If you can’t surf, fix a stereo


I have often found that lessons learned while surfing(or at least while waiting for waves) have translated to issues outside of the water. Unfortunately I haven’t been in the water much recently. I did however start working on repairing my old stereo receivers again, and found that there were lessons to be learned there as well.

One of my “issues” regarding work and career, which usually metastasizes to other areas, is the belief that I can’t stick with things long enough or focus hard enough to get anything meaningful done. The initial thought of “I don’t have the willpower to push through anything” leads to “It’s not my work that’s the problem, it’s me!” which eventually leads to me concluding that I am totally screwed. I’ve had periods where I have been able to recognize that these thoughts aren’t true and that I could point to areas in my life where I did stick with something long enough to get a result I was proud of. However, these moments are usually fleeting or I tell myself that they don’t really count.

Overall I’ve been doing better recently. I’m still on a low low dose of Wellbutrin, and it seems to be helping. I feel less anxious about my future, more content with my skills and talents at work and not beating myself up as much. However, I’ve still worried from time to time about my lack of determination or resolve. Working on my receiver this past week has shown me that that I can in fact overcome obstacles and persevere with something when I find it interesting enough. It also serves as a reminder that my wife and coach aren’t just being nice when they say that I CAN stick through things.

I haven’t worked on stereo equipment for a few years now. My last project was fixing up a Pioneer SX-737 for a friend, and even posted about it. My stereo had been working fine, and I was distracted with other activities, so my other vintage equipment just sat gathering dust. Then, maybe a year ago my receiver started losing a channel. Initially I could fix it by wiggling the volume knob, but it got to the point where it was consistently only playing through one speaker. I felt that I was too busy to start digging into it at that moment. I also felt overwhelmed thinking about all the steps required to fix the thing: troubleshooting, scouring the internet for replacement parts, making a list, making substitutions for unavailable parts, ordering the parts, taking things apart, removing old components, putting the new ones in and finally closing everything back up. It so happened that I had a modern A/V receiver on hand that a friend had given me, so I just hooked that up and took my old stereo receiver up to the attic.

Things were okay for a bit, but at some point I realized that I really didn’t like the sound from the new stereo. Even though I don’t normally play music very loudly, the A/V receiver seemed to lack power and any sort of oommph. The music sounded okay, but it was lacking something. To put it simply, I just found it underwhelming. I finally got fed up enough to bring my old stereo back down and start to dig into it. I had originally thought that the problem was with the phono(record player) channel, but it turned out to be the volume knob. Since it’s nearly impossible to find a replacement knob for this unit I decided to see if I could fix it. I mustered up my courage, removed the knob from the Printed Circuit Board(PCB) and then mustered up even more courage to take the thing apart. I cleaned it as best as I could, put it back together and back in the unit. To my surprise and joy both channels were playing cleanly! I was relieved to have fixed the problem(and not destroyed the volume knob) and also encouraged by my success with a repair.

Being able to fix one unit encouraged me to revisit the first unit I ever started working on, a Pioneer Sx-838. I found it many years ago in a pile of bulky waste on the curb, given the dates of manufacture, that thing is just about as old as I am. At the time of discovery, I had found some initial problems and with the help, from the forums at audiokarma.org , had done some first pass repairs. They helped a bit but hadn’t really fixed the problems and I was pulled in other directions so it went into storage. After my repair of the volume knob of my other receiver, I pulled the Pioneer back out and started putting it through the normal tests. I found some of the old problems as well as some new ones. I wanted to start repairing it but found myself hesitating once again on making and ordering a parts list. However, after stalling for a couple of weeks I finally took the plunge and spent some time looking for information and making the parts list. I started back in on the repairs and realized that I had actually learned a lot since my last go at this receiver. I found that some of my soldering had been done poorly, and that I ignored parts I should have replaced the first time around. I also learned some new desoldering skills in the process of working on it again. I finished the first part of the repair the other night, and for the first time since I’ve had the unit, I was able to play music through it and not hear any hiss in the background! Emboldened by yet another success, I am updating other parts of this receiver that don’t deal directly with sound, but should make the unit live a longer life. I’m also trying to decide which of my other units will be my next project!

I didn’t realize this at first(only after some proofreading), but that A/V receiver is the perfect analogy for my job. Both involved chance encounters, both consisted of safe backups I knew I had, so I didn’t work too hard or spend the time and energy to go through the process of fixing up the one I really liked or wanted. Like that A/V receiver, my job is “fine”, some would even argue I am lucky to have it. It pays the bills, is convenient and has some really nice perks. I’m even able to enjoy it from time to time. However, deep down I know it is not doing it for me. I want to feel some power and excitement when I play the music that is my life, I can tell there is a difference between just getting the job done, and getting it done with gusto and emotion. Getting to this more powerful job/living is going to require my pushing through a lot initial resistance, but hopefully life and music will end up sounding much better.

Once I’m done with the repairs, my plan is to give this receiver a turn as my main stereo. Along with providing me with energizing sound and serving as proof that I have the determination to see things through and end up at a better place, I hope it will serve as a constant reminder that settling for what is easy and on hand to get the job probably won’t give me the joy I seek. Now I need to find the motivation to start getting up early and back in the water!