Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Bill's 1940s Astatic WR-20 Microphone Discovery and Restoration

Its true.  STCPOD.COM used to actually have written blog posts.  They enlightened readers on nostalgic tv shows, interesting tidbits on everyday life, and comings and goings of your favourite podcasters.  However the last post was AGES ago!  I apologize.  While I can't guarantee any kind of regularity I can at least offer this... A NEW BLOG POST!

A few months ago while #ThriftinWithBill, I came across what looked like an authentic old school microphone, sitting on a desk mount and brutally covered in uneven spray paint.  For some reason the thrift store pricers didn't notice the value in anique microphones and put an incredible deal of price of $4.99 on it.  I spotted it as soon as it rolled out on a cart from the backroom.  I grabbed this and a real Mego Batman coin bank before any of the regular sharks cruising down the aisles could get to it.

The Microphone is a Canadian variant Astatic WR-20 Dual-Diaphragm Crystal Cartridge Mic.  From the the early 1940s, the retail price was around $30.  Crystal microphones, while still a heavy price back in the day, offered a more economical option to the Ribbon mics found in early sound stages.  This particular one also had the optional on/off switch attached at the base of the mic.

Like all good thrifting finds, condition is everything.  Normally when I find an old piece, I would much rather it show its age than be restored to showroom condition.  However this piece didn't even offer that.  The grill had been spray painted over.  The fabric inside, also covered in paint, was thin and tearing.  The frame had tape residue and dirt.  This thing had been through a few wild times in its day!  The saving grace was that nothing was bent or dented and the chrome was complete and chip free.  So no, this couldn't be displayed like this.  The only option was to restore!


I couldn't wait to crack it open to see what these crystal cartridges looked like.  To see how the dual-diaphragms were aligned...the old wiring and near century old electronics...

But alas, upon sight of that crappy sponge peeking out from the inside I knew this poor guy had lost his heart some time ago.

Gone were the diaphragms, crystals and their supports.  What was put in their stead was some foam and cheap telephone receiver.  The black surround foam at the bottom is all that is left.

Needless to say, everything found inside was thrown out...this microphone would never again work as originally intended.  On the bright side, whoever spray painted the grill kept that cheap silver on target and didn't mess up the chrome frame.  The grills went in a paint thinner bath for the night.

Meanwhile we could examine the only label found inside...

Goo Gone on the frame loosened the tape residue and other goo....

While the grills soak it was time to look at the broken switch.  What are the odds of finding a replacement switch to an 80 year old mic?

I got tipped off at the local hobby store that there is an electronics wholesaler in town that has a massive store full of wierdo old bits of electric menagerie.  His inventory exists solely of the remains of Radio Shacks of yesteryear and other forgotten electronic stores. After some digging it appeared I found the exact switch I need...and for only a couple bucks!

Without any guts left to wire into, its just a matter of placement and hoping the screw holes line up.

The grills came out of their bath with the paint loosened, but it needed some work.  With a fine steel wire wheel on a rotary tool the bare metal came to light.

I had thought about chroming these out, but in the end I got to liking the bare metal look.  All chrome might have taken away from it looking authentic.  Would be TOO new looking.

Now decide which kind of fabric to lay inside the grill.  A trip to Fabric World allowed many choices.  I thought it would simply be speaker fabric, but that was too thin.  I thought I'd have to pick out something from a giant bolt of cloth when I spotted a display of smaller squares of craft fabric.  They are thick and sturdy and seem to fit the bill exactly.  Just need to pick the colour: black, grey or black with glittery bits?

It got down to black or black with glittery bits.  In the end I stayed conservative and went with plain ol black.

Put everything back together, with just filling inside, waiting to surprise its next owner hoping to find those elusive crystals inside....

And finally an original ad and examples of what it looked like new as well as what should have been inside of it.

Thanks for checking this out!  Feel free to leave a comment or question below and don't forget to listen to our podcast, STCPOD, with new episodes every Friday on itunes and Google Play!

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