How to hack an old Radio into a Guitar Amp

Retro tone done easy, just hack into an old radio and play guitar through it!

If you are here wondering why would someone want to take a old radio and turn it into a guitar amplifier, well...

There are many reasons, 
 First is the authentic tone and the glass like chime of vintage electronics. Vintage electronics give your music a unique 1940's and 50's ruff outer edge to your playing and recording. 
Second, is the enjoyment of listening to something "retro" that you have brought back to life. Once that vintage tone comes through that old raspy speaker, you'll hear sounds of the past brought back to life right in front of you. You'll experience a time and the frequency of the tone is from a long lost era.

 These vintage amps usually sound so polar opposite of a quality well built guitar amp that it has an allure all its own. Radios hacked into guitar amplifiers have a distinct, out of control and raw tone that most would consider "terrible," but it goes absolutely perfect with early Rock and electric Blues guitar.
...and with slide guitar, the tone they produce is just heavenly!

 The truth is, these amps almost always have a slight hiss, speaker and or body rattle, or volume breakup due to the age of the speakers or transistors.
and once a speaker dry rots, watch out it sounds horrendous.
...hey, no worries that is usually just perfect for those old-school recordings.
 Vintage electronics add a distinct "Lo-fidelity" sound to your playing and recording. These little amps are a joy to play thru.

Spend some time and read below and you'll see just how easy it is to turn most old radios into a guitar amp. It usually only takes about 20 to 30 minutes or so and only cost a few dollars. 

In most cases you will only need wire and a 1/4 input jack, usually nothing else will be needed.
  I enjoy building and playing homemade guitars. So keep in mind some of the tone in the videos on this page does come from the instrument I use, but any guitar would work.

This webpage is 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, Tape players, reel to reel, cassette decks, portable record players, just about any device with a speaker. 

You never know what old electronics will sound like until it's hacked, that's the surprise in every one.

----- Before I go any further,

I am not responsible for any damage to property and or harm you cause to yourself or others.

Use discretion!

I also do NOT plug vintage electronics into walls.

What I do is I use battery power, although not completely safe ( I've seen my fair share of smoke and melting plastic radios)
 - but by using battery power you are not involving your HOUSE or risking serious injury.

Battery power is much safer, and offers many avenues of exploration, such as body swaps, pignose conversions ( more on that later) and speaker swap outs.

Here is hat you will be doing.

To tap into radios, you simply tap into the volume power supply. 

-----That statement above is the end goal. ---------

That's it. It is almost always the same operation. 

First find a common ground on the radio, then find the positive ( hot/ power ) on the back of the volume potentiometer. Just follow the power supply to the battery compartment.
To find the correct lead, you can use either a volt meter or a guitar cable spliced into 2 wires, and then you touch "around in the area" of the volume pot while strumming the guitar while in your lap or on a table.
Alligator clips work best, you can just clip and strum till you hit the hot wire.

Once you hit the "hot lead or wire" the radio will screech and momentarily come alive.

That means you have over-ridden the signal.

Radios are amplifiers, you are just are hacking into the airwave radio signal and over-riding it with a guitar signal. That's all that there really is to simple hobby. 

I am explaining this first, then the rest of this webpage we can unpack the concepts of this hobby. The rest of the page is just exploration, it is always the same objective, to override the on board amplifier.

So.....What Radios make good guitar amps?

 What I did to learn 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 bought attractive radios that had a good look to my eye and then I opened them up and tried to figure out how they were made. Some of them took 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 a short video,

The best tip on what I have found that makes the  easiest radios to turn into guitar amplifiers.
Look for " Battery Powered Germanium Transistor radios" 

 Vintage Transistor radios from the late 50's to mid 70's are easy to over-ride, and they have the sound of traditional amplifiers.

The radios that make GREAT guitar amplifiers are radios that have 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. 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 is ... they are safe to operate and use.
Only hack into Battery powered radios!

- I should put the ELECTRIC MARK HERE!!!!

I will admit this right now, I don't know anything, I am just posting this page here with FREE info and ideas to help you create new ideas for your hobby or guitar....But, don't hurt yourself.

 DO not plug your guitar into a radio that is plugged into the wall!!!!

I have done that before, you are either going to trip your circuit breaker in your house or shock yourself, both of which I have done.
So, trust me on this one. I have already explored that avenue, it's not worth it. 

There is no gain in volume or coolness, by it being plugged into wall current.



If for some reason you like the radio you have, but it seems to dangerous to hack is an option.

 You can do a radio swap with a 1970's battery powered radio.

This is much safer!

 This offers you a quick and safe way to use the radio body you want, you only need to stuff in your components from one body to the other body, problem solved

Anyways, only use battery powered Radios. Otherwise, you can really regret tampering with vintage electronics and plugging them in your wall.


Here is an 1950's Admiral 6 Transistor Radio I hacked  into a guitar amp and then recorded strait with no effects. 
- it gives it a nice natural overdrive. 


Arvin, Admiral, Silvertone, RCA, Kent, Temple, Airline, the list of makers is endless. They made ga-zillions of radios before the TV came along.


These are the coolest mini table top radios, they have a metal body and they have the neatest look. This style of radio was made by many makers and made in many styles.
 These radios are super cheap, usually in the $15 to $25 dollar range.  

There is a zillion old radio bodies for sale on ebay. Just search around and see what comes up.

The best advice and quickest way to learn, is to buy 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.

One good 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. They are all for the most part the same inside, per generation ( 50's, 60's etc)...just look for the ones that "have that look" that speaks to you and buy one or two for experimentation.

Yesterday's garbage is today's new toy. You never know what they will sound like, that's the fun part.

 Tape players are also easy to convert, it is a simple 2 wire cut, nothing more. Just follow the wires to the head that reads the tape, cut into it and splice in a guitar jack.

Look for 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
Watch me hack into this old tape deck while I was on vacation. I bought it at a flew market, found some batteries at my Grandmothers house and hacked into it and played a homemade cigar box guitar right there through it.

Homemade guitars are just as much fun to build as they are to play. You only need a small wooden box of some sort and a short piece of lumber for the neck.  The rest of the guitar can be built using old and used guitar parts or you can get creative and make your own.

 Silvertone was a radio maker who also made guitar amps. They almost always make great candidates for a quick conversion.

Do this, 
go now and open another window on your computer,

Go to ebay and search these exact words,   

" vintage silvertone radio "

There should be a lot of beautiful radios to look at. 

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.

AM Gold never sounded so good!




Some of the coolest old radio bodies no longer work, but good news is there is many Do-it-yourself guitar amplifier kits out there and you can add battery powered parts to get these old bodies up and running.

There are 2 options,
The first is to Google search "Guitar Amplifier kit"
There are many pre-wired kits you can simple drop in any body that you have.


You can buy used pignoses just for the parts inside. 

They are cheap, you can buy a used one for about 60 bucks and the speaker is so much better then the ones that come with "guitar amplifier kits." 
It's a simple operation to take the speaker and components out of the pignose shell and transfer everything into any body you prefer. 

Here's a short story about the history of the Pignose you might find of interest. 
According to Richard Edlund (Pignose co-inventor)

"Wayne Kimbell and I were partners doing graphics and photography for Rock & Roll artist during the 1968-'69 era. My friend Warren Zevon was recording his second album at Wally Heider's studio with a Peavey's amp turned up to 11 to get feedback and he was making enemies in nearby sessions.  I had seen a 5 watt radio amplifier at Pacific Radio and the idea hit me right there. I made the first Pignose in an English Leather cedar men's cologne box. 
At that time we were living in our storefront studio on Melrose Avenue in East Hollywood. Wayne paid for a Copyright attorney and he gave us enough to make about 65 Pignoses. We gave them to some of the most famous musicians of that era, including Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Eagles, The Who, and many others. That's how we got started."

I see these Victor radios all the time on ebay, go find one!
 They seem to always be mint green. This is where cheap meets cool

Search out "Channel Master" radios on ebay, they are cheap and super easy to turn into guitar amps...retro 60's with great looks.


The future is here!

This Little Airline Radio was sold at Montgomery Wards in the 1960's.
 It certainly has that "it" factor and was up for sale on ebay for just 17 bucks.

I am not sure what to make of this thing, left for the scrap heap????
Or, your next great guitar amp?

This Music-aire has that '32 Duce Coupe look for sure

 Before TV and the computer came along, every house had a radio. Many houses had radios in several rooms, and on top of that, people back then do the same thing we do today. They constantly upgraded their technology, buying new radios every few years. 
Because of that, there are millions of these old radios out there in closets and sheds and in attics and for sale at flea markets.

Old vintage radios make the coolest little guitar amplifiers

After hacking into an old radio, another area of exploration is finding the right microphone to record yourself with.

 Using a cheap or old microphone might give you a wonderful vintage over tone. On the other hand a great mic such as a studio microphone like a Shure, Rode or Sennheiser will give you many options on recording your amp.


..... go search around and read into vintage microphones, it's another fun area of study for the Lo-Watt Rocker.

Resonator 3 string guitar

Recording and making a little amp sound "BIG"

Recording with any amp is an art in itself, but here is some quick thoughts.

Recording in a small closet will give you a near studio recording, the more stuff that is in it, the better your recording will sound. Having lots of clothes and boxes in 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 microphone. 

Recording in a large empty room or garage will capture natural reverb, it will also allow a cool trick where you can pull the mic further back or placing it closer to the face of the amp depending on the tone you are after to help even off the overdrive on your recording. You can control a lot just by the microphone placement.
This calls for an fun evening of exploring nooks and crannies of your house!
... and trying to play guitar in different spots and seeing what it sounds like. Big empty bathrooms sound just fantastic as well as many garages. Just set up the amp in the direct middle of the room,  start playing guitar and try to be as quite as possible.

Recording natural in the bathroom will give you a more natural reverb sound. Here is a sample recording of what can be done once you start to experiment around your house.

If you have read this far, hopefully this webpage has inspired you you try new ways of playing guitar.

 I do know that this type of hobby of hacking into old radios is not possible for some people. Yet you are still here reading this and want to get that old time sound. You can always just use a Pignose. I love those little guitar amps. 

The Pignose sounds the same because it is using transistors and it has similar circuitry. They are great sounding amplifiers and are perfect for playing old school blues.

 I have recorded many songs with these retro converted radios, vintage amps, and 3 and 4 string blues box guitars. 
Have a listen to some of the music.  I have put many hours into creating it and trying to make this music sound as authentic as possible and from a time long ago.
This is all guitar music, no singing, no bands, no regular guitars - only homemade guitars were recorded in these songs.

Listen to this short video,

If you would like to download one of these albums, they are 14 dollars - click on the blue word that says "buy" in the player -

thank you for your support, it encourages me to record more music

This is my first album Dust Bowl Blues.

here is the second album I recorded

This is my newest album from September 2021

 If you would like to learn more about the hobby of homemade and cigar box guitars. I have filmed 2 different videos on the subject. One is how to build these guitars and the other is how to play 3 string guitar. These are videos that you can see and download. 
Even if this is your first time or if you have built guitars before I walk you thru my shop and build a few guitars on the video. It covers both 3 and 4 string guitars and also homemade resonator guitars and how to build them to.

This video can be found on this page click here or visit

email me if you have any questions at

Have a listen and take a step back in time...

Sure why not??? 

One more song for the road...