On the Clock: Retro repairman

The old, heavy Carver stereo tuner in Ron Alvaro’s office was pushing the Kinks’ fast and furious “Y
Ron Alvaro is the owner of the Stereo Workshop in Clifton Park.
Ron Alvaro is the owner of the Stereo Workshop in Clifton Park.

It was alive — alive!

The old, heavy Carver stereo tuner in Ron Alvaro’s office was pushing the Kinks’ fast and furious “You Really Got Me” into the air. Alvaro had already fixed the 25-year-old music box, resoldering connections and improving inputs and outputs. At 12:05 p.m. on Wednesday, he was moving electricity through the sound machine and running a final test.

Alvaro, the man behind The Stereo Workshop in Clifton Park, renovates record turntables, amplifiers, tuners and cassette decks. His store, located in a small shopping plaza just south of Route 146 that also includes the Spare Time bowling alley and City Sports Grille, is packed with pieces ready for rock, country, jazz, classical, folk and other noteworthy compositions.

Alvaro, 66, opened his business in Clifton Park on Oct. 3, 1977, after learning about electronics during time spent at General Electric’s major appliance division, in home study courses and night classes at Hudson Valley Community College and at Lake Electronics in Albany. He has spent most of his 34 years in business at his current location.

“About two to 10 is average,” he said of pieces that come in each weekday for surgery. “Friends come in, and I spend a lot of time at the counter with my feet up, entertaining them.”

Vinyl returns

Because of a renewed interest in vinyl recordings — the pizza-sized, long-playing albums that were once part of all music collections — he has been working on more turntables. Weird science it is not.

“A lot of people stopped using them when CDs first came out,” he said. “People got rid of them or they put them in storage. I was the recipient of a lot of albums from my friends at the time; now they’re sorry they got rid of them. I have a collection of over 10,000 albums . . . people want to hear that vinyl again.”

Most people never take worn-out shoes to a cobbler, they just buy a new pair. Alvaro thinks people who like their sound systems are not as quick to replace components when some wire or switch fizzles or sizzles. “As far as audio, you can’t beat the old stuff,” he said. “You compare it, sound to sound, with the new stuff and the old stuff blows it away every time.”

At 10 minutes after noon, Richard Grimmer of Clifton Park walked into the shop. He’s one of the friends Alvaro entertains during projects on Pioneers and Panasonics. “I work right around the corner at Home Depot,” Grimmer said. “Once in a while, I stop in and say hello.”

Grimmer saw a small sign in the store advertising a vintage radio and electronics auction scheduled for Sunday at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa. “I might go,” he said. “I’ve got some stuff. I’ll see if anything I’ve got is anything they’re interested in.”

“I think you should,” Alvaro answered, figuring Grimmer’s old electronic stuff is just sitting around the house.

“But it’s hard to leave it,” Grimmer said.

Grimmer decided to browse the workshop. Alvaro unplugged the Carver.

“This one’s ready to go,” he said. Alvaro charges $50 an hour for labor, “which is lower than everybody,” he said. “Everybody says I’m too cheap.”

He would call the Carver’s owner and hope for a prompt pick-up. Sometimes, people wait weeks before retrieving their gear.

At 12:20, he began another project. A friend wants to sell several pieces of stereo stuff — he’d love for Alvaro to make the buys — and a wood-grain box, silver-faced Nikko amplifier from the 1970s is first on the bench for a check-up. Alvaro uses a power drill to loosen screws and get inside the amp, which is free of dust. He checks the control knobs. “The on-off switch is sluggish,” he said. “Probably needs to be cleaned.”

There are other problems. Something is causing staccato bursts of static, and they louse up “Stop and Think it Over” by Dale and Grace.

But the power indicator light glows bright red, still active after 35-plus years. Alvaro can’t understand why everyone is in love with LED technology — light-emitting diodes — for stereo applications. “I’m finding problems already with the LEDs,” he said. “They’re intermittent, they’re not as bright.”

At 12:27, he answered the phone. He gave a man directions to the shop.

“He’s out there looking for me,” he said. “He’s out on Route 9, somewhere.”

The directions were precise. Three minutes later, Jeff Budge of Saratoga Springs walked into the store.

“You were close,” Alvaro said.

Budge produced several parts from a bag. He was trying to replace the record needle for his Pioneer turntable. “Vinyl is back,” he said.

Alvaro searched his inventory. “I don’t have this in stock,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s available. You might have to replace the cartridge.”

Budge also is looking for a specific, palm-sized record brush. The soft, felt-like surfaces were musts for serious record buffs of the 1960 and ’70s.

At 12:37, Grimmer decided to buy a book for sale. “I come here to visit, it still costs me money,” he said.

“We like that,” Alvaro said.

Albums for sale

In addition to the books and used stereo equipment, Alvaro also offers record albums for $2 each. Shaun Cassidy, the Limeliters, Perry Como, Foghat, Pointer Sisters, Hank Snow, Culture Club, Bob Newhart and Genesis are all represented. The old New York license plates, vintage transistor radios, framed album covers, guitars, a three-foot skeleton and an Elvis clock — with swiveling hips — are not for sale.

Budge leaves shortly before 1 p.m. He said he might bring in his Nakamichi tape deck for a little work.

Alvaro prepares to return to the Nikko. He takes a minute for quick explanations of his decorations. The guitars tell people Alvaro is a longtime musician — his band Fast Company plays classic rock and has made appearances at the City Sports Grille.

The skeleton is there for laughs. Sort of.

“Those are the customers who don’t pay,” Alvaro said, smiling. “It’s a Grateful Dead advertisement. I should probably get a Grateful Dead album up there, with him holding the album.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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