We've all heard the old saying: "If it looks like a duck..."
Well, if a sewing machine looks like a 401, threads like a 500, chain-stitches like a 600 and treadles like a 328...it's a 411!
Which makes the 411 more of a Platypus than a duck.
So let's get the 4-1-1 on the 411...
The 411 features a number of unique characteristics, beginning with its manufacture history. The 411G shown above was a puzzle, because the "G" in the model number indicates Germany, but the serial number points to Canada. After some research it appears that the head was cast (and stamped with serial number) in Canada then the machine was assembled in West Germany.
At a glance the 411 resembles the 401A but on closer examination there are a number of significant differences. Let's compare the two machines: (411 appears on the lefthand side of each comparison.)
The two machines look similar but the 401A is "squarer" in styling. Stylistically the 411 more closely resembles the 403.
The 411 and 403 share a prominent pointed ridge on top and distinctively shaped light cover. However the 411 has a couple of mechanical features that mimic the 500 Rocketeer.
Note the additional thread tension regulator just above the tension knob. This was a new feature when the 500 was introduced and was also used on the 411.
The 411 and 500 also share a top-mounted bobbin-winder.
Another unique feature is that while it looks like a Slant-o-Matic, the 411 can chainstitch like a Touch & Sew!
The final twist is that the 411 can also be used as a treadle machine, making it one of the very rare zig-zag treadle models. This feature is also found on the vertical needle 328 Style-o-Matic.
Note the channel for the treadle belt in the base just directly below the handwheel.
The 411 is truly a fascinating member of Singer's Slant Needle family. It does not feel as well built as the 401. The casting feels lighter and the paint job and trims appear to be lesser quality. But the unique versatility of this machine make it a strong contender for the title of "Best All-Around Slant Needle!"
Many vintage sewing machine ads tout the wonders of a "powerful 1.0 amp motor," which sounds impressive.
But the Singer 401 has only a a .72 amp motor. Does that mean it's less powerful than the 1.0 amp machine?
What is an amp? How many do I need? Does it even matter?
An amp (short for ampere) is a measurement of electrical current. The amperage of an electric motor is the amount of electrical current required to run the motor. If a motor draws more current it usually produces more power.
"MORE POWER!" - Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor
Is "more power" always a good thing? Not necessarily. If you ever watched the sitcom "Home Improvement" you've seen what happens when an oversized motor is attached to a home appliance. (Remember the dishwasher?) Not good.
Those episodes were exaggerated for comic effect, but the principle holds true. An electric motor needs to be the right size and right power for the task at hand. Under-amped or over-amped are equally undesirable.
Let's compare the .72 amp motor from a 401 with a 1.0 amp motor from a belt-driven Class 15 "Singer Clone":
.72 amp Singer 401 motor
1.0 amp Class 15 "Clone" motor
The .72 amp motor has a long motor shaft because the motor sits inside the machine and the gear at the end of the motor shaft directly engages the needle-bar and hook mechanism inside the machine. There are no belts.
The 1.0 amp motor has a short shaft with a pulley that connects to the machine via a belt on the handwheel. The handwheel turns the needle-bar and hook mechanism inside the machine. A belt-driven sewing machine typically needs a more powerful motor because power is lost in the transfer from motor to mechanism (via the belt). A higher amp motor compensates for this loss of power. (Note: additional power will be lost if the belt is too tight or loose.)
So when you are shopping for a vintage machine, it's not just the size of the motor that counts, it's the design of the machine that determines how much power is needed to drive the mechanism.
Which means that a .72 amp motor packs the appropriate punch for the Slant-o-Matic family, but a 1.0 amp motor provides the added "oomph" that a belt-driven machine needs.
Whichever machine you choose, make sure the size of the motor is appropriate. It's possible to attach a bigger motor to belt-driven machines, but "more power" can place undue stress on the machinery, which may shorten the machine's life. You need enough power, but not too much power.
This question pops up nearly every time I have a 401 or 500 (Rocketeer) for sale on eBay. Both models are excellent heavy duty household machines and are nearly identical mechanically. But there are some critical differences.
Singer 401 Slant-o-Matic
Slant needle Rotary hook Steel Gears .72 Amp direct drive motor Double-thread capacity tensioner Double capacity needle clamp 25+ stitch patterns built in Special Disc compartment ---- Front-mount, exposed bobbin winder 2 top-mount, fixed-position spindles
Simply stated, the 401 is the better-built machine. The Rocketeer is the begining of the end of all-metal slant-needle machines. It is still metal where it counts, but it suffers from a severe case of 'style-over-substance'-itis. The futuristic "Jetsons" styling is super cool but comes at a price. Enclosing the bobbin winder stream-lined the styling, but the auto-stop kick-out spring is prone to breakage from metal fatigue. The spring-loaded fold-down spool spindles are also prone to breakage. The removable top-mount spindle is easily lost and can be difficult to replace.
On the other hand, the Rocketeer does allow you to leave the top open while sewing so you can easily change stitch-patterns. The 401 spool spindles sit right on top of the pattern chart, which can be awkward. The 401 spindles are also vulnerable to snapping off during shipping or storage, but they are simpler to replace than the 500 spindles.
Bottom line? The 401 is tougher-built, but the Rocketeer is not far behind it. Both models are wonderful vintage Singer machines.
If you can't find a 401 in your price range, the Rocketeer may be the machine for you. A very good condition 500 will typically cost less than an equivalent 401.
Happy sewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
So you have a project or cottage industry and you need a heavy duty sewing machine. You've heard you should get a Singer 401, but can't find one that fits your budget. Then you see a 403 and wonder...what's the difference?
Good question. The simple answer is that 401 was top-of-the-line and 403 the next step down. But what does that really mean?
401 Slant-o-Matic Fully Automatic
Features: Slant needle Rotary hook Steel Gears .72 Amp direct drive motor Double-thread capacity tensioner Double capacity needle clamp Special Disc compartment 25+ stitch patterns built in
403 Slant-o-Matic Special Semi-Automatic
Features: Slant needle Double thread capacity tensioner Double capacity needle clamp Rotary hook Steel Gears .72 Amp direct drive motor Special Disc compartment No built-in stitch patterns
Inside the 401:
Note the stack of steel cams at center right. These are the "built-in" stitch patterns. Special Discs are not required for zig-zag and over 25 other patterns. However, Special Discs 1-5 are additional designs not built-in on the 401 and can also be used in conjunction with built-in stitches to produced additional "Combination" stitches, such as scalloped zig-zag.
Inside the 403:
Note the absence of steel cams. Unless a Special Disc is inserted the machine will only produce straight stitch.
So which machine is better?
The bottom line is: it all depends on what kind of sewing you will do. Both models have the same motor, the same steel-gears, and the same basic design.
If all you need is heavy duty straight or zig-zag stitches, go with 403. It is simpler to operate and a little less noisy because it has fewer moving metal parts. And you can still do decorative stitching with a set of Special Discs.
If you need maximum artistic freedom, go with the 401. It's harder to use at first, but once you get familiar with the controls, you will enjoy the variety and flexibility of built-in stitches. And you get the prestige of owning "top-of-the-line" if that matters to you.
Happy Sewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
OldSewinGear is the collaborative effort of retired repairman Gary and daughter Barbara. We love old sewing gear and enjoy sharing what we've learned in our vintage sewing machine adventures. We are located in Roseburg, Oregon.