Looking for something a little better than my old Panasonic turntable, I picked up an old Technics slj3 linear tracking turntable last fall on Craigslist for $20.
I've been really happy with it so far. It sounds great, and it works with no trouble. And I discovered an even greater thing about these tables--they can play records that might skip on other turntables! I had an old Tom Waits record (Closing Time) that was a little warped, and it skipped on my old table. But with the Technics, it works fine. Then I noticed this at my local record store this week:
One of my favorite Zappa albums, Uncle Meat, on 2xLP. "Slight warp causes jump." I thought I'd give it a try. And sure enough, it plays with no jumps or skips. Other than a slight warp, the records are very clean. For $1.99, I'm psyched!
For those of you who missed out on this Miami Vice-era technology the first time around (like me), linear tracking turntables use a rod with a stylus attached instead of a tone arm. A motor controls the movement of the stylus back and forth on the rod. Seemingly, the contact with the record this way allows for a little more "play" in the stylus than a tone arm adjusted to have a light touch, so instead of sending a tone arm jumping, the stylus can move to follow the record up and down a bit without getting tossed around. This picture is kind of dark, but you can make out the white and red cartridge, which is on a rod that extends horizontally across the lid of the turntable:
Too bad these things didn't catch on more!
Uncle Meat itself was a huge influence on the Canterbury Scene, including amazing bands like Henry Cow. To my ears, this is the first record where Zappa was able to integrate his interests in jazz and classical music with rock and pop idioms of the time. It's a difficult album in spots, but it's also very rewarding. I continue to get more out of this record with every listen--and on vinyl, before Zappa's somewhat disappointing 80s remaster was used for the CD version, I think I like it even more. The bass drum in particular sounds much more "real" on the vinyl--the CD version is kind of squished. You don't get the "penalty tracks" of mostly uninteresting dialogue to skip over on the vinyl, either--it hangs together as more of a unified statement this way.