OH, Quit Your Digital Harping !


words and photo by: Telegraphy

  Digital audio is dead!! Or at least here at Ionosonde Recordings. Lately we've been bitten by the high fidelity bug, to the extent of throwing out our warn out solid-state stereo amplifiers and replacing them with old "hollow-state" technology. Yes, records do sound better with tube amps and once you've listened to a certain 80's pop record through a pair of vacuum tubes - You will never go back! Not only "Sting" sounds better but some of the greatest  recording ever made sounds like your in the opera house. Believe it or not my fine fidelity friends, some of the best technically engineered tracks are those from orchestral music recordings.

  Well OK you've heard about all the buzz surrounding "Class A" audio systems and super high fidelity but how do you get started? By that I mean how do you get started without having a $200,000 a year job and have money to throw away? As you all know boutique amplifier's are expensive. Turn table's (I mean good ones) are expensive. Speakers......you know what I mean (good ones) are expensive.  Yes the luxury of fine audio is hard to obtain. Or is it?

                                         **First Steps For True Audio Is Long and Hard**

 My journey for fine fidelity began with an old guitar tube amplifier from the 1940's that I picked up on the internet from a local individual who works for a vintage audio equipment company. This guitar amp was in bad shape. Rust spots on the chassis, paint baked-on and discolored from years of extensive use. It didn't even have tubes in it. WAIT STOP !!!!  Now let me go off on a rant here. Most of you know I  had worked with a lot of vintage tube gear in the past (mostly radios). It is very rare that I purchase an old tube radio without tubes. But when it comes to audio gear, I've seen time and time again a seller who eagerly rips out all of the tubes and sells them separately. Now why is that? It's like selling an I-phone without the headphone jack.........Oh, yeah they did do that didn't they? 

Masco amp from hell and back.
Anyways back to the guitar amp. This amp was a mess. Besides being non-operational due to old components, I had to find myself new tubes for it. Not to brag, but I have boxes full of old tubes. After spending hours sifting through box after box looking for 6L6's 6SL7's 7C7's tubes, I finally pieced together a full set of tubes for this vintage guitar amp from the Roosevelt administration. I slapped it on the repair bench and commenced to rip out a few old capacitors and replacing them with modern ones. After replacing suspicious components, I next prepared it for the first power-up. Nervously plugging in all of the tubes into their sockets with hands shaking from thoughts of blown components, power transformers and tubes , I vigorously  felt around for the power cord only to dumbfounded...."That guy cut out the A.C. line cord to"........."What an A$$hole !" I screamed out loud. Installing a new line cord, I got the fantastic idea they had never thought of back then. "How about not only installing an A.C. line cord but put'en in a fuse holder as well?" You see, the only reason why I thought about a fuse is the A$$HOLE RIPPED THAT OUT AS WELL! *Gees*

                                                 **Give This Amp A Day Of Beauty**

At first glance, the black paint faded from years of heat those 6L6's generated, was baked on the top cover. Wait a minute!? Black paint doesn't fade - Does it? After researching online, I've concluded that the Masco MA-17 only came in one color and that was a bright light grey. "Could of fooled me".  Ah, if only this harp amp could speak of the musicians and gigs it's been with. It most likely would reminisce by stating, " Aaahhh! Turn it down, it hurts! Chough, chough, cough, Please put that out! ". Poking my head under the top cover revealed a heavy stench of cigarettes. Years of tobacco smoke which caked this amp with a defining color of "mung yellow", if that is a color. So, like all 7 year olds entering their homes after a long football game on a hot summers day - To the bath you go!

 Yes, as weird as that sounds in your logical thinking noggin, you can give a electronic device a bath. Now I'm not talking about full on submersion in water. No, no, my pertinacious prudent partner, just a light wash with a lather of good soap and let dry is all you need. I've found, through the years of working on old radio's, that Fels Naptha laundry soap works the best to brake up any smoke tar and crud. 

 LeeAnn. What's wrong dear, you look down?

Oh, oh Martha I have guest coming over tonight and all of my vintage tube amps and cabs look dreadful. They all have smoke scum and beer stains all over them  from last nights jam session my husband had with his friends. I wish there was a way to make them look  as sparkly and bright as yours. What should I ever do?

 There, there dear. Maybe you should try what I use. It cleans up all of those nasty beer stains and dirt marks. Plus, it completely brakes up all kinds of dirt in those hard to reach areas where germs live. And you know what the best part is, it washes away smoke scum for good. No soaking overnight or harsh chemicals. You'll never guess what it is?

 Well don't put me on hold Martha! Tell me!

Fels Naptha laundry soap; Silly!    

 Fels Naptha? Why that's the soap mother used to use.

Strange, isn't it that a bar of soap your mothers used can now clean electronics. So ladies, the next time your husband comes home from tour with dirty triode amplifier vacuum tubes, reach for 
Fels Naptha. laundry soap. Ask your grocer today! 

After removing all of the accessory items, control knob plates, manufacture tag and decorative insignia, it was time to wash-up. A good thorough cleaning later, the real clean-up begins. The decision was made to repaint the whole amp after discovering the original paint was to far damaged to be saved. Now I could of used the same color as it's original paint but I wanted this amp to have a bit of a modern flair. Taking advantage of eye catching "art deco" control knob back plates, I really wanted the small details to pop out at the user. So I chose black to be painted on. A wrinkle paint to keep up with the vintage feel.

  Repainting any vintage tube equipment requires a lot of preparation. Not only do you have to mask off any areas you don't want painted but in most cases you have to remove all sockets and plugs. Basically anything attached to the main chassis such as: transformers, switches, control pots etc... This is by far the most time consuming and frustrating work to be done. Other parts such as terminal strips and manufacture tag were riveted on, so removing them is a task in itself. The popped rivet variety are relativity easy to brake lose, just a matter of punching the broken stub though and then squeezing the smaller end usually frees it. But these are brass standard rivets. I could drill them out or use a chisel to get under the flattened end and then cut it off with a pair of heavy duty wire cutters. Saving ware and tear on drill bits, I chose the latter. Now everything is removed and masked for painting. Have an adult beverage. You deserve it !

  Some specialty paint stores carry spray cans of wrinkle paint. You can't just go to your local Home Depot and expect them to have this stuff folks, that's doing it the easy way (wink, wink). Before you pop that spray can cover off and press down on the nozzle pointing back at you (come on, how many time have you actually done that? He, he.) Make sure the surface is clean and dust free. I found that compressed air makes this job quick and simple. Now a word of warning: This paint is highly attracted to casual clothes, white dress shirts and spit polished church shoes. It also has an irreversible side effect of upsetting your mom or wife ( the poor people that have to wash your clothes). So ware something that you'll won't mind getting wrinkle paint on.  To apply this paint, it requires several coats. Spray the first layer in horizontal sweeps, let dry for five minutes. The second coat is sprayed in vertical sweeps and let dry for five minutes. The third, diagonally....etc. I did five coats. Let dry at room temperature for 24 hrs.  This stuff dries slower then you average spray paint. "I don't see wrinkles. All I see is flat dripping paint. Is this normal?" Whoa, relax and have another adult beverage. This is normal. Wrinkles won't start forming until after about a few hours.

                                                          **Let's Accessorize** 

    Ahh, wrinkles. Nothing says "vintage" more then a non-fading, non-staining wrinkles on someone's forehead but then again it would look better having it on a freshly painted tube amplifier. Back on the work bench, two hours were spent popping in new rivets, this was a choir in-deed. Yes, just like going to the hair parlor, a woman needs new ear rings to complete her look. This harp amp's day of beauty received a shinning pair of brass rivets.  Installing these rivets via the preferred method wasn't going to be easy, as of the confined spaces and without an appropriate die for setting a rolled over end. So my next option was to force it in with a clamp. Having a welders clamp on hand made riveting in these confined spaces better then the hammer and die method. (Easier said then done) But it worked!


Welders clamp.
With every accessory in place with a rivet or two, it was time to think about tubes. Remember that I said the guy I bought this off of didn't leave any tubes. Yeah, what a pompous putridity person he was (OK so guess I was to harsh using words like A$$. So I'll use Tube Tooting Traitor). Anyways,  plugging all tubes into their respective sockets, I powered this harp amp up to do the inaugural "smoke test". For those of you who aren't familiar with the term "smoke test", it's basically the first time you power on a repaired device. If you don't see any whiffs of white smoke emanating from it; you've done a good repair job.........And it passed! I didn't see smoke.
Pressing rivet.

 Now it's time to use this harp amp, but not in the traditional way. I'm not a musician. So playing the harmonica and get'en blues with my brother was out of the question.  There had to be another way of using this amp. Enter transcription disc player.......

"Easier said then done"
  Yes, getting into class A audio as cheaply as possible requires thinking outside of the box. What better turntable then with broadcast quality equipment. Radio stations had to have the best gear to put out great audio. That won't happen using a RadioShack record player from the 80's.  No, audio from big corporate giants of the airwaves throwing out big signals and 30 second big money slinging promotions had to have great quality sound to get your attention. That's why I chose broadcast level equipment. When everybody out on the market is spending money on Thorns turntables, I on the other hand sneak under the radar grabbing those reliable players, such as transcription disk players.

 The Rek-O-Kut transcription disk turntable was used by many stations during the 50's and 60's. I found this beauty on Craigslist for a fraction of what it would cost if I got it from Fea-bay *shish* Plus it was located near by, so shipping this mammoth was all on my driving skills of an old beat up VW van. Nice!

Transcription player from WJLB
 For those of you who don't know what a transcription disk player is. Basically it's an over grown industrial strength turntable that plays a slightly larger disk. 16 inch's to be exact. Why so big? (said no girl ever) To fit a whole half hour radio program on one side of a disk without interruption required a large disk. You see, all those old time radio programs were sent out to the radio stations via transcription disks. This was before the internet and ISDN phone lines mind you! The Rek-O-Kut LP-743 turntable is a straight forward design, implementing solid heavy cast iron platter with a ball bearing shaft. The motor drive is the simplest mechanized pinched wheel design in the industry during that time period. It features three different play speeds (33 1/3, 45, and 78 rpm) all controlled by a swivel connecting motor arm. All of this, mounted in a beautifully finish wood cabinet that sits on top of a metal stand. The tone arm is a GE 16" transcription arm with a GE variable reluctance mono cartridge.

      Plug that harp amp in and powered up the turntable. Slapped on a 45............Yeah,  sounds like nothing else. As the adage goes - "they don't make them like they used to" or maybe it should read like - "they don't sound like they used to".