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Heritage Lighting - the Lights Vs the Controls


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As some members know, a few of us BR members are involved with collecting and saving old lighting equipment, and I've started to notice a few things that are making me think. I think I'm more impressed by the old equipment I have never even heard of, than the popular stuff. Of course, some 'rarer' brands are really quite awful, some are still able to do a really good job. My favourite is the non-theatre Hewetts - a great shape and really nice beam quality. Weigh a ton of course. So many old lights, all lighting things up, but clearly doing it differently. Some easy to adjust, some more tricky, others that burn you, others that have sharp edges, but the light that comes out of them easily holds their head up. Perfectly usable. Even the ones many people disliked, like T-Spots and Patt 45's. The T-Spots still do a good job, although they're quite yellow with the old lamps and glass which seems yellower than I remember. Even the 45, with no reflector, always teased because it really was a candle in a box can do OK if retro fitted with modern COB LEDs. Our experiments suggest these, with no rear light output to bounce off the reflector are not as good as real old fashioned glass lamps, but in the 45, appear to offer a very good 'fit' to the single small lens. So far, we have found very few disappointments. 

Our experience so far with controls is far less good. The old wire wound dimmers, up to and including the Junior 8 work just like my memory suggests, but once controls went electronic instead of electric, we're having trouble. Two of us have been slowly working through the carefully stored and bubble wrapped controls, and very few power up and work! Fair enough, a backup battery dated 1993 is unlikely to work, but basing the controls around that little battery means many will never work again. We have a few examples of Strand GSX, and some are in really excellent condition, but it's going to be a long job, fitting the batteries and hoping the floppy disk drives will read the one set of operating system disks. 

Oddly - it's the little things that are making controls and dimmers difficult. Two versions of analogue control, with positive and negative going protocols. Ignoring the pops and nasty smells from ancient capacitors, we've got the analogue Strand and Zero 88 dimmers producing lights. So many connector types though. At least 3 different 'common' ones so far. The worst thing is the controls with D54, and I won't mention the AMX ones. We can do D54 to analogue and DMX of course is fine - but at the moment D54 capable dimmers we don't have. I do have a few in the theatre, but they're still being used. Only a very few controls light up and function, and those that do seem to operate VERY differently to how we are now used to. One I was working on is an Arri - and connecting up a monitor mad eye realise how far we've come. I spent hours working out painfully how to actually patch the dimmer channels. Something I assumed I'd be easily able to do, but I ended up doing it channel by channel. The ease we now do it with simple syntax - and often syntax that even works out what you are trying to do and does it for you. On this Arri it took probably twice as many key strokes than I expected. It has just 6 subs, and just 70 odd channels, but actually recording a cue, by trial and error was torture. Another really annoying feature of some desks was power supplies -  15V and 25V for some, and even +17/-17V for another. I'll have to donate a bench power supply with variable output and meters and make up a few adaptors. Earth leakage means we have lost power a few times when the trips do their thing, but not too bad really considering that they are so elderly. It's really nice to power up a huge 48 channel 2 preset control and discover it has a DMX socket alongside the analogue outputs. Even better the fader suddenly makes a light come on! 

The Strand M24s were clearly far more popular than I thought as we have a number of these, but sadly just one functions. The others have all kinds of error messages. 

I had not realised so many makes collaborated - I didn't know ADB and CCT shared so much commonality and development, but it was a surprise to find that one Coemar control was clearly an identical chassis to one of the Strand controls. That link I had not known.

We're slowly putting together some more in-depth material on the lighting gear, but it's taking time - far more time than we expected. It's just annoying that it's little things that delay us - DC cables, power supplies and daft things like keys. One of the controls actually has one position marked OFF, and guess what it's set to? Ten minutes to dismantle it once you discovered the captive screws, half an hour to find and link out (in a restorable manner) the mains power AND the DC power to the control and fader PCB, only to find the power supply is faulty. Finding weird sized Metric, BA and Whitworth nuts and bolts for the lights  is one thing, but strange value and length fuses, unusual components, usually unmarked, missing parts, disconnected wires and backup batteries unidentifiable because they've been eaten away make the control restoration much more difficult than I expected. It seems a 30 year old light is an almost modern one, but a thirty year old control is elderly in the extreme - but a 40 year old one will probably work!

One thing I do know. I have been guilty of dismissing the green and red stickers and PAT testing regime many of us endure simply because failures were quite rare, and usually occurred on things you guessed would fail, but with old controls the tests are vital. So many old ones have the potential (pun intended) to give shocks. Listening for crackles fizzing and pops from old dimmers makes you take testing them a bit more seriously than I have done myself in the past. Some of them don't just fail, they massively fail. Oddly, the controls look quite modern, and seem to not deteriorate badly compared to the lights where 70's and 80s equipment is often in pretty poor condition. Some of the older ones seem to have been painted black multiple times in their lives. The Rank Strand green has done pretty well, as have some of the earlier silver Strand items. Clearly, the condition of the metal, prior to painting was pretty vital. We have some Italian products that have faired pretty poorly even though they're from the 80s and 90s. What I smile about are really old products that get a new lease of life when they get re-invented and many people assume they are brand new designs.



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Have you found any old Thorn lighting control to restore Paul? I toured Europe with a QT120 in 1983 and the interval was always exciting wondering whether the floppy drive would load Act 2 or whether we would be busking it on the pin patch. It always worked.

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