April 18, 2014

Technics SL-1200 “Coffin Report”: Frankie Knuckles' First Time

Frankie Knuckles standing behind mixing board with Grammy trophy
The Godfather dishes on Larry Levan

With the announcement that Panasonic will be ceasing production of the iconic Technics SL 1200 turntable, we’ve reached out to DJs for their thoughts about the “wheels that changed the deal.” Our first installment featured Grandmaster Flash and DJ Swamp.

Now Frankie Knuckles, the Godfather himself, has served us an earful.

“I remember my first time playing on a Technics turntable,” he told us. “I believe it was one of (if not) the first 1500 back in 1976 at Continental Baths. I remember it being so big! For the five years I had played at “The Tubs,” we had Lenco turntables that had a sliding pitch lever on the side of the platter that went from 15 RPM to 78 RPM. In 1974, the club allowed me and Larry [Levan] to redesign the console in the DJ booth. Until that point, the turntables sat on the console, picking up every vibration and bump you could imagination. What a nightmare it must’ve been for Joey Bonfiglio, the resident who passed the job onto Larry [Levan], to have to wrestle with all the feedback and rumble from the counter.

“Me and Larry, alongside Richard Long, began to cut away parts of the counter to suspend the turntables. Richard, in his infinite wisdom, had this brilliant idea for us to suspend the turntables inside the counter, helping to remove the rumble/feedback problems. It was genius!

“But in the last year the club was open, when the system was being upgraded for the last time, the 1500s were part of the new installation. I wasn’t so much afraid of them as I was fascinated by them. They were so beautiful! These big, silver, shiny machines were direct-driven. Unfortunately, they did not fit inside the slots we cut away for the Lencos. But, hurray! No more belts slipping off in the middle of a mix. Something strong and sturdy that could take a beating.

“All of a sudden playing records became more fun than work. The struggle to make mixes work became a little easier.

“All the superstar DJs of the day frowned and dissed these turntables. If you a “real disco DJ,” you only played on the best, and Thorens TD 125 MK2s were the only turntable to work on. I remember Larry hated the 1500s. He refused to play on anything other than the Thorens.

“After Continental closed and I moved to Chicago to open The Warehouse, Richard Long came out to do the installation in 1977. In 1979, while on a service visit, Richard brought the new Technics 5200s, which mimicked the Thorens by placing the pitch control on a wheel at the base of the turntables. I mastered those turntables and played on them until I left The Warehouse in 1983, to open my own club, Powerplant 1015.

“When I launched the Powerplant in the autumn of 1983, my turntable of choice was the Technics 1100.

“I believe I can honestly say that I’ve played on every professional turntable Technics produced for club DJs and, by the time they produced the 1200, there was only one thing to say: Revolution Complete! The ultimate DJ tool had been revolutionized.

“Thank you Technics for being a major part of my growing up in this business.”

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