Radio turned into a Guitar Amplifier

Radio turned into a Guitar Amplifier

Vintage radio guitar amplifer

Vintage radio guitar amplifer

Transistor Radios make great guitar amps!

Retro tone done easy!

If you wondering why would you want to take a cheap radio and turn it into a guitar amp, there are many reasons, they are really cheap to buy, the enjoyment of listening to something "retro" that you have brought back to life, but most important is the vintage tone. They usually will sound so polar opposite of a quality well built guitar amp that it has an allure all its own. With it's distinct, raunchy, snarly out of control raw tone that most would consider "terrible," but it goes absolutely perfect with early Rock and electric Blues.
In truth they almost always have a slight hiss, speaker and body rattle or volume breakup due to the age of the speaker or transistors. That is the charm of vintage electronics that gives the music and its ruff outer edges of the recording they can give you. It has a distinctly "Lo-fidelity" vintage or antique sound and recording.

How to convert a vintage cassette tape deck player into a cool lil' guitar amp

There really isn't much in a radio amp conversion, other than adding a 1/4th input guitar jack, everything is already part of a radio or tape player. That's the wonderful part!
it's also very easy, this video says it all, watch it from begining to end and you'll be a pro...
and the overdrive on this thing is just heavenly!

The ins and out and what it's all about

This is the un-official home of "Lo-watt Rock and Blues." If you have found yourself here, spend some time and watch a few of the videos to see just how easy it is to turn any old radio into a guitar amp.
It usually only take an hour or so and only cost a few dollars. I have posted this short blog for the person searching the net for information on this subject as I have noticed there isn't much out there and it is not organized.

There is also another reson I put up this page. I enjoy building and playing cigar box guitars and I hope in sharing this information with you about homemade guitars and amps, that you also become interested in making or playing a cigar box guitar or building a radio guitar amplifier. It's the only guitar I play, in all of the videos on the site, no regular guitars were used.

If you like vintage Delta Blues or early Rock n' Roll just a simple 3 or 4 string cigar box guitar is alls you need to achive the tone you've always been after.

What & How to basics

First, before I begin, I would like to state that I know absoulutly NOTHING about electronics, so if I can do it so can you!

That being said, I am not responsible for any damage you might cause yourself or property. This is not advice, just ramblings that might help you find an interesting way to amplify your guitar.

This is a simplified explanation here, but you can convert just about anything that has a speaker....old radios ( both tube and transistor) Tape players, reel to reel, 8 track cassette decks and micro tape players, portable record players and any handheld music device with a speaker.
A few quick thoughts,
They all are so very different, you never know what it will sound like, that's the suprise in every one.

Try to find battery powered items, especially if you are unsure of the age or if you feel uncomfortable about plugging it into the wall, tinkering with old electronics can be dangerous with AC current, however DC battery power you can experiment without much worry of danger.

A radio that is too small is difficult to get a full sound when recording, but at the same time, could be the perfect sound for you, just as a "rule of thumb" try a speaker 3 inches or better.

Radio battery size effects tone!
The bigger the size of battery the fuller the tone and the more volume the radio will have.
A "D" size 1.5 is loud...Radios, with the small 4 "AA" penlight batteries are not very loud, even with big bodies and nice speaker setup. They lack the punch you'll need for fun.
When looking for a radio look for ones that use C batteries and D batteries.

Tape players are the easiest to convert, it is a simple 2 wire cut, nothing more...just follow the wires to the head, cut and splice in a guitar the "to and from" (over ride) and that’s it! You will also need to cut the belt or remove the motor to keep the tape player wheels from spinning as you play guitar.

Radios, will be covered more in depth but you simply tap into the volume power, first ground the guitar, then touch the positive ( hot ) on the back of the volume potentiometer till you find the correct lead with either a volt meter or a guitar cable spliced and strumming it while in your lap.

Watch this video for a How to hack into a radio to play guitar.

What Radios make good guitar amps?

For me, this is an ever evolving answer, but so far I have a style and theme that works and I will share with you what I have discovered.
First, I don't know anything about electronics, so what I did was tore apart a bunch of radios to see how they worked, I took apart several old tube radios, clock radios, transistor radios, big and small radios, portable tape decks, battery powered and wall plug in types, from the 30's, 40's, 50's up to modern day. I just tryed to figure out how they were made, some taking many hours to take apart as most often I had no clue how to even get the dang grill off other than cracking it off!...some were simple to disassemble, some were space age deceptively confusing!

Here is the short on what I have learned.

Battery Powered Germanium TRANSISTOR Radios are the guitar amp hackers dream!

Vintage Transistor radios from the late 50's to late 70's are easy to override and have the sound of traditional amplifiers.
News flash...that's what the are...they are small amplifiers!

The radio you want to tune into a GREAT guitar amp are the early transistors that are made of germanium, They have a unique sound all their own. They started making germanium transistor radios sometime mid to late 50's and they all sound really great, there is ALOT of volume, they ring clear at low volume but breakup just like a solid state amp at around 6. If you find the right radio to hack, the overdrive can be awesome at 8.
Best of all, they are low wattage and battery powered, no need to plug them in a wall, and the MOST important thing for you... they are safe to operate and use. They also sound exactly like guitar amps of that time. Check out this video.

When you don't know what your doing, only fool with Battery powered radios!...period...otherwise, you can really regret tampering with vintage electronics and plugging them in your wall.

The pocket radios suck, they are too compact ...basically if it has no handle and a wrist strap or is in a little leather case it will be a bit too small to waste you time with. I have noticed as soon as you turn them on, they are distorted, it's the small speaker that is the biggest problem. Look for a radio that's at least 5 by 5 inches or so with at least a 3 inch speaker that will ensure the speaker is big enough to have an effect on the tone....other wise the pocket radios or Walkman style are gonna be a very limited conversion and will not record well.

Radios with a slider volume dial are not as easy to tap wire as the knob volume style, The side mount slider dial you have to remove the whole inside board (or free up access) to free up space for your operation on the volume and the slider is very difficult to access without breaking it because the plastics are usually brittle, its also usually "pressed on" one way! However the volume knob style, you don't even need to remove it from the body because its prongs are exposed on the backside and ready to tap and solder.

Sometimes old radios also had a tone knob. This is just great, No hack needed once you tap the volume knob...the tone knob works just like a guitar amplifier! will either brighter or darken the cool is that!

If you look for the 70's models, they also almost all have earphone outputs (remember that one white hard plastic secret service little ear bud T thing???) that out put spot is recording gold!...that can be used as a mono preamp out, you can then record with it into 4 track or 8 tack or a USB port and run it into anything from of digital interface to a Protools type DAW software...the possibilities are endless for any mad musical scientist!....are you a "Johnny Analog" purest??? it into an amp and use it just like you would as a overdrive works really nice and will surprise you!

Lastly, best advice and quickest way to learn, is get some old cheap radios from goodwill or the flea market and take them apart and see whats inside, after a few different types and styles you will figure it out what makes a good amp and what looks cool but will not be very practical as a guitar amplifier conversion.
One thing about old radios, is they are all basically the same inside, each brand did NOT reinvent a new product, they just changed the out-side housing, but they are all for the most part the same inside, per generation ( 50's, 60's etc).

So, get out there and buy some old radios, they are cheap, very easy to find and the styles range from Art deco to Atomic inspired....just look for the ones that "have that look" that speaks to you and buy some cheap ones for experimentation.

Looking for a shortcut to coolness???

On ebay there is many old radio bodies with the radios removed.
Just add a cigar box guitar "amp kit" to it and you'll be up and running in just a few hours!

Here is just a quick example, watch this video to see how easy

This little red "Arvin" was 10 bucks on ebay,
just add your own volume and tone knobs in the holes, cover the back of the speaker compartment with perhaps some gold or black cloth with a hot glue gun, drop in a amp kit,

toss on some old funny chicken head knobs....and presto!
way cooler than any store bought amp

In fact if you look close you will see it's a metal body.
If you serach out Arvin, Tempest, Emersonette or "midget radio" they were quite popular and there is a whole bunch of the metal body radios without the insides for sale.

for sale for just pennies on the Original value, but mucho dollars of fun!!!!
The knobs are easy to find too, so you can still get that retro look, if that's your thing
These radios are super cheap(in the 15 to 25 dollar range) , super popular
...and they are metal, paint them if you want...or leave it all snarly a rusty!!!

There is a zillion old Radio Bodies on ebay,
Just search around and see what comes,
search around, don't give up!

Here is something fun and cool,
Ebay is the best place to find cheap treasures on planet earth bar none!
Check out this way cool 1946 Airline radio body that can be turned into a guitar amplifier.

It's like half Steven King's Christine & Half 50's Rat Rod mixed together in crusty Black on White.
Such a cool find for only 6 bucks.

And now for a little photo-spam
The Wild Indian 3-string guitar and a 1950 Tesla Tailsman 308

Radio guitar amp conversion

Yesterday's garbage is today's new toy! AC/DC Radios Many of the Radios the 50's and 60's make great conversions, there is a switch in the back that lets you select from wall power to battery power, just add batteries and cut the cord off...simple and now your ready to tap into the volume safely.
Hey you! YES YOU!!! The Guy Reading this! I have some insight for you.
America use to be a very different place, a close knit community of fathers and sons sharing hobbies was common.
Bringing families together is way cool, lets make this world a better place and fun again.
Grab your kids or grandkids and do something with them.
Try building a cigar box guitar or homemade radio guitar amp with them, they will cherish the memories and forever thank you, Spend some quality time with them today!
Cigar box guitars are just as much fun to build as they are to play. They are easy to make and easy to learn to play. Most only have 3 or 4 strings. Plus they have that vintage Old Delta Blues sound that no other guitar has...plug them in a homemade radio guitar amp and they really come alive, they sound just like the music of the 30's and 40's right there on your dial. Check out this DB Customs Ride, now this is a blast from the past!

The tube and transistor debate

Tubes Vrs.Transistors
So what's better, an age old question for guitar players, is it Tubes or Transistors?
The great "tonal" debate
Portable tube radios were made popular for about 15 years from after the 2nd world war in the mid 40's till about the late 50's. they are expensive to operate nowadays because the batteries are not common, they use "B" size batteries that are up to 20 dollars a piece and they are only sold by radio parts shops and online.(they look and plug in like a 5 inch long 9 volt battery)
Most often they came equipeted with AC/DC power options, so you could also plug them in the wall.
For the novice they are not good candidates, espically if you are a beginner, the 2 prong wall plug in ones are strait up dangerous, if they are old and if you don't know what your doing it will trip your circuit breaker in your house or worse, once I plugged one in my house backwards and it tripped the circuit breaker, and the worse part, I didn't know at the time it hit the reset thing on the back of my fridge...I found out about 8 hours latter when all the food in my fridge was hot! The first issue is they are NOT guitar amps, there is no 3-prong power cord and an isolation transformer. The radio connects the AC directly to the heaters, which is a real hazard and can present danger to the AC on the metal chassis of the radio, If you touch anything metal on your guitar when it's plugged into that radio....HELLO!!!.. If you plug the 2-prong cord in the wrong way, the Radio will give 120 volt "love snuggle" you'll never forget.
Old tube Radios do not have an isolation transformer, the wall power has physical access to the chassis/circuit. If things go wrong, you are holding the wall voltage in your hands. The isolation transformer in regular tube guitar amplifiers is what provides a physical disconnect between the wall power and the chassis, and not connected to YOU!
So, old outdated tube radios are a risky venture!
But, Tube tone does have a pleasant and wonderful chime and feeling, however they are not very loud when converted,there is also is no overdrive and very little volume boost, it's like medium, to medium with sugar on top, those little radio tubes has no drive and lack power like solid state transistors (thats one of the reasons why electonric makers switched).Transisitors offer small size, lots of power and use very little power compared to vacum tubes. Because they did not need much power, they could then make the switch to batteries.
All that said, tubes do however have an indescribable warmth or tone color that is really nice and very interesting. For more info, check out, he makes just tube radio amp conversions.....Remember, before attempting to plug a guitar into a radio you've hacked that's plugged into to the wall, it needs to be properly grounded to be safe. If you only have the vintage 2 prong plug and you have some wires loose or you've hacked the wrong lead......hello, you might not have a very good day when you try to plug it in.
Radio Tube Amp Conversions
Most radios from the 40's,50's and 60's are usally broken and far to dificult to repair, espically the portable tube radios. However, they are THE BEST LOOKING RADIOS! the portable Art Deco tube radio designs of the late 40's are so ridiculously awesome! No worries, they can still be used for a transistor conversion.
This is the exciting part!
You can use thier bodies and add the do-it-yourself "cigar box amp kits" and install your own speaker or parts within a vintage radio body. There is alot of creative directions you can explore by building your own amp with a kit, even if its your first time ever trying a project like building an amp from a kit. You can build them to suit your musical taste, make them chime clear like a bell or add a distorion knob and gain for a mondern Rock sound.
Watch this video, converting Transistor radios are easy as pie!


Motorola's are easy to find, EASY TO CONVERT, and they have "the look"

Most people think Motorola is an Asian cell phone company, but they are in fact an American electronics company with a long history dating well back to the late 1920's. In the 1950's Motorola was the first to make germanium transistor radios and they are always great guitar amps. They are cheap, easy to find and have the most wonderful looks and colors.

How to hackwire circuit bend an antique Vintage portable tube or transistor radio

If you like old Time Blues and Silde guitar, I have several music cd's that you might like.They are all recorded only with cigar box guitar.

If you enjoy Old Time Blues music, I have alot of recordings done with small radio amps and also some really cool 60's tube amps that are naturally overdriven. I also enjoyed recording some Pignose slide guitar to share. These are sounds that are Southern in flavor, perfect for study if your trying to learn early Americana Bottleneck guitar, or just enjoy it as a relaxing way to step back in time.

If you would like a Music CD copy click here

Trying to 'explain' what something sounds like is like trying to describe a color,
so instead of me trying to explain music, you can hear the first track right here right now.
Is this something that would interest you?

If you have you enjoyed some of the music and videos on this site, you will enjoy it, I put a lot of work into trying to capture that vintage sound and tone.

click below to see some of the Cigar Box Guitar music CDs and DVDs I can send you in the mail any where in the world, from the Artic circle to down the street. where ever you are I can send it! click here

Cigar Box Guitar Amplifers

Old converted Table Top Radios
If you are coming to this website from a link on another website you might not be seeing the whole page,
be sure to visit the homepage

Recording with Small Guitar Amplifiers

Build a vintage transistor radio guitar amp ~ How to make a guitar amp from a hacked radio What a dreamy radio guitar amp!
Romance is in the air!...or is it just my guitar playing?
Here is a hack in progress.
Here it is in action!
Cigar Box Guitar Music
Recording and making a little amp sound "big," Recording with any amp is an art in itself, but these are some quick tips posted here, Recording natural in the bathroom will give you a smaller distant, slightly reverb sound. Recording on top of a bed or sofa will give you a bigger sound, allowing you to pull the mic further or closer depending on the tone you are after, yet you will still achive slight reverb from the room. Here is a sample from an empty bathroom, ( a song from my "3 strings too many" music CD) I love to record in the bathroom.
An isolation box or small closet will give you a near studio recording, it will prevent any bleed thru noise from the street, cars or family and will focus all of the output sound from the amp into the mic. A closet full of clothes will give it almost direct sound and will give you many options for audio editing later because you will be able to alter the reverb, delay, etc on a computer because it will be the most direct. Here is a visual example, a small amp in a can still hear my daughter who was playing in the next room, but much better
Devices or radios with headphone outputs can be used as preamps, this opens a whole world of options, you can record with laptops or via USB while retaining the radios internal sound. A word on microphones, any will do, a cheap one might give such a wonderful scratched vintage tone or a great one such as a studio type mic like the tried and true Sure sm57 or -58 or something designed for guitar like a Sennhieser 609, they will give you many more options on editing your recording later. They will give the "best" recording. But that’s objectionable from person to person....Also, you can't forget, simple homemade mics open up another world of tones and options in you recordings....also, vintage antique and broken microphones, another area of study for the Lo-Watt Rocker!

Using a Phonograph input as a Guitar Jack

There are many Radios that don't need a hack at all.

I will explain and show you here in this video below. Many old Full size radios ( Table Top Models) have a "phono" input on the back. It was for hooking your record player up to the speaker to get a boost in volume, the same way you hook up an mp3 player to a stereo today.

This is a guitar players GOLDEN TICKET!

It is just like buying a real cool vintage amp,but for just a few dollars....they made millions of old radios, before the internet and TV, every house had several old radios.

Here is a Silvertone, I once had a closet full of Silvertone's, they are some of the most available and best sounding Radios that make guitar amps, watch as I just plug into the "phono" input and play guitar.

watch this Video,

This Space-Age Philips offers 2 times the fun, just plug in the back and your ready to Rock n' Roll!

These "Uprights" were all the rage in the late 60's to mid 70's, most of them had a "phono" input that allows direct guitar plug-in without a hack. They are sometimes also marked with "AUX" and were intended for 8-track player inputs.


Ok, wood grain plastic is not my most fav-o-rite thing to stare at while playing guitar, but there is possibilities here for any mad scientist. Best part is they are totally un-desirable and can be had for cheap if you look for them.


Silvertone Radio Guitar Amps

For all the folks wanting to try converting and hacking their own radio guitar amp, but don't know where to start, Silvertone was a Radio maker who made guitar amps.

The old Silvertone radios sound just like the vintage guitar amps of that time period, only nowadays they are much cheaper and way cooler to buy and play.
 Silvertone made many Fins & Deco influenced radios during the 40's, 50's and 60's "Atomic" era.
Head on over to ebay and type in "Silvertone Radio," there are so many to be had in the 20 to 30 dollar range....the hardest part is deciding which one you like the most!

They are easy to convert and  always have a great tone....try converting a Silvertone Radio into your own Atomic Pocket rocket guitar Amplifier!


Check out this Late 60's Tweed Silvertone Radio guitar amp, way cool for any cigar box guitar player

AM gold Never sounded so good!

Watch this video and see this radio hacked in a few moments, no more than 15 minuets, it is one of my fav-o-rite go to guitar amps, it's right next to my guitar in my living room. It's a lot of fun to play and just as much fun to look at during my daily activities when I walk thru the room.

 Silvertone was also sold under the brand name "Arvin" so if you are one ebay, search out "Vintage Arvin radio" they can be had for less than 20 bucks in great shape and ready to roll!

Here is a brain twister...This old baby blue Hi-Fi is perfect for Lo-Fi analog recordings!

.....just don't call it a come-back, I've been here for years!

Retro Atomic Guitar Amps

Old Philco's have the best Atomic tone!

Farm Fresh, looks like this old Radio has seen its best days.

 Perhaps Elvis and his gyrating pelvis drove it to "Meltdown?"

Check out this Futuramic!   I know, what a name...I can't make this stuff up!

Or how about this bizarre Emerson????
I am not sure what to make of this thing! left for the scrap heap????....or your next guitar amp?
Check out this Little Airline Radio sold at Montgomery Wards in the 60's.
It has that "it" factor and was up for sale on ebay for 17 bucks!
This Music-aire has that '32 Duce Coupe look for sure!
I actually have several of these variations of this radio body as they were a body style super mass produced and can be found on ebay in the 30 to 40 dollar range.
 I recently bought a white one for 34 bucks in total... shipping included ....stay tuned!!!!
when I have some free time to get to it, your ear holes are gonna be pleased!
For the Star Trek Lover? this late 60's Arvin
I don't know...hum..., perhaps you could dress up in one of those Star Trek shirts
....then call up your friends and invite them over....say "it's urgent"...hide behind the door and pop out wearing your Trekie gear and hold this guitar amp???? ....they wouldn't know what to think!
Look am I the only one having fun????
what about this rad old radio!!!
This is called a "6-x-7" Victor Radio...I see these all the time in the 20 to 30 dollar range, They seem to always be mint green and must have been popular??? they are always on ebay.

Grills, Fins & Art Deco

1957 Motorola

Ride the train, get a radio!

Check out this 1950's Calrad Rocket mic I found on ebay

The ultimate combo pack. A Cigar Box Guitar, a Juliette radio from the 60's and a 1950's Calrad Rocket microphone...this whole package is worth less than 100 bucks....why buy expensive name brand amps and guitars???

Do it yourself! a homemade guitar and make your own amp, it's way cooler!

Vintage Americana

Yes that Firestone! They are an American Icon, They made more than just tires!

Zenith, the Table Top Kings!!!


Zenith made all kinds of Radios in every size and style, from Plain wooden to Art Deco, plastic, metal, Bakelite. Everyone I have converted was a homerun. Plus they are really cheap and easy to find.

Many of the older radios are made of wood, they have a great look, but if you are feeling frisky, you can refinish them to match you guitar....Whooa!
I am also a Big BIG fan of all things Philco
1951 Phico Transitone


~Space and O' so 50's ~


Lo-Fidelity Analog is where "it's at".....Hi-Fi Digital is way overrated!

My Pride & Joy, My 1949 Philco Flying Wedge

Watch this video, preferably from under your desk....remember, when you see the flash from above, "drop, duck and roll!"

In case you've read this far and are wondering,
Just what in the heck do I mean by the word "Atomic?"
Well,  a quick explanation is this,
Before World War 2, Art Deco was the styling of the 20's and 30's
Many products in the home, to cars, radios, buildings etc.
Art Deco had a streamlined look, rounded, no edges.
After the War, (World War 2)
People were fascinated with the Atomic Bomb and the power of the Atom.
It became something that designers tried to use when styling products of all types.
The Atomic symbol or a "star" in some form was everywhere in the late 40's and 50's.
All throughout the home you could find it if you looked.
Here is a example, look at the knob...It's "Atomic"
After the Atomic age, or more like an extension of that Era, was the Space Age.
Brought on by the Space Race with the Soviet Union, (also inspired by Sci-Fi books and movies)
Sometimes referred to the Jet age (Think the Jetson's) designers expanded on the Atomic "look."
The "Space Age" was know for Edges, Fins, Speed, Flight and forward motion.
Do you see the 57 Chevy here? If you look closely you will!

The Radios of TO-DAY!

She must be enjoying Rock n' Roll?

The Guitar amp of TO-DAY!

Fada's are awesome, great looks and even better tone.
They are by far the most sought after radios by collectors, and here you can see why,
It's all about the Art Deco looks!
The details on these radios were are so awesome, they made them from early plastics such as Bakelite and Catalin.
I just love the colors they used in the 40's and 50' nice!