Apex Electronics, Your Souce For Oscilloscopes And Drop Tanks

While some of the Hackaday crew is in LA for The Gathering, we decided to make a trip out to Apex Electronics, easily the oldest and largest electronics surplus store on the west coast.

Inside Apex, everything is stacked to the 20-foot ceiling with any electronic component you can imagine. Want a shopping cart full of huge capacitors? Awesome. Tube sockets? Done. Any kind of wire imaginable? That takes up two aisles. Test equipment abounds as well with oscilloscopes, signal analyzers and function generators, multimeters, and even a pair of cockpit voice recorders.

There’s also an outside yard at Apex containing at least two airplanes (one is a Cessna 150 that’s crying out to be made into a flight simulator), yet more test equipment, tons of video equipment, a few aircraft drop tanks, and enough aluminum extrusion to build anything.

If you’re wondering how fair the prices are at Apex, I picked up a grab bag assortment of wire wrap sockets (including a few 64-pin DIPs) that would cost $100 through the usual eBay/Chinese retailers for only $5. [Mike] picked up some stepper motors, proto boards, a pound of standoffs, and a dozen some vintage 7-segment displays for $20. No clue how much the test equipment costs, but from what we’ve seen the prices are low.

We’re not the first EE/Hacker Blog/Vlog to visit Apex. [Dave Jones] made the trek a few years ago and posted an awesome video. Below you’ll find a ton of pictures from our trip.

72 thoughts on “Apex Electronics, Your Souce For Oscilloscopes And Drop Tanks

      1. HA HA…………Used to take the TROLLEY car to downtown LA Saturdays to the surplus stores (2 of em) and scavange parts for my military radios. 15 bucks went along way for the days junque and VACUUM TUBES.

  1. these places are becoming fewer and fewer by the day. Locally we had one in NE Indiana not less than 5 years ago, the owner let the younger guy in charge take it over. instead of selling stuff like they had done for many many years and making money off it he decided that stripping every bit of copper off of everything no matter what it was at the end of the day was in his best interest. now he is dead broke, the place is no more, countless pieces of great electronics were destroyed for pennies on the dollar.

    I’m just glad some are still going

    1. Actually gold-scraping seems to be some sort of scam going on in the squashed maggot of the Internet’s hivemind, Youtube. Some attractive young woman telling all how she makes millions buying old cellphones and getting the milligrams of gold from them.

      Dunno what the scam is, but there must be one, simply because the idea’s so stupid. At least for first-world people. Any clues?

      1. Maybe there is a magick liquid that can suck all of that gold from old cellphones on sale?

        A few people went bust with “metal extraction” in the 1980 – 1990’s; On a small scale, it is just not viable outside 3-word countries and China, where it does not exactly matter with pollution and poisonings and so on. It is barely viable on an industrial scale, again with the processing outsourced to some remote place where the un-people live, but it’s Green, so it must be Good, rite?

      1. You wouldn’t need to. Just list a dozen of each thing (scopes, meters, etc) and keep listing more as things get sold off. If something doesn’t sell for a while, replace it with a new listing.

        They could even make an RSS feed out of it and people could watch for something interesting to get posted.

        1. Yup. Or just start a database, add a few new items every day. You don’t need to inventory it all at once. Probably a few student geeks would do the job for store credit, if you could peel them away from staring at stuff for ages at a time.

  2. This is exactly why west coast hackers like that Ben fellow are so “prolific”… You can go to a place like this and load up on everything you could ever want and things you didn’t even know existed and impress the hell out of the blog world with your mad hacking skills when all you did was resurrect some old piece of gear that no one knows about because “they just don’t build ’em like that anymore”. The reason they don’t sell this crap on ebay is because of all the shipping / listing/ logistics costs would not make it affordable when you can buy the stuff by the pound in person. Also, I’d say a large part of it is restricted for export and who would want to sort all of that out and risk major legal issues? A smart person would go to these places, buy up abunch of it on the cheap and flip it on the web themselves.

    1. Yeah, I know what you mean. Like the liquid nitrogen generator build from the Stirling cryocooler out of a cellphone station superconducting filter. Ordinary 19” rack mount box 20$ worth in scrap if you don’t know what’s inside. Once you know that there’s a autonomous cryocooler inside, the box increases like 30x in value.

      In this aspect, it’s a bit sad that there’s no inventory done, so noone knows what treasures are lying around. On the other hand, if they would do an inventory, there would be a rush of people picking all the good stuff and you would be left with scrap, which there’s also plenty of. So it’s like going on a treasure hunt when going there.

      1. It might even take the fun out of going there! A liquid nitrogen generator has to be awesome though, even just for making ice cream. Didn’t know cellphone stations used superconductors, didn’t know superconductors were used in industry at all. Maybe military research and I suppose MRI scanners?

        I’m half convinced to make it a holiday destination, it’d pay for the flight out of the savings. Getting it back in your luggage would be the bugger.

  3. Me andf my girlfriend are going to LA in august, I showed her their site and was just waiting for her rection. To my amaze there were no protest so it looks like I’m gonna have to pay a shitload of money for extra baggage on the flight from LA. =D

  4. And when you are done there, drive down the street to 8321 / 8311 San Fernando road and visit two thrift stores, “Whats New” and the “Relic”. Both are supermarkets of thrift stores. “Whats New” seems to focus on smaller collectables, jewelry, clothing and nick-nacks but there is a back yard where industrial furniture and tech congregate. The “Relic” is more like a traditional “junk shop”. Bicycles, battered console radios, quack medicine devices, real medical equipment, amps amps amps, computers, video cameras, movie cameras, lenses, industrial tech, old records, all of varying age and condition. There is also a back yard with more stuff if it’s open. There is also a third thrift store down the street but it’s more a traditional store, though I saw I pile of touch screens there once.

      1. It does look like a VCR’s spinning tape head. If it is, it’ll have slip rings for getting the signal from the tape head, which will be great for sending power and LED control signals down.

  5. Any time I’ve gone there and found old WWII surplus radio equipment I’ve been interested in, they ask absolutely rediculous prices for it, literally on par if it were made of gold. I’m like “C’mon!” And they reply with the BS that they “lease this stuff out to movie production.” Uh-huh. Some of it hasn’t moved from its spot in my lifetime, and It did rain a bit the last few winters here. I call absolute BS.

    Try to get into the “secret room” with all the vacuum tubes. Walk back the 1st row inside the building nearest the street. A door that says “keep out,” etc. Ask nicely for staff to let you look. Grab any random vacuum tube and ask for a price, and prepare for sticker shock. Do the same with a mid-to large transmitting tube, and you’ll put a second mortgage on your home if you want to leave with it.

    There’s actually a whole second warehouse down the side street. Got taken through there once. Awesome stuff. More insane asking prices and utter inflexibility in negotiating.

    Apex makes money 2 ways: They run a scrap metals business on the side… er, out back.

    Second, they make money in the scenarios like the one mentioned in these comments about “You would be surprised by how many Radio & TV stations are on the air because of them.” Desparation + Deep Pockets = Quick and easy sales!

    Its cool to look there, but really frustrating to try and buy anything on a hobbyist’s budget. Glad you were able to get away with something at an acceptable price. It happens, but its rare.

  6. I had the absolute joy of working in a similar place (sadly long gone, now) when I was young. Unfortunately, they didn’t pay me enough to afford to shop there, so I was unable to get my hands on any of the awesome treasures.

  7. If you are ever in the Twin Cities I’d strongly recommend you go to Ax-Man Surplus, they’ve been around for 50 years and you can easily stumble on some rare and esoteric electronics that make for great project components. They have a location about 30 minutes from me, so lets just say I have more than a small pile of some pretty awesome things, much to the dismay of my family.

    1. I miss Acme that used to be in the Warehouse Disctrict. The building where it used to be is now high-class condos but they had all manner of interesting things and much better electronics selection than Ax-Man (sadly I didn’t buy that gimbaled nosecone).

  8. I hope you guys also got a chance to visit All Electronics while you were here. It’s less flashy than Apex, but it’s a terrific surplus shop owned and operated by genuine tinkerers. They always have what I need to build something, and you get ideas just by walking around in there. Most of their stock is also sold through their website (http://www.allelectronics.com), but it’s well worth the trip to see what’s “new” in person. A proper surplus shop of the sort you don’t see anymore.

    1. Definitely. I remember hearing about that place when I was working down there for a short time, and I stopped, and it’s amazing what they have there. And, it’s the only parts/surplus place I’ve been that’s got a UFO on the roof.

    1. I think that would have to do with more companies out sourcing manufacturing to the Far East. The rate of companies closing their labs in California probably peaked several years ago, resulting in less input to Apex’s inventory currently. Plus, a lot of electronics are now “disposable” so, fewer companies exist to do troubleshooting and repair. Back during the Clinton years, a lot of military base closures resulted in a flooding of electronic equipment surplus as PMEL’s (calibration labs) were closed along with their bases.

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