Around Town

Vintage Radios Come Back to Life in Bristol

A passion for tinkering led Ted Hayes to restoring vintage radios and building custom tube amplifiers

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Modern consumer electronics are hardly memorable from an aesthetic standpoint. They tend to be black boxes of varying size, deliberately utilitarian in design and born for obsolescence. It wasn’t always that way. For the first half or more of the 20th century, radios were beautifully designed pieces of art meant to be appreciated for their appearance as much as their sonic quality. Ted Hayes, a self-taught tinkerer living in Bristol, still thinks there’s value in yesterday’s forgotten electronics.

By day he’s the editor of The Warren Times, but by night Ted is a kind of mad scientist, committed to bringing old, tube-powered radios back to life as Evil Twin Amps & Tube Electronics. Among the units he’s restored are a couple of beautiful German sets made in the ‘50s – including one made in communist East Berlin – and a rare American-made Knight table radio. The Knight is special because of an 11-inch speaker – kind of big for a table radio – and a gorgeous, illuminated display that exemplifies the care that went into creating these pieces. Even cooler, radios of the era were designed to pick up signals from around the globe on shortwave bands. “It was the internet of the time,” Ted explains. “I can plug in any of these at night and still pick up Russia and China.”

In addition to working and refurbishing tube radios, Ted restores and builds custom tube amplifiers. When we met he was working on a replica of a ‘60s Fender amp with tremelo. “I built it because I had heard that this was a nice sounding amp and I wanted to know what it sounded like.”

Though he’s able to restore the working components of these old school electronics – even going so far as to add inputs for modern devices like iPods – the one thing Ted won’t do is refinish their wooden bodies. “They’re signs that they were loved,” he says. “I’d never change that.” The way he sees it, every scuff and ding tells a story.