There’s an old joke that all you need to fix TVs is a cheater, a heater, and a meter. If you don’t remember, a cheater was a cord to override the interlock on TVs so you could turn them on with the back removed. Of course, in real life, pro repair techs always had better equipment. In 1939 that might have meant the Supreme Vedolyzer which combined a meter, a ‘scope, and a wavemeter all in one device. [Mr Carlson] acquired one that was in fair shape and made a few videos (see below) of the teardown and restoration.
[Mr Carlson] wasn’t restoring this as an art project, by the way. He plans on using it, so he was less concerned with authenticity and more worried about usability. That led him to do things like remove the input jacks and replace them with BNCs. The video series is a bit of a time investment. Part one is about 82 minutes long! But if you are interested in old gear, this is a chance to peer inside an unusual specimen.
If you grew up in the latter part of the 20th century, you didn’t have the Internet we have today — or maybe not at all. What you did have, though, was Radio Shack within an hour’s drive. They sold consumer electronics, of course, but they also sold parts and kits. In addition to specific kits, they always had some versions of a universal kit where lots of components were mounted on a board and you could easily connect and disconnect them to build different things. [RetoSpector78] found a 200-in-1 kit at a thrift store that was exactly like the one he had as a kid and he shares it with us in the video below.
This was a particularly fancy model since it has a nice looking front panel with a few knobs and displays. The book shows you how to make the 200 different projects ranging from metronomes to rain detectors. The projects really fell into several categories. There were practical circuits like radio receivers, test equipment, and transmitters. Then there were games or circuits even the manual called “silly.” In addition, there were circuits to build simply to understand how they work, like flip flops or counters.
The Living Computers museum in Seattle has a Xerox Alto, the machine famous for being the first to sport a mouse-based windowing graphical user interface. They received it in working condition and put it in their exhibit, but were dismayed when a year later it ceased to operate. Some detective work revealed that the power supply was failing to reach parts of the machine, and further investigation revealed an unlikely culprit. Electromigration had degraded the contacts between the supply pins and the backplane traces.
This one just doesn’t pop up very often. But in the case of the Alto, an under-specified power distribution system caused a lot of current to flow through too few solder joints. Those joints were left without enough metal to make a decent connection, so they failed.
The fix came with a set of sturdy busbars freshly soldered to the pins, but the interest in this piece comes more from the unusual phenomenon that caused it. That soldered joints can seemingly flow away defies belief. It’s still something most of us will never encounter, but like tales of ball lightning it’s one for the “Fancy that!” collection.
We all have that friend who brings us their sad busted electronics. In [Leo’s] case, he had a MIDI sequencer from a musician friend. It had a dead display and the manufacturer advised that a driver IC was probably bad, even sending a replacement surface mount part.
[Leo] wasn’t convinced though. He knew that people were always pushing on the switches that were mounted on the board and he speculated that it might just be a bad solder joint. As you can see in the video below, that didn’t prove out.
The next step was to fire up a hot air gun. Instead of removing the chip, he wanted to reflow the solder anyway. He was a little worried about melting the 7-segment LEDs so he built a little foil shield to protect it. That didn’t get things working, either.
The lengths the retrocomputing devotee must go to in order to breathe new life into old gear can border on the heroic. Tracing down long-discontinued parts, buying multiple copies of the same unit to act as organ donors for the one good machine, and when all else fails, improvising with current productions parts to get that vintage look and feel.
This LCD display backlighting fix for a vintage audio sampler falls into that last category, which was pulled off by [Inkoo Vintage Computer]. The unit in question is an Akai S1100 sampler, a classic from the late 1980s that had already been modified to replace the original floppy drive with a USB reader when the backlight on the LCD began to give out. Replacements for the original electroluminescent backlight are available, but [Inkoo] opted for a cheaper way out. An iPhone 6s 6 Plus backlight was an inexpensive option, if it could be made to fit. Luckily, [Inkoo] was able to trim the diffuser without causing any electrical issues. A boost converter was needed to run the backlight from the sampler’s 5 V DC rail, and interfacing the backlight’s flexible circuitry to the 80s-era copper wiring was a bit fussy, but the results were great. The sampler’s LCD is legible again, and looks just like it might have in the studio back when [Depeche Mode] and [Duran Duran] were using it to crank out hits.
The Computer History Museum in Mountain View has two operational IBM 1401 mainframes, which use IBM 1403 high-speed printers. They aren’t some decades-old notion of “high speed” that barely looks sluggish today, either. These monsters slam out ten lines per second thanks to a rotating chain of type slugs and an array of electromagnetic hammers. Every 11.1 microseconds, a character in the chain would be lined up with a hammer, and if the control circuitry identified it as a character that needed to be printed, the hammer behind the paper would drive the paper into the print ribbon and the slug, putting an imprint of the character onto the paper. When one of these printers failed with a sync error, it kicked off some serious troubleshooting to diagnose the problem.
Investigation of the problem ultimately led to an intermittent connection in a driver card due to a broken PCB trace, but by then some fuses had been blown as well. In the end the printer was brought back online, but possibly with a slightly damaged coil on one of the hammers.
[Ken]’s writeup on the repair process is highly detailed and walks through the kind of troubleshooting and repairs involved when solving problems with vintage electronics. Electrical fundamentals might be the same, but a deep understanding of not only the architecture but also the failure modes of vintage hardware is needed in order to troubleshoot effectively.
If IBM 1401 mainframes and fixing 1403 printers sounds familiar, it’s because a printer fix has been done before. That was due to a different problem, but still a challenging task to narrow down and fix.
The Tektronix 2000 series of oscilloscopes are a mainstay for any electronics lab. They work, they’re relatively cheap, they’re good, and they’re available in just about any surplus electronics store. [Mr.RC-Cam] has been hoarding one of these for twenty years, and like any classic piece of equipment, it needs a little refurbishment every now and again. Now, it’s time. Here’s how you repair one of the best values in analog oscilloscopes.
This repair adventure began when the scope died. There were no lights, no screen trace, and a brief hiss sound when it was powered on. (Ten points if you can guess what that hiss sound was!) Armed with a schematic, [Mr.RC-Cam] dove in and pulled the power supply, being careful to discharge the CRT beforehand.
There were no bulging capacitors, no obviously overheated components, and just a little bit of dust. The only solution was to look at the parts with a meter one at a time. Removing the big caps provided access to a row of diodes, which revealed the culprit: a single shorted diode. This part was ordered, and a few other housekeeping tasks were taken care of. The lithium battery on the processor board responsible for storing the calibration constants was replaced, and the new, smaller, caps got lovely 3D printed mounting flange adapters. Now, this old ‘scope works, and we’ve got a lovely story to tell around the electronic campfire.