How to Turn an Old Tube Radio Into a Guitar Amp

Written by christopher godwin
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How to Turn an Old Tube Radio Into a Guitar Amp
Using an old tube radio as a guitar amplifier can give you unique, interesting sounds for low-level situations. (radio ancienne image by Maud Talêque from Fotolia.com)

Turning an old tube radio into a guitar amplifier can be a tricky process if the radio you are using requires total rewiring, and it should not be attempted by anyone without a sufficient background in analogue circuit building. However, a tube radio with an audio input on the back is fairly easy to turn into a guitar amplifier that can provide you with a unique sound for recording or practice situations where high volume is not a concern.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Electric guitar
  • ¼" mono cable
  • Direct box with a ground lift switch and ¼" output
  • ¼" mono-to-stereo RCA cable
  • Direct box

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Connect a ¼" mono cable from the output of your guitar to the input of a direct box with a ground lift switch. The ground lift switch is essential for connecting to an old tube radio to prevent unnecessary humming sound.

  2. 2

    Plug a ¼" mono-to-stereo RCA cable from the audio output of the direct box to the input of the tube radio. The ¼" mono side of the cable should be plugged into the guitar's direct box and the RCA cable should be plugged directly into the tube radio. In most cases, ¼" mono-to-stereo RCA will be the right type of connection. However, this will vary based on the tube radio that you use. A wide variety of cabling to connect a direct box via ¼" is available from pro audio retailers and electronics supply stores, who can often make a cable that is not readily available.

  3. 3

    Turn the volume on the guitar and tube radio all the way to their lowest settings. Move the guitar a few feet away to prevent any feedback or excessively loud humming when you turn the volume up.

  4. 4

    Select the audio input on the control panel of the radio. Increase the output volume on the radio to a very low level.

  5. 5

    Increase the volume on the guitar and play something to test whether or not you are getting signal or if there is a lot of noise.

  6. 6

    Use the ground lift switch if you hear any humming or buzzing noises along with your guitar's signal. If you are using single-coil pickups, move around a little bit to try and reduce the hum. Proximity to the guitar amp, or tube radio in this case, is often the cause of humming and noise with single-coil pickups.

Tips and warnings

  • You may find that using an old tube radio as a guitar amplifier gives you a fairly brittle sound. Try a humbucker-style guitar or switch to your neck pickup. Alternately, use an equaliser pedal to reduce some of the high end and add a bit more bass if necessary.

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