Put another dime in

Bruce Gerard

Photo by Tom Blodget

In the late 1960s and early '70s, it cost a nickel to play your favorite hit song on a 45 rpm jukebox—machines that were ubiquitous in pizza parlors, diners and bars around the United States. These fascinating and complex vinyl-playing machines were inevitably cast aside when music formats and the jukeboxes that played them evolved into CD and, now, digital formats. Bruce Gerard, who used to run a repair shop out of Chico but is now based in Redding, repairs these older vinyl-playing jukeboxes, as well as pinball machines and amplifiers. Contact him at 227-1005 or bruce.gerard@att.net

How did you get into jukebox repair?

In 1987, I bought an old Rock-Ola jukebox that played 78 RPM records. It didn't work, so I had to figure out how to repair it. I had been messing around with electronic and mechanical stuff since I was a boy, and the jukebox really intrigued me. Within a few days of tinkering on it, I had the machine working. I started getting calls from people looking for a jukebox repairman, and the work just kept coming in.

How long have jukeboxes been around?

In 1888, a Chicago businessman fitted a penny slot onto a wind-up phonograph. This was considered to be a novelty and not a revenue maker. But when Prohibition ended in the 1930s, jukeboxes became commonplace in bars, taverns and restaurants. The things were everywhere, and became a serious cash cow for the machine operators.

Which company made the most reliable—or just cooler than the others—jukebox?

The major manufacturers—Seeburg, AMI, Rockola and Wurlitzer—all built good machines. Some models were better than others, but all vintage jukes have appeal. Most people prefer vintage jukeboxes with a glass-covered mechanism that you can watch. Machines from the 1950s and '60s are usually very reliable, with one caveat—these things have hundreds of intricate mechanical parts arranged in a Rube Goldberg kind of way. They need regular servicing for all the parts to work smoothly.

Why own a jukebox when you can have unlimited songs in the Digital Age?

Nostalgia and novelty, I guess. Some people keep a jukebox as a convenient way to store and play their 45 rpm records. Other people just like how the things look. Still other people collect them like some people collect classic cars. Most people would agree that having a jukebox is pretty cool.

What might it cost to bring a bring a broken jukebox back to life?

Like anything, it all depends on condition. Repairs can range from $50 for a quick adjustment, to several thousand dollars for a full restoration of a vintage machine. Values of a working jukebox can range from a few hundred dollars to over $10,000.

How far do you travel from Redding to do repairs?

The communities I do the most work in are Redding, Red Bluff, Chico, Paradise and Oroville. I have one customer in San Francisco who owns 25 jukeboxes. He likes the quality of my work, and is willing to wait for the times that I can come down.