Mono Pilot Hi-Fi Console System circa 1955

From PS Dot Com reader C. McColm come these images of his original circa 1955 Pilot mono hi-fi system.  I take C.M. at his word when he relates that there was a cult for Pilot in the 1950s; this website gets an unusual amount of traffic from individuals searching for, and reading, the few PILOT articles I have posted.

Pilotuners were made for a very long time, in many configurations; I’ve personally bought two in the past year alone.  Complete 1950s hi-fi systems like C.M.s are rare these days for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that many have been cut up and gutted for parts over the years.  It can be hard to find the space to incorporate a unit like this in a modern domestic-space, but for anyone who enjoys listening to 1940s and 1950s recordings, I can’t imagine a better way to hear it than on a system like this.

C.M. relates:

‘ALL PILOT electronics; Pilotuner tuner/pre amp, Miracord Auto Turntable.  Williamson Amp with a pair of Genelex KT66 tubes … Great sound: like you are really there. The Pilot pre amp tuner has adjustable AFC for the FM, EQ for the phono; roll-off  and turnover frequencies and a setting for early 78s; if you have 78’s, you need this eq setting to hear them properly. The built-in speaker cabinet is ported and bass reproduction is clear and solid. The High end on the triaxial speaker is great also. Speaker is branded University Sound; (this was) a division of Altec. Huge speaker with L-pads for the mid and high frequency drivers.

    ‘ This console, with the original Goodmans Speaker, won 1st place in a hi-fi show in NY city. My friend’s Father assembled it .This turntable has a Magnetic cartridge . A lot of systems then were (considered) hi-end if they had a Magnetic phono input . It has both LP and 78 needles switch-able without removal.’

‘This set sat inoperative for a long time . (I performed) a complete cabinet restoration, replaced a fuse, and cleaned the controls. This set really gets the job done. Pilot was really HI END; it was not as popular as Fisher or Marantz or Scott. People in the know knew about this stuff.’

See this link and this link for previous PILOT coverage on Preservation Sound.

Multi-use vacuum-tube audio mixer circa 1960

Download a three-page article from Electronics World “Hi Fi Annual & Audio Handbook 1960” which details the construction of a 4-channel tube mixer:

DOWNLOAD: Tube_Mix_It_Box_1960

“Electronics World” Magazine published these ‘hi-fi annuals’ in the late 50s/early 60s; from what i can gather, they seem to be collections of reprints of the notable audio-content that EW published in the prior year.  I picked up this 1960 edition a few years ago in the excellent Antiques Mall of Madison; some excellent vinyl LPs and rare paper dealers as well.

Anyhow.  This mixer has some interesting features; nice simple circuit for calibration pot for DB meter; the best part though is the output stage: a 6AK6 tube is used into a 10k ohm load and promises a .8 watt output.  I am not aware of any other hi-fi line output stages with 6AK6s; def want to try it.  .8 watts output would very welcome in many of my builds…  can’t get enough of that clean headroom…

Here’s the schematic (included in the download as well).


Not what a synthesizer can do, but what a man can do with a synthesizer.

There’s a chance that Gold Coast Recorders will soon have a Crumar DS-2 in our synth collection/pile;  researching this Italo-Moog turned up the absolute best instrument-demonstration video that I have ever seen on youtube.   As Polish creator WC Olo Garb states, his (?) mission is to “show() you not what a synthesizer can do, but what a man can do with a synthesizer.”    For instance:

All in all, the video provides some of the best video-treatment analogies-to-sonic-effects that I’ve ever seen.  The filtering, jump cuts, found footage, multiple flavors of distressing, even the wardrobe choice are all incredibly incisive.  Even with the sound turned off I think you could get a sense of the Crumar DS-2.  Well worth all 11 minutes of your Thursday.

Out-of-Print-Book-Report: “The Guitars Friend” 1977

Download a thirteen-page excerpt from “The Guitars Friend” (no author credited), Quick Fox publishers, ISBN# 0-8256-3072-X:

DOWNLOAD: GuitarsFriend_Elec


Billed alternately as a ‘Catalog’ and a ‘Guide,’ “The Guitars Friend” (h.f. “TGF”) is a charming artifact of the late-hippie-era.  From the self-description offered in the book, TGF began as a mail-order catalog begun by former (owners or employees – unclear) of ‘Music, Strings, and Things’  a Detroit-area music store.  Seems that these retailers wanted to move to the country, and they took their business with them.  A few years later, they had stopped the mail-order business and took to solely publishing this guidebook to current musical instruments.  We’re not trying to sell you anything, man.  Just sharing.  (Although they apparently will sell you much of the gear if you write to them?  it’s all very vague.) Check it out in their own words:

The entire 180-pp volume is entirely hand-lettered and largely hand-illustrated.  It’s a pretty fantastic relic of the post-woodstock-youth generation as well as the back-to-the-land movement.

The book features descriptions and advice concerning mainly acoustic instruments, but there is a good ten pages devoted to electric guitars (no mention of amps and effects).  I’ve included the electric bits in their entirety in the download link at the head of this article.  Guitars depicted and discussed include: Ibanez Firebrand, Rocket Roll, MoonLight 59, F.M. Jr, Howie Roberts, Rick Bass, Old-Style Strat, and Strato Model; Gibson Les Paul Custom, Les Paul Deluxe, ES 335, SG Custom, Standard, L6S, and the Gibson Ripper and Grabber Bass; Fender Stratocaster, Telecaster, Mustang, Precision, Jazz, and Mustang Bass (es); Rickenbacker 4001; The Seagull Guitar, described as being built by Bernardo Rico (better known in the 80s as B.C. Rich);The Travis Bean TB1000 Standard and Deluxe; The Sunrise Electric Guitar (no model name given; made in Kalamazoo MI); and finally the Alembic Long Scale Bass and guitar, a steal at $1750 (that’s $6200 dollars in today’s bread).

Anyhow.  DL the file and give it a look…  some of the writing is pretty amazing; as in the discussion of Ibanez, who were then churning out thousands of what we now term ‘lawsuit guitars’:

“The Ibanez people…can make a copy of almost any stringed instrument and make it as good but cheaper than the original…The only complaint people seem to have is status-wise – that it is a Japanese copy.  Once they get past their own ego and conditioning, they are amazed at the quality.”

Let go of yr hangups and order a copy of “The Guitars Friend.”  Four currently available on Amazon dot com.

Takin’ em to Church (with Altec)

Download the eight-page 1966 brochure “Altec Sound Systems for Houses of Worship”:

DOWNLOAD: Altec_Worship_1966

The text above is taken from page 2 of this royal-purple-colored document.  The logical inference would be “As You Are To God, Your PA System Can Be To You! (with ALTEC)”

Been thinking about the voice/sound of God lately.  Our recent purchase of a massive Hammond Organ/Leslie speaker system at Gold Coast Recorders has led me to consider the features/tones/visual considerations that Hammond’s designers implemented when they designed these incredibly complex electro-acoustical devices.   The large Hammond Organs of the 1950s were designed (and commercially successfully, I might add) to replace the pipe organs which had functioned as a sonic {analog/representation/index/or-what-have-you} for religious expression in the Christian church for hundreds of years.  Notice that I say sonic  representation, as opposed to musical representation.  We experience the Hammond Organ/Leslie system as being impressive and one-could-say ‘godlike’ in it’s sonic attributes, even aside from any particular piece of music that’s performed on it.  The unusually deep, pure bass tones of the footpedals; the cavernous Hammond spring reverb system; the swells of the footpedal; the visceral emotional response that the Leslie speaker creates by way of it’s manipulation of the Doppler effect.

Sound systems in churches face certain special design requirements; this 1966 brochure from Altec addresses some of these concerns.  Low distortion, extremely high speech intelligibility, uniform coverage, and minimal visual presence; and all of this must be accomplished at a moderate overall acoustical volume.  Combine these sonic requirements with the fact that the sound system will often be operated by church members, ie., volunteers, ie., not-professional engineers, and you will find that operational simplicity is also necessary.

Given the large number of old Altec mixers on eBay with a stated provenance of ‘from an old church,’ I feel like Altec was probably pretty successful in their church-marketing initiatives of the 1960s.  From what I can gather, Peavey seems to be a leader in church audio today.  It’s interesting to examine the various products in their Sanctuary Series and note the differences between these and their standard nightclub PA line.

To my readers out there:  do any of you operate sound systems in churches?  Are there any special techniques in mic’ing, mixing, or processing of audio in the church environment?  Does anyone attend a church that is still using old green Altec PA kit of the 60’s?

Altec 438A – Modified for modern music production use

As we discussed in previous posts, the Altec 438A is an audio compressor designed in the late 1950s primarily for use in public-address sound systems.  It has a microphone pre-amp built in, and an absolute minimum of controls:  one knob determines the level of the signal that hits the input of the compressor; turn this knob all the way down and you hear silence; turn it high enough and you get a highly-amplified version of the input signal; keep turning it up and you get a highly amplified signal with the peaks attenuated or ‘compressed.’  There is also a 2nd input with slightly less gain; this unbalanced 100k ohm nominal input shares the same volume pot as the mic preamp.  I suppose that the 438A was useful enough in its day, as there are hundreds still to be found; but for use in a modern music-production environment, it’s pretty useless.  The levels are all wrong, there is not enough control of the compression parameters, and there is no proper balanced line-level input.

Here is how I took an original-spec 438A and modify it so that one could use it alongside more modern compressors in a music-production studio.

(From Left to Right): A switch to determine if either the two-stage mic preamp OR a balanced 15K nominal signal hits the input transformer of the compression amp; a threshold/ratio combo control ala the later Altec 436C; (top) an balanced output level control/pad ala the Gates Sta-Level (see here for details); (bottom) a release time control ala the Altec 436C.  The original volume pot still functions as an interstage gain control for the mic preamp.

Here’s the unit with the face flipped down, revealing the wiring to the newly added pots and switches.  At my client’s request I used 11-position detented pots; ALPHA makes these in a huge range of values and Mouser stocks them for just about $2 a piece.  A great value IMO.  I used sliver-plated 24ga stranded wire for the audio wiring and 22ga solid copper for the control signal wiring.

This 438A is now ready for use in any situation where a gentle, vintage compression sound is desired.  The input and output levels are what you would expect from a standard pro-audio compressor; the release timing is widely variable (but never very fast – this would cause some artifacts due to the way these simple vari-mu compressors function); and the threshold/ratio control will yield a wide range of results as well.  Since the unit was in good physical and electrical shape, no re-tubing or re-capping was necessary.

ARP Synthesizers Full-Line Catalog 1977

Download the twenty-page c.1977 ARP Instruments, Inc. catalog:

DOWNLOAD: ARP_1977_Catalog

Products covered, with text, specs, and photos, include: ARP Avatar Guitar Synth, ARP Axxe, Odyssey, and 2600 modular-style synth; ARP Sequencer; ARP Omni-2 and PRO/DGX preset synths.

ARP can be considered the ‘other’ Moog of the 1970s.  Similar product lines, pricing, and appeal; in my limited experience, ARP synths are of similar sonic potential.

I studied electronic music extensively in college; the program had a nice selection of pieces going back to the early 70s; the big daddy of which was an ARP 2600.  It still sounded great 25 years after it rolled out of the factory.



Every House Has A Mic

Any old house, on any street;

any house where a family lived, where life happened;

deep in the basement, perhaps; isolated: its partner the Tape Recorder long gone, a likely early-casualty of its own mechanical complexity;

buried among the sawdust, the poorly chosen xmas gifts, the (few or many) power tools. The microphone is inevitable, and it persists.

It’s probably not very fancy or sophisticated;

just the most basic object necessary to reliably convert sound-pressure into an electrical signal; two for stereo, if purchased after 196X (got to be realistic, right?  life is in stereo?).

An old house without a microphone would be an unthinkable as an old house without photographs.  Whatever it is that drives us to take all those pictures also drives us to capture moments of life via the sound that surrounds us, the sound that we swim in, sound that you can’t escape by something as easy as closing your eyes.   Like the camera, the microphone is a crucial tool in the ritual process of memory-enhancement and posterity-creation; the very presence of the microphone at certain moments serves to create the discourse of ‘significance’ that we have come to expect at certain moments of life.   The microphone is an index of significance, of remembering, and of the desire to remember.  To discard or destroy it would be very difficult.  And so it persists.


In The Studio

Another day of live tracking at Gold Coast Recorders.  Vocal chain working great:  Neumann U47 fet into Neve console pre into (gentle) distessor; vocalist needs to be pretty tight on the mic due to the drums, Hammond, and Super Reverb live in the room with her.  Behind the U47 is a Turner U99 dynamic amplified by one of my Altec 1566 -based mic preamps.  The perfect pairing of hi-fi & pristine / dirty and lowdown.  If you have ever thought about building your own vacuum-tube mic preamp, the Altec 1566 is a great place to start.  Here’s where I first learned about them. The 1566 is not a very clean preamp, but wow they sound great for drum fronts, toughening up acoustic gtr, etc.  We have 3 of them at GCR and they get a lot of use.  I recommend Edcor transformers for the output and power; Jensen 115 for input.