A CONVERSATION WITH TESS STEIN
David: So here we are on a Monday morning. What were you working on before I dragged you away for this interview?
Tess: I was working on Sony DPS-V77, recapping it
David: Recaps are a big part of our business. You know, a few years ago we started recapping a lot of tubes and discrete gear, the idea of recapping a newer box like a V77 would have seemed a little absurd, but caps degrade, and even though that box is only about ten years old, it’s time is near. We’ll see surface mount caps start to fail soon, but the newer gear that uses them might not be worth fixing. Some outboard gear has 50 or 75 caps and takes a long time but some of it, especially the direct coupled stuff, just has a few capacitors. How about the the Sony?
Tess: It has 77 caps to replace.
David: That’s a lot. The average tech would need about a day to replace all those caps, plus a couple more hours for disassembly and reassembly. How long will it take you?
Tess: It will take me about 5 or 6 hours.
David: You’re fast and more importantly, you’re super careful. After you overhaul a piece, we hardly ever see problems. What’s your secret?
Tess: I double check things at the beginning of a job and again at the end. Before doing the soldering I make sure all the values and polarities are right. Sometimes an old cap is installed backwards or there’s a crack on a foil, I need to catch that before I start. Then after finishing, I check everything again before powering up.
David: When you look at other people’s work, what are common mistakes that you see?
Tess: Sometimes when people recap the get the capacitors mixed up, or they have messy solder connections. Sometimes people install a cap with a space between the bottom of it and the circuit board. The cap is able to wiggle and when it moves, a foil will break.
David: You do many types of jobs for us — building cables, rebuilding gear, and troubleshooting. What do you most enjoy?
Tess: I enjoy working on all of it, I like building cables and rebuilding gear.
David: You’re full time now, but you had been working for us on and off for many years. How long has it been?
Tess: It’s been almost 16 years with you! I first worked for you in November,1990. We had a big MCI console in the shop that we recapped for Stevie B, and then we installed it in his house.
David: You worked for Pacific Radio for a few years and then a studio in Burbank, right?
Tess: Yes, I worked for Pac Rad for 7 or 8 years, building cables for them. I also worked for 3 Point Digital and MatchFrame for a few years.
David: Of course. Your husband is well known among the L.A. techs and studios.
Tess: Yes, Kurt worked at Yale Radio, and then Pac Rad. He’s been with Gepco in Burbank for the last few years. I learned a lot from him as far as wiring stuff.
David: I was thinking, there are a lot of people with home studios who are on a tight budget and do their own wiring. Do you have any advice or tips for those folks?
Tess: Well, first you have to have a lot of patience. You need to really have discipline and do each step carefully. Don’t be lazy or over confident, take notes as you go along. Always check your work before you start and after you finish.
David: Any soldering tips for beginners?
Tess: Well, make sure you don’t use too much solder or too little. Look at factory soldering, and try to make your work look the same. If something doesn’t look good, do it over.
David: To avoid cold solder joints, the works need to be 100% still while the solder cools.
Tess: When soldering XLR connectors make sure you get pins 1, 2, and 3 right. The males and females have pins 2 and 3 in opposite positions. If you don’t have a good way to test phase you need to be extra careful with balanced audio cables. Also, when soldering wires or components that have high voltage, be sure to put shrink tubing or teflon on exposed wires.
David: Unless you are fond of being electrocuted. So Tess, what 3 things would you bring to a desert island?
Tess: Water, food and a flashlight. Maybe my soldering iron. (Just kiddin’ )
David: I notice that your husband was not on that list.
Tess: I guess I forgot him. Oops, sorry Kurt!
David: How do you say thank you very much in Tagalog?
Tess: Maraming salamat sa iyo.
David: Maraming salamat sa iyo, Tess. We’re lucky to have you.