Think of antique radio collections and you probably conjure an image of shelves filled with cathedral and tabletop receivers, suitcase portables and large floor-standing consoles.
But to those who came of age in the 1970s, vintage radio collections can also include items like Pioneer receivers, Nakamichi cassette decks, Realistic 8-track players, Teac reel-to-reel recorders and Heathkit shortwave sets. Most of these devices have passed the 30-year mark, and they too can be classified as antiques.
Vintage ’70s gear has a devoted group of collectors and small businesses that have grown around this hobby.
Rick Stout, owner of stereomanuals.com, started his vintage gear collection in the usual way, buying silver Pioneer gear on eBay.
After eight months of collecting gear and manuals, he began to sell manuals on eBay. Finally, Stout bought 800 Pioneer manuals in a bulk purchase and started his own Web site.
“I was overwhelmed by the response,” said Stout, “and couldn’t keep up with e-mail requests.” He gradually involved his three daughters in the business, then acquired and cataloged an additional 60,000 manuals.
“I’m now able to respond to 90 percent of the requests in less than 24 hours.”
As the business developed, Stout became an expert in documentation and manual reproduction.
“People usually think that digitally-scanned documents are the best option, but digital scans result in the ‘jaggies,’ making fine print unreadable.” Stout does all reproductions with a commercial-grade Toshiba analog photocopy machine, which has virtually unlimited resolution.
Stereomanuals.com’s customer base includes both repair shops and collectors worldwide. Prices range from $3 to over $70.
“The more expensive manuals may be an inch and a half thick with over 300 pages, half of which are folded pull-outs. It can take over three hours just to photocopy.”
“The irony to all this,” Stout reflects, “is that the business keeps me so busy that I don’t have time to enjoy the Pioneer gear that got it started in the first place.”
While modern broadcasters have debated the merits of 5.1, vintage collectors revel in the original surround sound format: quad.
The four-channel enthusiast known as QuadBob explains there are two groups of vintage quad collectors, “those of us who started with quadraphonic in the ’70s when it was new, and those who have backed into quad after discovering modern 5.1 multichannel music.”
Worth a LookThe Web has a wealth of information on vintage stereo gear. Here are some notable sites for parts, service and collecting of ’70s equipment:
www.8trackheaven.com — History of the 8-track medium, info on cartridge repair, 8-track tapes and gear for sale, sources for parts.
www.dual-reference.com — History, troubleshooting, maintenance, parts and service information for the classic German-made Dual turntables.
www.fmtunerinfo.com — Info on parts, repair, alignment, lamps and vintage tuner reviews.
www.stereomanuals.com — Rick Stout’s site specializes in ’70s audio literature and documentation. Interesting pictures and stories of collections in the ‘Your Pages’ section.
www.classicaudio.com — vintage gear for sale, parts, valuation.
www.silverpioneer.netfirms.com — Great pictures of silver Pioneer collections, history of the company, descriptions of virtually all Pioneer audio gear.
www.keys.com/antenna/antennadex.html — Jeremy Lansman’s site contains a boatload of information on FM/TV antennas, including understanding specifications.
www.eserviceinfo.com — free downloads of many service manuals in PDF format.
www.classicsansui.net — Literature, discussion forum, schematics, pictures and repair info on all types of Sansui gear from the 70s.
ww_heco.home.mindspring.com — Bill Wilkinson’s Heath Company page includes a history of the world’s largest electronics kit manufacturer, as well as information on products. Note, the ww_ in the URL is correct.
He adds that the “new” quad collectors experience the limited titles available in the modern 5.1 channel formats, Dolby Digital, DTS, DVD-Audio and SCAD, and when they discover that there are literally thousands of quadraphonic music titles produced during the ’70s, they begin seeking them out. They then get interested in the equipment to play back quadraphonic media.
QuadBob continues, “The ‘original’ quad guys are a minority among vintage collectors, but are some of the most dedicated equipment and music collectors in the audio industry.”
This interest drives prices for quad media on eBay to extraordinary levels. He notes that a quad 8-track of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” went for $676, while a quad LP of the Jackson 5’s “Greatest Hits” sold for a record $900.
The interest in quad gear among collectors has been sufficient for QuadBob to develop a small business restoring vintage quad equipment. While he is famous for his Sansui QRX-9001 receiver restorations, he also works on other receivers in the QRX series as well as quad decoders, 8-track decks, reel-to-reel recorders and turntables.
Dave Compton is a collector who not only runs the SansuiLovers Web site, but also has a room in his house set aside for a Sansui museum with more than 50 items.
Included in the collection is a Sansui 6, one of the company’s earliest products. Compton is a computer tech by day, but has a Sansui repair business on the side. He looks for the more challenging repair and restoration projects that others can’t or won’t fix.
He has several suggestions for bringing vintage stereo gear back to life.
Many cosmetic repairs are simple to remedy. Small dings and dents in wood cabinets can be fixed by swelling the wood with steam from an iron. Dings in aluminum faceplates may be made less noticeable by carefully filing away raised metal with a jeweler’s file. He adds that there are others who will refinish badly damaged wood cabinets by replacing the veneer.
Some of the bulbs for tuner dial lights and stereo indicators are simply no longer available. Compton explains this is where some detective work is necessary to find a modern replacement that not only fits, but has the proper current and voltage ratings.
Carelessly substituting bulbs can damage equipment. Bulbs that run hotter than the originals can melt or discolor dial faceplates. A replacement stereo indicator bulb that draws too much current can destroy the FM demodulator ICs, many of which are no longer available.
Many novice collectors create problems by disassembling noisy switches and volume controls, which is not necessary. These are a common issue with older sets, and Compton notes that virtually all can be restored by spraying with Deoxit and exercising.
Many of the original output transistors for ’70s power amps are hard to find, and Compton cautions that an additional concern is counterfeit semiconductors, which are virtually indistinguishable from the originals. He adds that the best solution is to buy a comparable unit for parts on eBay.
The only way to verify a power transistor’s performance dynamically is with a curve tracer, a piece of test equipment beyond the budget of most restorers.
Compton sometimes substitutes newer output devices in power amps he is repairing. These often have better current capability than the originals, offering an improved safe operating area.
Vintage cassette decks have their own issues, mainly related to the parts in the transport. Compton notes that belts are still easy to obtain, and there are craftsmen who can remanufacture pinch rollers. Although the cassette format is still popular in some parts of Asia, finding replacement heads in this country can be difficult. Alignment cassettes are still available from companies such as TASCAM.