First Signs of Approaching Spring

It hasn't been a very good winter here in Oregon's Willamette Valley, unless you're one of the newly arrived from warmer and sunnier climates. There was a snowy couple of days in early January, and that was great, but overall there's been only a fraction of the usual amount of rain. The long multi decade drought cycle in the western United States continues, possibly to historic low levels of precipitation.

No matter what form our winters take, it's still always a welcome event when we see the first indications that spring is on its way. Over the last week and a half the temperatures dropped into the teens overnight, with highs not much above freezing, but the previous two days saw some warming, and today, although overcast, it got up to 60 degrees. Coincident with that, the first flowers in our yard popped up and opened out: spring crocuses, yellow and violet and white.

It won't be long now until tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinths also show up to welcome the arrival of longer and warmer days. In the meantime, it's a cheery scene, to look out and see crocuses here and there, the first signs of spring.

Seen through open door -
First sign of approaching spring
One yellow crocus

Thrift Store Fun: Vintage 1960 Norelco AD-4877M "Labor of Love"

Wednesday was a dental appointment day in neighboring Springfield, and afterwards we stopped by the St Vincent's thrift store on Q St. There were some interesting Asian ceramic pieces in stock that day, and my eye was caught by a pair of brightly painted home made speaker cabinets.

According to the staff, some idiot removed all the screws holding the back panels on, yet still couldn’t get them off, and then grabbed the burlap grill cloth of one cab and ripped it, just to see what the speaker looked like. Seeing a dual “whizzer” cone, he left in a huff, leaving a bunch of screws laying around.

No doubt due to their appearance, these cabs were priced low, so I took a gamble since I’ve had good luck in the past with brightly painted home brewed cabs built in a certain era. It was obvious to me what they were: a labor of love by a 1950s or ‘60s do-it-yourselfer home handyman with a limited tool selection:
an electric jig saw, drill, screwdriver, caulking gun, pencil and probably a long ruler, were all that was needed to build up these cute yellow cabinets.

Mr Handyman also had a novel solution for framing the grill material; in spite of having few tools to work with, he was an intelligent and most likely a creative sort of person.

One indication that these speaker cabs were valued by the builder was a blue Allied Van Lines sticker on one, showing he thought enough of them to pay to transport them as part of a whole house move, most likely to another region of the country.

Nice heavyweight terminals:

They metered out as okay:

The jerko Vinnie’s customer couldn’t get the backs off because the entire cabinet was caulk sealed. Using a very small pry bar, it came apart easily, with a sharp snap and pop noise as the 60 year old caulking separated.

The cleats were screwed in place:

The builder had totally stuffed every cubic inch of the sealed non- ported cabinet with fibreglass batting. Although not done very often anymore, at the time it was sort of a popular concept in the DIY projects as seen in magazines like Popular Mechanics.

Down at the bottom of all that carcinogenic stew was this:

Cool. The magnet cans look amazing, and the 8" (nominal size) speaker drivers themselves are really heavy.

The cones are in overall excellent shape, except for a small bit of damage to one surround, caused by the Gorilla of St Vincent's. Which sounds like the title of some story by Edgar Allen Poe.

"What a maroon!”, as Bugs Bunny would say. (hint for those not familiar with classic Warner Bros cartoons: Bugs meant to say "moron")

Here’s the label:

An online pdf of a vintage Norelco hi-fi ad shows these AD 4877M drivers as costing $26 apiece back in the day, which is the equivalent of over $600 for the pair in today’s money - no wonder the builder / owner kept them through a long distance move.

In the pre-internet days I'd seen a magazine article mentioning Norelco and Philips Alnico magnet drivers as being well suited for use with flat panel "open baffle" speaker design. Checking online today, it’s hard to say if that was so - one of many things gone down the internet memory hole.

Well, let's see what these Norelco speakers sound like. I hooked up the cabs, one as-is sealed and chock full o’ fibreglass, and the other with no batting and the back removed to approximate an open baffle audio experience, and had a listen to some
pieces on the local classical station, KWAX, and selected tracks from a few of my favorite test CDs:

Sarah Vaughan, "Sarah Vaughan" (1954);  Bill Evans Trio, "Sunday at the Village Vanguard" (1961); Bill Morrisey, "Songs of Mississippi John Hurt" (1999); Modern Jazz Quartet, "Django" (1953-1955); Beach Boys, "Pet Sounds" (1966); Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, "Jazz Samba" (1962); Dread Zeppelin, "Un-Led-Ed" (1990) - If you haven't yet heard Dread Zeppelin, you're in for a unique listening experience: Led Zeppelin tunes done by an ultra tight rock group in a Reggae style, with vocals by an Elvis impersonator.

Also auditioned were a rare String Quartet in E minor by Giuseppe Verdi (Joe Green!), JS Bach's French Suites played by Andras Schiff, Samuel Barber's Symphony No 1, and one of my all time faves, "Graceful Ghost Rag" by William Bolcom.

Never mind the slightly comical looking cabinets - these are nothing less than the greatest sounding single driver speakers I’ve ever heard, and very efficient - at a guess I’d say at least 25% higher efficiency than the Wolverine 8” loaded (plus 12” woofer) Electro-Voice Leyton speakers I have in the living room. Truly astounding detail - I could hear every nuance of brushes caressing the snare skins on vintage jazz recordings, Sarah Vaughan at conversational volume level sounded like she was right there in the room, the separation of moving harmony lines in the Verdi string quartet was incredibly lifelike, and Carl Wilson's vocal on the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album cut “God Only Knows” was sweeter and more angelic than I’ve ever heard it.

Since Pet Sounds is a mono mix I panned between the two cabs to hear differences in the cabinet configuration, and found the open back cab to be a bit more efficient (louder), and the closed one to have a slightly better low end, but not by very much.

Uh oh, I feel another project coming on. Maybe build a pair of solid pine open back cabinets the same size as these yellow things (external dimensions 13.5" x 19" x 12", 1/2" plywood baffle). Or maybe just keep those funky 1950s labor-of-love cabs just the way they are, enjoy the wonderful sound, and who cares what they look like?



Fourteen Random Photos

Pixie Houses

Here are fourteen randomly selected photos. Taken with a variety of cameras and phones, some are recent, some not so new, and one is quite antique.

In the picture above, we were hoping that some small creatures, whether mythical or actual, would take up residence. Possibly they did, but if so they were invisible except to the mind's eye.

My Two Yams

 Two Yamaha acoustic guitars (CSF-60, FS800T), plus other stuff.

In Studio

At Kyle's studio, featuring his wall sized homage to Elliot Smith's "Figure 8" album cover. Also semi- hidden but in plain sight is my old Danelectro / Silvertone bass.

Impressionistic Jimmy

A crop of an image posted on this site earlier, "Un Jour à La Pointe de Fermin, 1973". My humble attempt at emulating a painterly impressionist style.

Christmas Deer

Christmas is a fun time around here. Besides a fully decked out tree, door wreath, and holly draped piano, there are also various decorations throughout the house, including this bookshelf display of tiny deer and bottle brush trees.

Isuzu at the Canoe Launch

It was a perfect day to go canoeing: warm, light breeze, and mostly overcast, so there was little danger of sunburn. Actually, cloudy is a way of life here in western Oregon.

Almost Perfect Pie

Sometimes a home made pumpkin pie will turn out perfectly, and this is one of those rare and wonderful events. Absolutely a slice of heaven served with freshly whipped cream, subtly flavored with sugar and vanilla.

Aerial Dragonfly

Came out of the neighborhood medium sized supermarket, and found this amazingly calm dragonfly perched atop the radio antenna. It stayed on the aerial for about two blocks of slow driving, before it flew off to fulfill its destiny.

Eugene Toy & Guitar

With no logo decal, the headstock on the long-term project Strat Parts-O-Caster has been looking sort of barren since the new one-piece FujiGen maple neck was installed. A sticker from the Eugene Toy & Hobby store might just be the answer.

Chops in the Wild

Taking a portable charcoal grill along when car- camping at campgrounds in National Forests and Parks can be a delicious thing. Thick burger-sized chops perfectly done, served on buns with barbecue sauce, Joe's dipper corn chips and guacamole, a fruit bowl at hand, and beer or lemonade. Life is good.

And please don't come at me about the state of the grill. Exactly what part of "Camping Barbecue Grill" don't you understand?

Matryoshka Amplifier

These nesting Matryoshka dolls were a gift, and a great place to display them is on top of the amplifier that drives a pair of 1970s JBL audio monitors. Every time I sit down to do some editing, they make me smile.

Beat Up Altec

You might ask- how on earth does a speaker get so beat up? This Altec 417-8C was a brand shiny new gift when I first got it, but that didn't last long. Always installed in various Fender tube combo amplifiers, usually one of my mid-60s Deluxe Reverbs, it saw constant gigging duty.

After a show, often a one-nighter many miles of bad roads from home, we would toss equally beat up effects pedals, cables, and a Shure 545 mic into the back of an amp, and then chuck the whole thing into a car trunk or pickup bed. The bottom line was: whatever didn't survive that experience wasn't worth keeping.

Spirit Lanterns

We like to have fun on the holidays. Okay, Halloween isn't really an official holiday, and in recent years the Lizard People have tried hard to kill it, but this Pagan rite still survives. Great family fun is having everyone create their own pumpkin jack-o-lanterns.

Good Night

The last thing I see before switching off the wood and paper night lamp. Good night!