Help me buy a Garrard

I was almost about to pull the trigger on a EMT 948/950 from Mr.Dusch (EMT engineer). However I have never heard them so I was taking some time. In the mean time I heard a couple of other vintage turntables and among them the Garrard 301 sounded terrific to me. The Garrard I heard was installed in decent wooden plinth (probably ply), nothing exotic though. Now that I am thinking of getting one there seems to be various options to get a Garrard TT:

1. Buy a good 301 off ebay and get a decent birch ply plinth built and ready to go!

2. Same as option 1 but also do the kokomo bearing upgrade and the Loricraft PSU upgrade.

3. Get one of the current Garrard flag bearers (Loricraft, Audio grail, OMA etc) to build you a 301 based TT with the same mods as mentioned in option 2.

4. Finally get an exotic fully built, modded 301 from Steve Dobbins or Artisan Fidelity or may be Albert Porter. I see that they change even the platter and mods to the Garrard. Here I am concerned that it may ultimately alter the overall sound more towards the modern side. I am not really after that. Some improvements to the overall noise floor and soundstaging is fine but taking it too far may ultimately get me only half the Garrard sound and other half the modder's sound.

My question is, what is the right way of doing a Garrard for a first timer and non-diyer like me considering that I want my Garrard to sound like a very good Garrard in the first place ?

If I just do good birch ply plinth and get a clean 301 to go with it, how far am I done ? Will a Dobbins plinth be a much higher grade of an upgrade ?

I currently use an Immedia RPM2 turntable which is already very good so with the Garrard I want to start at a certain acceptable level.
You should go for the EMT 950 over the Garrard! But if you have your heart set on the 301 get a plinth to accommodate at least one 12" arm if not two? You're right about mods, they'll alter the sound quality which is very balanced and along with spectacular sound staging are hallmarks of the 301. Your Immediate isn't anywhere the quality of the 950 or the 301 in a halfway decent plinth.
Hi David,
Thanks for your valuable input. Do you think I should go for a highly "done up" 301 from one of the garrard tt dealers or should I keep it simple and get a nicely refurbished 301 and do some minimal upgrades with a decent plinth and settle down ?
Secondly, should I go for the grease bearing or oil bearing version (cost not withstanding) ?
Last but not the least, which tonearm to go for:

1. Gray Research 208 transcription tonearm
2. SME M2-12r
3. Ortofon RS-309d
4. Moerch DP6

All these are available in my vicinity in the used market for under $1500.
I am looking for a tonearm which natural flow and dynamics of the Garrard without compromising in resolution.
Hi Pani,
I see I have a few typos from autocorrect, sorry about that it was late at night when replied and missed them.

I've bought and sold many Garrards in the past. Sonically there isn't much difference between the oil and grease bearings but the grease versions seem to be more collectible and people pay a little more for them, specially the grey hammer tone ones.

Im not a fan of mods on these tables, even simple things like mats I prefer the original ones. Its not that they don't work, they mess with the overall balance of the table and that's a big negative for me. The only upgrade that I heard made sense was a heavier platter but it all depends on who made it. I'd start with a completely stock unit to begin with and go from there when you know what they're supposed to sound like.

I don't know anything about the Gray Research arm but the other 3 are about the same level product with differing qualities, you won't go wrong with any of them.

Being a vintage Garrard owner (401), I've found them to be a joy to use and listen to.

I strongly recommend, however, avoiding the Kokomo bearing upgrade (downgrade). There are reports of the ceramic bearing damaging the spindle bottom over time.

I tried an aftermarket bearing alternative for quite some time, and found the smaller bearing was wearing a dimple into the bottom of the spindle. I gently polished it, and went back to the original thrust bearing. So far, I haven't noticed any ill effects.

Therefore, I adivse you to stick with the stock bearing and spindle. There are available new bearing-spindle replacements (Artisan Fidelity has one), but they tend to be quite expensive. I haven't heard an updated 301/401 bearing system, so I can't comment on whether they represent an improvement in sound quality over the stock bearing.

More information can be found at, a British forum moderated and sponsered by Northwest Analog, a UK-based restorer of Garrard and other idler drive TT's.

You might want to look up Stefano Bertoncello, he makes a nice looking aftermarket bearing/spindle, and sponsors "The World Of Bespoke Idler Drive Turntables".

Do as much research as you can before making any bearing upgrades/changes. It can have a disastrous effect with the wrong product.

Regards, and enjoy,
See my 401. If I was doing it again, I would be tempted to get a Grail Audio refurb but like the others mentioned, there are alternatives. If you don't fancy working on the unit, it is the only way to go. There is a guy on ebay doing plinths for $500 to $750. He did a great job on mine. I'd be wary of these $10000 jobbies, you do mot need to spend that much. Also the Jelco 12" is a solid performer- don't let the price fool you. Do not mount the turntable on a crappy wooden table either.
Guys, I am looking at the Audio Grail restored Garards, the only doubt I have is, after they done all the restoration will it sound like an original Garrard ? When they restore they will be changing parts, polishing some parts and other such stuff. Will they have original parts to replace ? If not then they will be using parts that are re-manufactured. Ultimately after all the work will there be any change in the signature sound ?

After all I can always find a good cond nicely running Garrard sold by one of the local audiophiles, with the same good old predictable Garrard sound. Will there be any deviation with Grail units ?
No. Adding a non standard platter mat could change the sound more than what they do.
Very happy with my Steve Dobbins Garrard 301.
Have his custom 301 copper top platter that takes the performance to another level.
Good luck in your quest.
This is a rare thread on Audiogon where almost all everyone is in
agreement. Seeing the no. of mods available for Garrards I thought that I'd
be alone in not liking any of them.

Pani, it depends on the condition of the unit being restored, some need
more work than others and some original parts are impossible come by, tell
Grail or whoever you decide to purchase from what you want and they
should accommodate you.

Thanks every one for your free flowing comments.

Now the million dollar question, which version is safe buy for a first timer garrard user like me, grease bearing or oil bearing ?
I have heard couple of garrards but do not know which versions were they. My question is purely from the sonic point of view and not from the collectors view. Which version is easier to buy blind and be happy considering that I am not exactly coming from a vintage system ?

My current system is based on a pair of Tannoy turnberry SE speakers and Wavac amplification. It is revealing yet with a certain natural warmth.

Please suggest.
Whatever I get I will buy a properly refurbished one. So maintenance is not the issue. My question purely from the sonics pov.
Pani: Concerning which bearing to go with, grease Sched 1 or schedule 2 oil? Whichever is in better condition :) If you are going with a newer bearing it wont matter anyways and if you ever saw the original bearing of a Garrard flat spindle (contact area) against the sintered bronze (flat surface) or the later conical sintered bronze thrust plate you would DEFINITELY want a newer modern engineered solution.

I had Artisan Fidelity build my Technics SP10 MK3 NG and could not be happier. I was so happy in fact that I bought a Garrard 401 and delivered it to Artisan Fidelity for a complete restoration. The cool thing is I can do it in steps and various levels. For example I can start out with a simple restoration/plinth/Kokomo bearing... Later I could go to the Statement plinth and/or statement platter/bearing. The cool thing is you can build it up as you desire all at once or in stages or over time.

I obvious had a great experience having Artisan Fidelity build my SP10 MK 3 which is why I have them doing the work on my 401. I know they still do an upgraded standard bearing so you don't have to necessarily go with the inverted bearing.

Having said all that, I am sure that the Dobbins, Audio Grail...etc all sound EXCELLENT!!! I just happen to have only heard my stock 401 and then a Artisan Fidelity Statement 301 and it sounded sublime. The 401/301 will sound basically the same but the 301 is the one most desire. I personally like the 401. Hope this was of some help to you :)

Happy Listening...

BTW, I am having an Ikeada IT-407 arm with a Miyajima Madake cartridge installed on my 401 :)
Thanks Audiofun.

The difference between grease and oil bearing models is not just the bearing but also the motor. The grease motor has a higher torque motor compared to oil bearing version. That gives it the bulk of the difference.

My pleasure. Have fun on your journey :)
There is a NIB NOS 301 on the Gon now...
You can always look up Woodsong Audio. You can see my work on my website, and also on my Woodsong Audio flickr page. Google search for 'Woodsong flickr'

I have done full service restorations on Garrards for the past 9 years, as well as building top quality plinths for them.

There have been a fair number of Audio Grail and Loricraft refurbished decks which have been purchased by my clients, and sent to me to install into my plinths. They are nice, nothing magical there, just consistent, reliable work.

I am personally NOT a fan of chassis repaints unless one wants to change the color. The main area of paint chipping, and almost every cream colored Garrard I have seen suffers from it to some degree, is at the mounting holes. On some of the repaints, the paint chips there too, and can easily look worse than the way the old enamel chips. I had my own mounting hardware made, polished heads to match the original, and I relieve the back angle of the fasteners to be a little more gentle on the paint at the mounting holes. The old enamel on the original cream color Garrards cleans up very nicely. In every instance I have seen big improvements. That said, I am about to paint a couple 301 chassis' in the next month.

My favorites are the old grease bearing Hammertones. Some of the old ones which are in in good shape, that hammered enamel does not seem to chip as easily at the mounting holes.

I also help source Garrards for clients, and have refurbished around 70 of them to date.

One additional thought, there are a number of aftermarket idler wheels available. This is a great idea on paper, however, in my experience the quietest idler wheels have been old original idlers that are in great shape, and many are still in good shape. If any of you decide to go this route, test for yourself, using a stethoscope, or with your ear pressed against the plinth with the platter running. Test the original, and test the new one. The idler drive circuit is the main source of noise on these decks, and second, the motor. I have spent many, many hours learning where the noises come from, and how to make them quiet. As far as idler wheels go, 'if it ain't broke, be careful if you try to fix it'!

As for the Kokomo, it will leave a dimple in the bottom of the spindle. I do not recommend the Kokomo. It does give some sonic benefit, though. One of the things that I often do on refurbishments, if the bearing thrust surface is worn, is to have a local machinist 'turn' the pad down a little.

The Garrards can be awesome decks! Enjoy!
Thanks Noromance for the info. But the guy will not ship. I live on Singapore so there is no way I can collect it from him directly :-(
Ilikmangos, thanks for an insightful post.
When you say you like the grey hammertone ones the most, is it for its special sonics or just the paint quality ?
Hi Pani,

That is a bit of a tricky question, as my answer is going to reflect the bias of my experience with these decks. They are not all the same, and in my experience, even decks from the more well known restorers are not all equal either, as much as we would like to think that they should be...

One of the quietest running 301s that I have come across happens to be a mint condition Hammertone. It's motor was very quiet, as was its idler assembly, and bearing. It was also the best looking, by far.

One of the worst condition 301s I have ever seen was also a Hammertone. I received it for a full service from Malaysia. It was missing most of it's paint, and there was corrosion under some of what was remaining of the paint. The motor coils were a bit noisy, I was highly skeptical of this deck. The owner wanted to keep it as original as possible, for sentimental reasons. The bearing was good, showing little wear. By the time I had fully cleaned it up, rebuilt it, and tuned it for quiet running, mainly the motor needing work, as the coils were noisy, my appreciation for this deck had grown a lot. I was able to quiet the motor considerably. For it's obviously, very heavily worn condition, it was still very beautiful, and still played music pretty well.

I think the Hammertones look better.

Sonic wise, In my opinion, the biggest issue between 301 motor units, is how quietly they run. Aesthetics can all be changed, linkages re-plated, the commonly replaced parts all replaced, all that, but how quietly the individual deck can be made to run is what will be the limiting factor in the true performance of the deck, that is my opinion. During playback, the noise level of most any well sorted 301 is sufficiently low as to be mostly a non-issue. If you turn the gain way up and place the stylus in the dead wax, a place in the vinyl groove where there is no, or little content, and then you can hear the mechanics of the 301, or by using a stethoscope. Really, this borders on listening to the gear, and not the music, but I suffer from being a little bit of a gear head, and I like my decks to be as absolutely quiet as possible. In my experience, the idler drive is the biggest source of noise in a 301. It is well worth making sure that it is running quiet.
Yes, belt drive decks can be quieter. But some of the idler drive decks have a little something magic in the way that they can help pull sound from a record groove. That is why people love them.

If you get a deck from Loricraft, or Audio Grail, you cannot go wrong. As to if either one is better, or even a deck from another reputable refurbisher, that will be dependent on which deck is actually best, and quietest. There are subtle differences among many of them, most all.

Do you like listening to mono? or 78rpm? if so, get a grease bearing, Hammertone if possible.

One difference that I have seen among different restorers, is which parts are replaced. I have seen some decks come in, restored, with original springs, and the spring damper rubbers loose on the spring. Those dampers are there for a reason, and they are important. Not sure why anyone would not replace them. With AG, or Loricraft, you are good.

My reference deck is a high spec Linn LP12. It used to be top spec, Radikal, Naim Aro, Dynavector XV-1s, Keel, Cirkus, etc.. In side by side tests, some well equipped Garrards have fared very well. The Linn is always a quieter deck, that is not a question. Sound wise, I never did really make a solid decision, as I did not want to swap my cartridge and such around for I love both decks. That LP12 was pushing $20k, the Garrard, a little more than half that. It was not really a fair test.

I love the Garrards. I like 301s better than 401s. 401s might tend to be a little quieter. (In a 401, I recommend going for the flush strobe model, as there are differences in the motor, and in most of the raised strobe models, there are switch contacts that tend to break in time due to the design. These contacts are very difficult to fix, it can be done, and a replacement switch to match is nearly impossible to find)

For the most part, I like the Hammertones best because of how they look.

Every 301 has it's own 'character', aesthetics, and maybe to a lesser degree, how quietly they run.

On these decks, which are mostly around 50 years old, the motor coils have a range in how quiet they are, and most are plenty quiet. Some are a little noisier, but I have only seen a few that were really noisy. Also, there are subtle differences in how quiet individual idler wheels can be, depending on how they are worn. The idler drive assembly almost always needs to be re-bushed. This is not always as straight forward as it might seem, perhaps due to differences in precision of the idler carrier? Sometimes I have to 'adjust' the bushings after pressing new ones in, to achieve the correct operation of the idler wheel.

The quietest, best running, 301 that I have heard was a mint condition Hammertone. It came up to speed immediately, and just worked great.

The worst condition 301 that I have seen was also a Hammertone. It was missing almost all of it's paint, and the motor was a little on the noisy side, but by the time I was finished with it, I really appreciated it, the way it had aged so gracefully. A cream color 301 in the same condition would have been really ugly. Too ugly.

Get a good one, and have it fully gone through to bring it into quiet running. If you want to buy one on ebay, work with someone experienced in 301s, who can help you find a good one. It is pretty easy to spot most of the lemons. In general, most of the decks that I have received that look like they are in great shape, they are in great shape. Still, it is alway a little bit of 'fingers crossed'.

That supposedly NOS unit referred to above, that one looks pretty tatty for NOS. At best, I would call it 'unused'. It would need to be gone through also.
Oops.. double post. I wasn't sure that first one actually went through..