As a result, Mike soon found himself repairing a large number of Henson's music centers being returned to the wholesaler under guarantee. Henson's then decided to buy in more machines, selling them at a "very good profit", Mike recalls, to private customers and retail outlets (e.g. Laskys).


Repair facility for handling increasing guarantee work

Mike was never employed by Henson's. "I simply took on the repair of as many machines as I could manage". In fact, at one point (1970) Mike was repairing so many machines that he decided to set up a temporary workshop in a spare room on Henson's premises.


Dab hand at repair
Even though they were very unusual radio-tape recorders at the time, full of state-of-the-art electronic circuitry and mechanics, Mike, who became a dab hand at repairing the machines, was paid the princely sum of one pound sterling per hour to turn as many faulty music centers into reliable ones as he could. He was able to repair "as many as eight units in a day" when he was doing guarantee work for Henson's.
"It takes a certain type of nutcase to be able to mend these machines!", Mike remarks candidly. "Given that you were such a fast worker, wouldn't it have been better to have been paid on a piece-rate basis?, I enquired. "Yes, in retrospect, it probably would have been", Mike replies.


Schaub engineer visits Henson's

Very clever German engineer

Not long after Mike began repairing the Schaub-Lorenz machines, Henson's arranged for a "senior Schaub-Lorenz engineer to come to England to train a group of engineers". As it turned out, Mike was "the only engineer in that group", and so he received a one-on-one training in how to service and repair these machines, from a "very clever German engineer" who was described to Mike as the designer of the music center. He was not able to recall the name of the engineer.    

 

See Unusual uses.


Hobson's choice

Few repairers able to fix machine

Once I had discovered all this, I asked Mike if he would repair my music center for me. Did I have any choice? Only Hobson's choice! Mike is not aware of anyone else, either in the UK or elsewhere, who could carry out repairs on these machines, which, he reliably informed me, need to be carried out by a "skilled and experienced repairer. The average DIY-er", he claimed, "would not have the skill or know-how to do the job properly."

  

Expensive repair with 12-month guarantee

My time capsule would not be cheap to repair either. Mike estimated the repair work would set me back £300-500 (max.). However, given that Mike has a three-language service manual [1] for these music centers, has hands-on experience of repairing these machines, and would guarantee his workmanship and any parts replaced for 12 months, I felt confident that I would be making a sound and worthwhile investment.

I now know of other repairers who can fix old Music Centers, so contact me if you need a cheaper repair job


Footnote
1. Contact author if you need to obtain a copy of the two
 service manuals. 

***