Sound Delights, Part 2: Rehab
After that first long Saturday afternoon, I sat down in front of the hifi a few more times, but realized that I had neither the skills, tools, or intuition to fix it myself. An audiophile had told us that the speakers were worth saving, so we didn’t want to gut the components and just use the cabinet. I turned to the Twin Cities Mid-century Modern Facebook group for advice, and was quickly told to take the hifi to Vintage Music in Minneapolis.
When I first called in October, 2016, they said that they weren’t taking any more repairs until January. That’s right: the backlog had them booked for four months. (The same thing is true in 2017!)
On a frigid Saturday in January, we hauled the hifi up to 38th and Cedar in Minneapolis. The store itself is a sight to see: the building is a historical marvel from the days of small business owners who weren’t swallowed up by the likes of Best Buy and Amazon. It’s an old stone storefront with a tile floor entryway. Inside, one side of the expansive room is filled with tight rows of old vinyl records, easily the biggest collection of 78s that I’ve ever seen.
The rest of the room is packed with antique phonographs, hifis, and radios. Even though it was freezing outside, the store was warm from old systems generating heat. When we arrived, a couple if front of us were getting an estimate on the hifi they brought in. When Mike Nickolaus, the repair wizard, was talking to the couple in front of us, he said, “You know how there are Chevy’s and there are Cadillacs? You’ve got a Chevy here, so we’ll do our best, but if we think it’s not worth fixing, we’ll call you.”
Getting an estimate at Vintage Music is so much more than having someone tell you, “how much to fix it.” An estimate here is an extemporaneous seminar on the history of hifi technology, filled with facts on your particular make and model and its worthiness for renovation. Mike fixes the audio componentry while Scott Holthus, the owner of Vintage Music, restores the exterior. They’re honest, funny, and extremely talented.
When it was our turn for an estimate, Mike looked at the hifi’s label on the back of the unit and then he turned to us and said, “You know what I just told the last couple about Chevy’s and Cadillacs? You’ve got a Cadillac.”
I wasn’t surprised. It had been Aunt Fran’s, after all.
My initial plan was to have Vintage Music repair the audio components only and I would refinish the top of the hifi myself. But Mike and Scott managed to convince me that I would never be able to match the finishes. And that’s without even knowing what a rookie I am at refinishing wood. So we agreed that they would do the whole piece, inside and out. They hoped to have it done in May, five months away.
That was fine, we said, because we’d be taking the hifi to the cabin and we don’t open the cabin until May anyway.
“Ummm, what?” said Mike. He went onto explain that a hifi, with all its vacuum tubes and sensitive components, cannot be left in an unheated cabin over the winter. And it certainly shouldn’t be transported across bumpy highways for 325 miles each fall and spring.
Dave and I didn’t have to deliberate on what we were going to do. We knew that we’d be bringing the hifi home for our own selfish enjoyment. We were just fine with not sharing this little gem with our Lloyd’s Landing guests.
We were finally able to retrieve the hifi in June. Upon pickup, we received a short dissertation in the care and maintenance of this gorgeous piece. The sound is deep and resonate, and our old albums sound amazing. One day I was indulging my need to classic Joni Mitchell, and I turned the sound up to five. Dave said he could hear the music from the driveway. So the old system still has some power!
So to all of our guests who will never enjoy the hifi at the cabin: Sorry. But not really: I’m not sorry to be selfish with this one.