Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

IconProjects, musings about guitar builds, guitar repairs, vintage tube amplifiers, old radios, travel, home renovation, and other stuff.

Thump...thump...Is this thing on?

Well, it happened. I knew it would.

After working on my friend's Astatic microphone from the late 1940s, I got bitten - well maybe I should say 'scratched' - with the vintage microphone bug.

I started with a retail site that sells vintage mics and let's just say the prices were not crazy, but they were a bit high. So it was off to e*a* and looking at mics.

I actually have some formal knowledge in this realm (as opposed to my seat-of-the-pants self education...); I have a degree in Radio-TV-Film and also have three (count 'em) certificates from Omega Studios' Recording Engineering program. Basically I know the different types, what tends to sound good for a particular application, and (most importantly in this case) what does the most for the least amount of money. As an aside, wit all dat educayshun, I don't do anything wit it that pays the bills.

Those Astatics, along with the Shure 51 and 55 (aka the 'Elvis' mic) are the most desirable amongst vintage dynamic mics. Without going into too much detail, dynamics are pretty much your basic workhorse-type mics. They sound good for voice, electric guitar amps, and PA. They also are good for most brass instruments. They're good general stage mics because they can take a beating and they can take high sound pressure levels (SPLs), which tend to make mics such as condensers and ribbons blow up.

The cool thing about these old dynamics is you can still use them today. Imagine that. Old junk that is still useful!

I'd love to have one of the Astatics or Shures, but I compromised a bit for my first foray into vintage mic land and wound up with this Electro-Voice 'Mercury' model 611. E-V makes good stuff, and the design of this mic is classic 1940s/50s. I haven't yet been able to pinpoint the date on this one, but I'd guess mid-50s.

I was able to snag this one for about a third of what the Astatics go for. It works great - the seller threw in an old Amphenol one-pin connector for it, so I was able to wire up a cable for it in no time.

The chrome on the grill on mine is pretty much gone, but the rest of the chrome is in good shape.

I'm a-gonna take it apart and clean it up and clean it up and see what happens.

It's really a simple piece. The heavy grill is held on with 4 screws and the wire screen just pops out.

The screws have a touch of rust on them, as does the screen. I could probably fabricate a new screen, but I'm going to see what a cleaning in Naval Jelly will do.

To digress here for a bit: this stuff rocks. It's also cheap. I've cleaned a lot of rusty radio chassis, screws, etc., with it over the years.

Sometimes I've made a de-rusting solution of a 50/50 (or so) mix of Naval Jelly and water to soak parts in.

It won't get super heavy rust off (you may need something like an acid for that) but light to moderate rust will come off with this stuff. It make take some wire-brushing and a couple of applications, but this is usually my first-call solution for rust. It took a 5 minute dunk in this stuff to get the minor rust off the screws on the microphone.

When I said it was simple, I meant it. Unlike a condenser mic, all you need for a dynamic is the element (the round thing with the bracket) a matching transformer, and wires to run to a connector. This mic has a switch in the hot side of the output leads, but a lot of inexpensive mics don't even have that. You can see how E-V or Shure probably cranked out thousands of these puppies; the design is very straighforward and easy to assemble. The fact that this one is still in solid shape and works well is a testament to the simple design and solid construction.

Old telephones are built the same way - very straightforward, hard to break and easy to service.

I started out polishing the metal and chrome by hand. I took a first shot with the trusty Brasso. Now, in the past, I have used Brasso a lot. I noticed a couple years ago there were some discussions on the Antique Radio Forums (see my links) that the Brasso formula had changed and was not so good.

At the time I still had a couple of the old Brasso tins so I didn't pay much attention. But now I'm using the "New Formula" (as the bottle says) and I tend to agree. It smells different and I don't think it's quite so effective at taking off bad tarnish. It's ok, but not as good as it used to be. Plus, when I drink it, I don't get the same kind of hallucinations as before.

Just kidding about the last part. Hee hee.

I also have something on the shelf, in the arsenal, called Noxon. Not sure where I got this; I've had it for a few years and it actually seems better than Brasso. On this mic I switched over to the Noxon and it was doing well.

Except for the fact that I was getting exhausted rubbing rubbing rubbing by hand with a cloth. Or cloths, as the case was - they kept getting that black sooty stuff on them and I kept changing them.

Then it occurred to me that I could possibly use my Dremel tool. I had a couple of their polishing pads, and they rocked. Except they too turned black quickly. So I got idea, yes? I mean, yes. Correcto. "Self," I said to myself, "Choo might be able to use a Q-TIP in the Dremel, ja?"

So off I went to cut some Super Q-Tips, aka Head Cleaning swabs on wood sticks to see if they would work. And, by golly, they did! Saved me a bunch of work. Lookit that thing get shiny! (Or 'shinny' as they say on E*a*).

I also took off the nameplate to clean it up. On closer inspection, it looked like there was a greenish-yellow grunge in the engraved parts. I cleaned it up some with Simple Green and got most of it off.

I then decided it might be A Good Idea if I could get some paint into the engraved letters to restore them, sort of. So, I took some water-based acrylic paint and tried it. The nice thing about water-base paint is if you mess up, choo can just take it right off with a damp rag.

I put a bunch on the name plate, let it sit for a couple minutes, and wiped if off. It took a few passes, but in the end it came out fairly well I think.

I also went over everything with some Mother's mag wheel polish. This stuff has become my real secret weapon for getting a final shine. It's not so great at taking off tarnish, so my approach has been Noxon then Mother's.

And after the polish, a coat of Griot's Best in Show wax. I use this on my car. It's pretty much unmatched for getting a great, deep shine.

All in all, I spent about an hour and a half cleaning it up. I was trying to get it looking like a well-maintained vintage piece, and I think it's close to that now.

Here it is posing in front of the various chem-ee-culls that I used.

Compare this to the picture at the top.


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