Artisanal Vacuum Tubes: Hackaday Shows You How

Homemade Vacuum Tube
Homemade Vacuum Tube

About a decade ago I started a strange little journey in my free time that cut a path across electronics manufacturing from over the last century. One morning I decided to find out how the little glowing glass bottles we sometimes call electron tubes worked. Not knowing any better I simply picked up an old copy of the Thomas Register. For those of you generally under 40 that was our version of Google, and resembled a set of 10 yellow pages.

I started calling companies listed under “Electron Tube Manufacturers” until I got a voice on the other end. Most of the numbers would ring to the familiar “this number is no longer in service” message, but in one lucky case I found I was talking to a Mrs. Roni Elsbury, nee Ulmer of M.U. Inc. Her company is one of the only remaining firms still engaged in the production of traditional style vacuum tubes in the U.S. Ever since then I have enjoyed occasional journeys down to her facility to assist her in maintenance of the equipment, work on tooling, and help to solve little engineering challenges that keep this very artisanal process alive. It did not take too many of these trips to realize that this could be distilled down to some very basic tools and processes that could be reproduced in your average garage and that positive, all be it rudimentary results could be had with information widely available on the Internet.

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Low-Voltage Tube Amp is Great for Beginners

If you ever wanted to build your own tube amplifier but you were intimidated by working with high voltages, [Marcel]’s low-voltage tube amp design might spark your interest. The design operates with a B+ (plate) voltage of only 40v, making it less intimidating and dangerous than many other amps that operate over 300V. It’s also incredibly easy to build—the whole design uses only 11 components.

The amplifier is designed around the ECL82 tube, which includes both a triode and a pentode in one package. The ECL82 is practically an amplifier in a tube: it was designed for low-cost electronics like record players that needed to be as simple as possible. The triode in the ECL82 is used as a pre-amplifier for the incoming signal. The pentode is controlled with the pre-amplified signal and acts as a power amplifier.

[Marcel]’s amplifier also uses a PY88 tube rectifier instead of semiconductor diodes, making it an entirely silicon-free design. Although [Marcel] hasn’t posted up detailed build instructions yet, his simple schematic should be all you need to get started. If you want some more background information about tube amps but you don’t know where to start, check out our post on basic tube amp design from earlier this year.

Poor Audio Quality Made Great: Listen to Vintage Music Using an Antique Radio Without Removing the Insides

Sometimes it is not how good but how bad your equipment reproduces sound. In a previous hackaday post the circuitry of a vintage transistor radio was removed so that a blue tooth audio source could be installed and wired to the speaker. By contrast, this post will show how to use the existing circuitry of a vintage radio for playing your own audio sources while at the same time preserving the radio’s functionality. You will be able to play your music through the radio’s own audio signal chain then toggle back to AM mode and listen to the ball game. Make a statement – adapt and use vintage electronics.

Pre-1950’s recordings sound noisy when played on a high-fidelity system, but not when played through a Pre-War console radio. An old Bing Crosby tune sounds like he is broadcasting directly into your living room with a booming AM voice. You do not hear the higher frequency ‘pops’ and ‘hiss’ that would be reproduced by high-fidelity equipment when playing a vintage recording. This is likely due to the fact that the audio frequency signal chain and speaker of an antique radio are not capable of reproducing higher frequencies. Similarly, Sam Cooke sounds great playing out of an earlier transistor radio. These recordings were meant to be played on radios from the era in which they were recorded.

Choosing an Antique Radio

Vintage radios can be found at garage sales, estate sales, hamfests, antique shops, antique radio swap meets, and Ebay. Millions of radios have been manufactured. People often give them away. For this reason, antique radios are relatively inexpensive and the vast majority are not rare or valuable.

Generally speaking, tube radios must be serviced and may not even work. Transistor radios often work to some level. Try to find a radio that is clean and uses a power supply transformer or batteries.

Click past the break to learn how to restore these radios to working condition

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