Mr. Fix-it: Don Polito

Don Polito at workbench

Every couple months I need a fix and I head to Bellevue to see my guy.  No!  Nothing like that, I’m talking about mysterious hums and dropping volume, waning vacuum tubes and blown capacitors. Maintaining old guitar amplifiers is like having teenagers (I hear), or driving a Peugeot (ditto); I love them, but they cause me so much suffering!  Luckily, I know somebody who can hook me up.

Phil’s TV-Radio Service sits in an unassuming building on an otherwise residential side street in Bellevue.  In the big front room, crowded by the incoming patients, oscilloscopes, tube testers, frequency analyzers, repair manuals, and spare parts works Mr. Fix-it: Don Polito.

Phil's TV-Radio Service exterior

Phil’s TV-Radio Service, Bellevue

Don’s father (the eponymous Phil) opened the shop in 1954 and Don has been repairing electric gadgets since 1964. Stepping inside the shop, one sees the breadth of his domain: old console radios, turntables, amplifiers, televisions, compact disc players, boomboxes, and, occasionally, Don’s favorite thing to fix, organs.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen toasters, blenders, and microwave ovens there too, but don’t quote me on that.

The shop is decorated with a treasure trove of old signed photographs, marketing materials for long-gone manufacturers, stray speakers and cables, and terrific hand-made signs for Don’s old engagements on “eminent organ”, solo and with The Velvetones.

Handmade posters advertising Don Polito's organ engagements

Posters from Don’s organ gigs, with and without The Velvetones

On my most recent visit, dropping off a sick Fender Twin Reverb, Don was fighting with a 1980s-era Zenith integrated stereo/turntable/tape deck whose spindle was failing and had developed an ugly buzz in the cartridge.  He wasted no time putting this loitering blogger to work, me holding the turntable platter up to the light while he figured out how to reconnect the spindle to the retraction mechanism.  The problem neatly solved, he moved on to the cartridge, tapping its housing with a screwdriver, searching for the cause of the noise, focused like a surgeon, listening for changes in the hiss for clues to the problem.

Handmade crystal radio with decorations

Uncle Sam Radio, crystal radio made by Don’s father

A couple years back, I had just seen Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie (a great documentary film on the early mechanical/tape-based sampling keyboard) and I brought up Mellotrons the next time I was in the shop.  Don stopped what he was doing, his eyes lit up, and he reeled off some great stories about an array of pre-electronics: reverb units in open canisters of oil, keeping units at the right temperature, etc.

I would tell you to stop by and give Don your business if you had anything in need of repair, but when I suggested it Don explicitly told me “No–I don’t need any more business!”  So don’t do that.  But if you want to drop by and talk organs (human or musical), I’m sure Don would love to chat.

Assorted vacuum tubes in boxes

2 thoughts on “Mr. Fix-it: Don Polito

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s