Grandpa smell. Let’s talk about it.
My grandpa smelled great, and I have no complaints about my kid’s grandads, so forgive me for the sweeping statement.
But there’s something about the smell of some old or otherwise vintage tube amps and receivers that smacks of old grandpa.
I guess there can be subdivisions within that classification of smell, as “good grandpa” is more like a clean dust smell and “bad grandpa” completely reeks of rancid tobacco oil.
Tobacco exposure is really what creates the most problems for these old circuits and components, and that starts us off on a grody, good foot for the next installment of our series on how to buy old stereo stuff.
The jury is still out on whether you can blow vape plumes straight into your electronics for 20 years without damage, but the reality is that smoking combustable tobacco inside the home used to be much, much more prevalent. It’s practically nonexistent now.
When tobacco smoke slowly circulates in a room, it bathes everything it passes in a miniature cocktail of oil and particulates. That oil then attracts and traps dust on its exterior until there is no more oil surface area to get trapped on.
The outer dust then begins to wick up the oil from below and becomes oily itself, which then begins to trap a new layer of dust. Add more layers of smoke on the outer dust, and you have a growth cycle of tobacco and dust that just builds and builds.
If I sound like I have some experience with this, it’s because I do. I’ve cleaned more oil and dust-ridden gear than I care to recall.
But I don’t want to gross you out or give you the idea that buying vintage stereo equipment should be avoided at all costs. In fact, much of that old gear was built of high quality parts and intended to last. Many old receivers compete impressively with the cheaper materials and components available today. I highly recommend considering the vintage approach to bolster your home music playback system.
Just approach with caution. Look for vents in the top cover of whatever you’re considering to buy, and give it a good whiff.
The second piece of advice I have involves taking the top cover off. Normally, I would not suggest this to anyone who isn’t properly trained. But as long as you know the device has been off for at least a day or two and you don’t connect it to power while opening it, I think it’s a good idea to take a peek inside vintage amplifiers or receivers before you buy them.
What you’re looking for, first and foremost, is bulging or leaking capacitors. The ones we’re concerned with will be the really big ones in the power supply. These look like miniature soda cans — you can’t miss them. If you see any with a bulging top or crusty foam around the top, stay away.
If you have skill with a soldering iron, you can always replace the capacitors with the same value and voltage rating. But if you don’t want to mess with all that — and I don’t blame you — there are a lot more cool vintage fish in the stereo sea.