My First Vintage Radio Restoration Project

Two months ago I purchased a Farnsworth GT-051 All American Five (AA5) tube radio that dates somewhere between 1947–1948. I have a few other vintage radios but this was my first tube radio. I especially liked the “bullet” design of this radio and the case was free of any major cracks which is a plus.

Yes I’m working on a radio while sitting on a yoga mat.

Given this radio is almost seventy years old, I knew better than to plug her in and see if she works. Prior to purchasing I had read plenty of warnings regarding applying power to an old radio that has been dormant as it can lead to damage and possibly even fire. Also, as you can see in the video below, the power cord on this radio was dry rotted and looked way too dangerous to plug in.

My first move was to type in the model online and see if anything appeared. Maybe I would get lucky and someone would have repaired this radio and documented the process. I’m amazed at the information online, especially YouTube, that helps in taking on a project like this one for a novice like myself. Thankfully I ran across Phil’s Old Radios who posted this wonderful step by step restoration of the exact same radio and even included the schematic.

I removed the chassis from the case and snapped the below photos. It’s not everyday you see a seventy year old tube radio from the inside out. I also find it helpful to have photos to refer back to later in case I make an mistake and lose track of where something goes.

Left is the front view of the chassis. Right shows how much dust this lady has collected over seven decades!
Left is the entire underneath of the chassis. Right shows a closer view. Look at all of those old capacitors.
Both photos are closer views of the middle and bottom of the chassis.

I read Phil’s post over and over again, printed the schematic and stared at it with admiration but mostly confusion. I had no idea what I was looking at. My luck continued and I found the All American Five YouTube channel run by Richard McWhorter who has also written a book about restoring AA5 radios as shown in the photo below. I immediately ordered a copy and began taking notes on the schematic.

The first step was to identify and purchase the capacitors that would need to be replaced. I did this by highlighting all of the caps on the schematic and taking notes as needed.

Next I needed to determine if the tubes in the radio were still operating properly. I do not own a tube tester but found a great video that at least helped me determine if there was continuity on the heater pins on each tube. If I didn’t hear a beep on my multi-meter when testing them I knew I needed a replacement and it turned out two tubes were bad.

I purchased a much needed new soldering iron which made soldering in the new capacitors a breeze. I also picked up a new variac machine which would allow me to slowly apply power and avoid any shorts or fires by applying an immediate 120 volts to my first capacitor replacement job.

But first, the dreaded power cord. I spent two weeks researching how to replace this. Some AA5 radios are wired in a way that if you touch the metal chassis and something else metal at the same time, it can provide a nasty shock. This intimated me and the process of wiring in a new polarized power cord seemed daunting. As with anything online, I found posts saying you have to use a polarized cord followed by others saying you didn’t. I decided to drop by my neighborhood mom and pop hardware store and found a non-polarized cord that worked perfectly. As you can see in the video below, I plugged her into the variac, slowly increased the power and by 115 volts she started to come alive.

I cleaned up the case but decided not to repaint her. I like the rustic look the radio has without a new coat of paint. I put her all back together and everything worked as it should.

This radio only broadcasts AM frequencies and here in Nashville we have access to one of the best AM stations, 650 WSM. Here is a video of George Jones performing his classic Choices.

And finally, if you’re curious to hear the top song of 1948 that may have been played through this radio…that would be Pee Wee Hunt’s 12th Street Rag:

Now, on to the next one!

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