Garrard 401 Bearing Upgrade

Garrard 401 Bearing Upgrade
Garrard

I have been fortunate to own a Garrard 401 now for about fifteen years. Like many people the interest was started by an article in Hi-Fi World by Noel Keywood who retrieved his Garrard 401 out of the loft and sent it away to be rejuvenated. My Garrard 401 is a late model from the early 70's and I was lucky to spot it in a Hi-Fi shop on sale for just £50.

Being a bit of DIY enthusiast, I was not afraid to strip it down and service it, and it was not long before I had built a heavy plinth out of eight layers of 18mm MDF with an 18mm slate base as well. The Garrard 401 bearing has always intrigued me because the thrust pad at the base of the spindle always looked so cheap and nasty and it was obvious to me at that stage, that a ball bearing design surely had to be a better solution. At that time though back in the nineties, there was only Martin Bastin offering bearing upgrade, so I never bothered to replace the thrust pad, just clean the bearing housing throughly and replace the oil. I did not really listen to much current vinyl anyway as I had long made the move to CD and the quality of vinyl pressings in the nineties was way inferior to vinyl's hey day in the seventies and eighties of which I had quite a large collection, and so heavy investment in a bearing upgrade made no financial sense.

Although equipped with a Rega RB300 tone arm and Goldring Elite moving coil cartridge, the Garrard was only occasionally used, although it did sound good. Over the years, more and more specialists have cropped up and I recently stumbled upon a German company, Analogue Tube Audio) who offer their Kokomo bearing kit to Garrard 301 & 401 users for just under 100 euros, consisting of a new brass base plate with a soft ceramic ball bearing which acts as the thrust pad. Once again the outlay seemed a lot of money given the turntables use.

However I did find a gentleman on Ebay (jclovesmusic) who makes replacement thrust pads for the Garrard 401 which utilize a soft phosphor bronze ball bearing and there by sticking closer to the original Garrard design which used the same material in the original thrust pad. The advantage of a ball bearing is the minimal surface contact on the spindle which means less friction and should mean better sound, providing the material used is softer than the spindle so that only the ball bearing wears.

There is a lot of conjecture about this, as Loricraft Audio who are one of the leading experts on these turntables state the original bearings do not need modifying in any way. The truth is that a lot of these thrust pads after forty years use will be well worn (like mine in the photo above) and in need of replacement, and more importantly transmitting more noise than they originally did when new, and a ball bearing because of its surface area should transmit even less. All I can say is after upgrading my thrust pad and servicing the Garrard 401 bearing, my turntable has never sounded better and quieter. What is more the price of the new ball bearing thrust pad cost under £10.

I also replaced the oil with Redline SAE30 (also on Ebay - £6 for 10ml) which is highly recommended by Hi-Fi World. With the new serviced bearing in place, the platter will now freely spin for well over two and a half minutes from a speed of 45 rpm and the sound of this turntable is now just simply sublime - soundstaging, neutrality, depth and realism have been taken to another level.

I cannot recommend this upgrade enough as I now want to play all my old records again and given the outlay, I cannot see how any Garrard owner could be disappointed.

This entry was posted on Friday October 17th, 2008 at 7:30 PM and is filed under Tweaks. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response.

6 Responses to Garrard 401 Bearing Upgrade

John choong Says:
October 17th, 2008 at 12:54 PM

Well, thanks very much. I made the part for my own 401, thinking it would be a cheap option. The precision required, however, drove the resultant price up. I have also refrained from charging silly money (it can't be any good unless it costs the earth?). I do have to pay for that precision lathe and tools I bought.

A variant for the 301 will be available soon - one is under test for me by a restorer of these decks in the US.

In order to have a unique product, some companies have gone for exotic materials, more mass etc. Harder isn't always better. I dread to think of the damage ruby and sapphire balls are going to wreak on spindles.

The phosphor bronze isn't too soft under load and has the right properties to be a bearing surface. The design is economical, the ball, when worn can be popped out and turned to present a fresh surface. Two spare balls are sent out with the kit, and more are available separately. I was reluctant to call the thrust pad an upgrade, and influence owners' claims but preferred to see what the feedback was like.

I'd rather design a sports car than a tank.
jclovesmusic@yahoo.co.uk

Gp49 Says:
March 19th, 2009 at 9:37 PM

John's replacement thrust pad for the Garrard is all he claims. I replaced the one in my grease-bearing Garrard 301; it was replaced by a new one from Garrard in the 1970s and showed wear on the sintered bronze "dome" in the form of a flat, about 5mm in diameter. Taking out the old, worn Garrard thrust pad and replacing it with John's new one with a sintered brass ball, was easy; since I had just serviced my center bearing about six months ago, all I did was to remove the bottom plate, push out the old thrust pad and push in the new one, then add a bit of lubricant to make up what came out with the old pad. Secured everything, reinstalled the turntable in my system, and right away I noted that I had to slow down the platter. Playing music was a revelation. The bass was firmer, more articulate, and "sang along" better with the rest of the frequency range. And this was on a Garrard 301 that already sounded good, having displaced a famous Scottish belt-drive platter.

GREAT job on these thrust bearings, Jon!

Gp49 Says:
April 17th, 2010 at 7:25 PM

NOW there is discussion about how the ceramic balls used in some other Garrard modification kits are damaging the irreplaceable Garrard center spindles.

Maybe that "soft ceramic" isn't all that soft, after all, as claimed? I'm feeling much better about having gotten the bronze balls, which after all are the same material that was selected by Garrard so many years ago, and which hasn't caused damage to spindles.

Caveat Emptor!

See:

http://www.pinkfishmedia.net/forum/showthread.php?t=77344

(if the link wraps, you may have to copy/paste it in pieces, don't know if it will)

Thomas Says:
June 2nd, 2010 at 5:50 PM

I have absolutly different experiences, I have an Garrard 301 and use it since more than two years with the Kokomo Kit from Analog Tube Audio. These upgrade is an incredible gain of performance for the 301. I have read the weird discussion on pinkfishmedia about massiv problems with the kokomo kit´s. I checked my spindle and I have no damaging on the spindle surface. I use my turntable near to every day, several hundred hours per year. I bought also the inexpensive thrust pad from jclovesmusic on ebay, but I used it only a short time. The performance of my 301 goes down with it, also the bronze ball wear out in one week. For me the Kokomo Kit from Analog Tube Audio is the first choice.

Greetings from Austria
Thomas

Jc Says:
January 17th, 2011 at 9:36 AM

After 2 years of supplying quite a few XTP thrust pads with positive results, Thomas's experience is the only one I know of directly that has been different.

I believe that Garrard spindles were SURFACE hardened to HRC55. Phosphor bronze is on the HRB scale, nowhere near as hard. It could be that some spindles were manufactured to HRC65 which is typical, but how can you easily tell which yours is?

I decided to market the XTP thrust pads having used one for a few years. I couldn't make sense of using ceramic balls, having worked with high alumina ceramics, at university and professionally. Using ceramics seemed like a bandwagon. Even a steel ball wears the Rega spindle, yet you can buy a ceramic ball as an upgrade. Perhaps no problem there as replacement spindles are available and relatively cheap as the Planar is a current product.

Nothing wrong with ceramics per se, but the mating part has to be designed and manufactured with that in mind. A comment I remember is "the words ceramic and soft do not belong together" (or words to that effect).

One customer reported damage to his spindle caused by a ceramic ball. He sent his spindle to have the thrust face ground and polished to remove the dent. This, it seems, removed the hardened surface and exposed the softer core. My XTP then caused further damage, though this was not confirmed. The exposed core would still have been harder than phosphor bronze, albeit without as much a margin.

Do I know what I'm talking about? As an engineer and industrial designer, I've designed products which have been manufactured for 30 years. Clients included NAD and TAGMclaren. I find I can't keep away from hifi, through a love of music. I make good guitars but play them badly.

Regards to all,
John

Gp49 Says:
January 14th, 2013 at 7:27 AM

About a year ago came the ultimate proof that there was something wrong with the Kokomo bearing...the introduction of a "new" Kokomo bearing.

This "Mark II" version "is changed to a hydraulic design, the means the spindle axis runs on a oil film and has no mechanical contact to the thrust plate. It´s more high tech interpretation of the vintage 301 thrust plate. The Mk2 version sounds more “garrardy” and has more of the urban groove.

There is nothing like the Kokomo's own manufacturer bringing out a new version that "has no mechanical contact to the thrust plate," when it was mechanical contact between the so-called "soft ceramic" and the steel Garrard spindle that caused the Kokomo to wear holes in Garrard spindles.

The reason why "no mechanical contact" between the spindle and the thrust plate in the new Kokomo Mk II is because the Kokomo's manufacturer has added a disc made of low-friction Delrin® between the spindle and the ceramic ball in the thrust pad. How long will the Delrin® last before the ceramic ball chews through it, and begins to grind away at your irreplaceable Garrard spindle again?

It sounds like a Band-Aid fix for a very real and regrettable problem.

And, before I forget..what's "sounds more garrardy" mean; and what does that have to do with the "urban groove?"

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