For a while now I thought it would be fun to find some sort of old tube amp to work on. I’ve been looking in local thrift shops and estate sales but so far nothing of interest has shown up. Last Friday as I was taking my daily walk I was passing by a house and noticed that they were putting items out on the driveway for a garage sale. I didn’t think to much of this at first as I see this sight almost every Friday but this time one item caught my eye. It was a cabinet that looked like it was from the 1950′s and looked like it might be a stereo system. I went over and took a look and sure enough it was a old RCA Orthophonic HiFi system and it looked to be in very good condition. I asked the fellow selling it how much he wanted to which he replied $50. I offered $30 and we agreed on $40. He said the unit worked the last time he turned it on but had a loud hum. He then started showing my some old records that he had. There were about a dozen records stored each in it own sleeve in contained in a larger album. The album holding the records was falling apart but the records themselves seemed to be in pretty good shape. I didn’t recognize most of the music on them but these were those wonderful old thick vinyl records. I realized that they just had to stay with the cabinet so I offered $50 for the all of it which he agreed to. So I stopped at the market on my way home to pick up a sandwich for lunch and some cash for my purchase and went back after lunch to pick up my new project. It fit nicely in my Subaru Forester which I took as a sign that it was meant to be.
The cabinet itself looks pretty good with a few little dings and some wear as would be expected for a well used 50 year old piece of furniture. The front panel looks pretty clean and all the knobs are intact. The turntable also looks to be in fairly good shape with all parts accounted for, even the adapter for automatically changing 45′s is there in it’s compartment. There’s even a nice gold colored metal plate inside the front door with a registration number imprinted on it. Looking on the backside of the unit the amplifier/tuner looked very dusty but in good shape. No rust and all the tubes seem to be intact. To my surprise even the speakers seemed to be in good condition with no obvious tears in the paper cones.
I then decided to plug it in to see what happens. I cautiously inserted the plug ready to yank it out at the first sign of smoke. Nothing happened, a good sign. I then found the on switch and turned the unit on. As expected there was a rather loud hum coming from the speakers but still no smoke. I played with the controls a bit to see if I could hear anything besides the hum and found that I was able to tune in some radio stations. I then started looking at the turntable. I turned it on and the plater made halting motions like it wanted to move but wasn’t sure how. I tried switching the speeds and it moved a bit more with each change. The speeds themselves are interesting. There’s selections for 16, 33, 45 and 78 RPM. I’m not sure I’ve never run across a 16 RPM record so once I get this working I’ve have to find one to try it out.
All in all I found nothing unexpected in how the unit functioned. The loud hum is caused by worn out 50 year old capacitors which I knew would have to be changed. The fact that I was able to hear some radio stations tells me that the tubes and other components are probably all in working order. The turntable seems to have a working motor and probably just needs a good cleaning and adjustments. I’m a little leery about my ability to do that part of the restoration but it shouldn’t be too hard. I did a little research online and was able to find the diagrams and schematics for both the amplifier/tuner and the turntable. There’s actually some incredible resources out there for repairing old radios.
Here’s a link to an article that goes into great detail about replacing capacitors on old radios:
And this link to a thread in the Antique Radios forums that shows step by step details of restoring an RCA turntable that is very similar to the unit I have:
The image at the start of this post is from an old RCA ad for what appears to be a model very similar to the one I now own. I ran across this on one of the websites I found while researching the unit. They sure don’t make ads like they used to. The old art work is wonderful.
I love how when you start thinking about something it all of a sudden shows up in your life. It just means you need to choose your thoughts carefully. This is going to be a fun project. I’ll post more pictures and info when I start pulling it all apart. First things first though, I’m going to to have to do my least favorite part of the restoration; cleaning the garage so I have some room to work.