GE S-22-X Tombstone Radio with Clock (1934)
This stately tombstone radio, with its rare speaker-mounted clock, holds
the record for longest-delayed project in this house. I began restoring it in 1998 and
finished it in 2013—fifteen years later!
This set was manufactured in 1934. The X in model number S-22-X indicates the clock.
GE made about half a dozen S-22 models
during the years 1931-1934, including a console set and
a tombstone with a removable stand. It was common for manufacturers
to offer the same chassis in a variety of cabinet styles. The plain
tombstone model S-22 has no clock and its grille cloth has a large floral pattern.
The S-22 has eight tubes:
||Audio power amplifier
||Audio power amplifier
With a radio-frequency (RF) amplifier at the beginning of its signal
path, this should be a pretty sensitive radio. The oscillator and
intermediate-frequency (IF) tubes show us that it's a superheterodyne
receiver, of course. With two 45 audio tubes and a massive eight-inch
speaker, it also should have good audio . . . or at least, be plenty loud.
for this radio is listed under RCA Model R-7 in Riders.
Perhaps GE licensed the design from RCA; many radio and TV companies
licensed patents and even complete designs from RCA over the decades.
Compared to newer radios, the parts in this one are all quite hefty. Some
look more like auto parts than electronic parts!
When new, this radio doubtless served as the family's primary
"entertainment center." People were only too happy to own a large,
handsome-looking radio in those days. It wasn't until World War II,
which brought technological advances in miniaturization, and the 1950s,
when television took center stage, that space-saving became a big
factor in radio design.
The construction of the chassis is a bit peculiar by later standards.
Several of the small capacitors were enclosed in a "capacitor pack:"
a metal can filled with tar. Several resistors were mounted on an
insulated phenolic board. Perhaps this was an early attempt at modular design,
the idea being that a repairman could just replace an entire module if any
of its components failed.
Sixty-odd years later, of course, replacement packs are unavailable and you
wouldn't want to use one even if you found it, since the capacitors inside would
have degraded with age, whether or not they had been used.
Installing new capacitors is not rocket science. I have done it for dozens of
radios and TVs and you can read all about the process in my article,
Replacing Capacitors in Old Radios and TVs.
However, it's a messy, tedious job to melt the old tar out of a potted
can and replace the innards.
Soon after buying the radio, I repaired and refinished its wooden cabinet,
but the electronic restoration didn't seem like fun, so I put the radio
into a box where it languished for years.
Finding a GE S-22X
This radio was another garage sale find. My wife phoned me one day to say
that she had seen a "funny old clock radio" at a sale.
I was heading in that direction anyway, so I decided to stop by,
even though I assumed it was yet another plastic 1950s clock radio,
of which I already had too many.
When I spotted this set, my ears immediately pricked up. It's unusual to see a clock
in any 1930s radio.
The radio looked a little rough. Two of its eight tubes were missing, and a
quick peek at the label confirmed that they are the scarce, expensive type 45s.
I mentioned this to the owner, remarking that the
previous owner may not have been clever enough to fix it, but at least
had enough brains to take the two most valuable tubes.
I also pointed out the torn grille cloth, the missing knobs, and
the holes in the top of the cabinet where a handle had once been mounted.
After a little more tap-dancing over the price, I handed over a couple
of twenties and loaded it up.
The picture below shows the cabinet as found. The clock is
mounted in the middle of the speaker grille, supported by a
decorative cast metal frame.
As soon as I got the radio home, I inspected it more closely.
Although very dirty, everything seemed to be in place, and the six remaining
tubes all tested fine. I set the radio aside and powered up my computer
in search of a pair of 45 tubes. Within a few minutes, I had ordered
a couple of fresh ones, along with the schematic.
Two days later, while pawing through a box of stuff, I discovered
four 45 tubes new in their original boxes, mixed in with a number of others
I had photographed for my Tube Gallery. Oops!
Since I had already sent payment for the two additional 45s, I chalked that
boo-boo up to failing memory. No doubt I'll find a use for all of
them some day.
With fresh 45 tubes in hand, I could check out
the set. After cleaning all the tube sockets and pins,
I installed the 45s and began
the process of
powering up the radio under slowly increasing voltage.
This is done with a variac, and it lets you
watch for problems such as short circuits.
Wonder of wonders, it worked! The tuner was
frozen on its moorings, but after the power approached about 95 volts,
I could definitely hear the right kinds of noises: background static
and a faint station, without any hum. Encouraged by these signs of life,
I powered everything down and removed the chassis from its cabinet, to
begin cleanup and restoration.
The chassis view below shows a couple of
unusual features. Like many tube sets, this one has a pair of
tall electrolytic capacitors in metal cans; these serve as filters
for the power supply. In modern radios, the capacitor cans are
aluminum, or sometimes cardboard, but these are solid copper!
By the time this photo was taken, I had polished them to
a nice glow.
You can also see one of two large, copper-colored cans
underneath the chassis. At first, I wasn't
sure what these big cans might be. When the schematic arrived a few days later,
I discovered that they hold intermediate frequency (IF) coils,
usually housed in small aluminum cans in later years.
The drive mechanism for the tuner dial is also unique.
The dial is a shallow cone of cardboard with printed markings,
riveted onto a circular metal wheel that has teeth notched
around its inner perimeter. The shaft of the tuning knob goes
inside the toothed wheel and has a round rubber washer to grip the teeth
and drive the wheel. A novel scheme, which worked great
until the rubber dried out and was ground away by the little teeth, losing its grip
on the wheel.
Come to think of it, the tuner might be the reason why
this radio was taken out of service, even though still
basically functional. A radio that doesn't tune is not much use!
It should be fairly easy to replace the rubber, though.
Replacing Cabinet Veneer
The only serious damage to the cabinet was a place on top where the handle had been, shown in this top view.
The veneer under the handle was chipped and it had some circular
gouges, perhaps caused when the handle was loose.
The easiest solution was to replace the entire rectangular veneer piece.
Since some finish in the surrounding area had flaked off completely, I decided
to strip and restain the entire top, as well.
The outdoor view below shows the cabinet out
on our deck, with the materials I'd need for this first step: a new piece of veneer,
a jug of Citri-Strip paint stripper, and a small putty knife.
My local lumberyard sells veneer in 4 x 8 foot sheets, a lot more than
I needed for this job, so I had gone to a local furniture restorer
and convinced him to sell me a little scrap piece for a couple of bucks.
Anticipating the usual mishaps,
I made sure to get a piece more than twice as large as I thought
The next photo shows how I removed the old veneer, slipping the putty knife under a loose edge and taking it off in strips. This took less than a minute.
Once the veneer was gone, I cleaned the bare
wood underneath with paint thinner, to prepare it for gluing.
Then I made a paper template for the new piece, using
a pencil and scissors. The next photo
shows the pattern on top of the veneer sheet, ready to cut. I traced
around the pattern with a sharp pencil, then carefully cut the veneer
with a craft knife, using the steel straightedge to ensure a clean cut.
True to Murphy's law, the first piece of veneer that I cut didn't
quite fit! No matter which way I turned the piece, it was just
a smidgen too small. I cut a second piece, leaving
a little more elbow room than before.
The second piece looked much better. Removing the backing from the
self-stick veneer, I carefully lined it up and pressed it
in place, then laid a heavy book on it for a few minutes, for good measure.
Self-sticking veneer is very convenient,
but you'd better make sure to get it on right the first time.
Once stuck on, this stuff stays where you put it!
I used a fine straight file and sandpaper to smooth the edges
of the veneer, matching its edges precisely to the underlying piece.
To avoid scratching the cabinet top, I laid a thin piece poster board
under the file and sandpaper as I worked. The sanding also removed
a few tiny bits of glue peeking out from the edge of the new veneer.
Now I had a nice piece of unfinished veneer glued to a dark, unrestored cabinet.
I sanded the new piece with very fine paper, then cleaned
it again with paint thinner. (In the next photo, the darker spots on
the new veneer are
some paint thinner that hadn't quite dried when I took the shot.
I'm fanatical about keeping things clean while
To lend some character to the new piece, I gave it a couple of little
dents and dings, using the blunt handle of my old putty knife. When
the whole cabinet is done, the new veneer won't stand out by appearing
The next step was to finish the replacement veneer and refinish the
Refinishing the Cabinet Top
As you've seen in the photos, the color of this cabinet is extremely
dark brown, almost black. Close inspection also showed that the various parts of
the cabinet were not all the same kind of wood.
It's common in cabinetmaking to put
expensive veneers only on the prominent surfaces and use cheaper woods for other
areas. That's exactly how this cabinet was made.
The beautifully grained front is made
of two matching pieces of veneer (probably walnut). A single sheet
was split in half, then the two halves glued side-by-side to create a
symmetrical grain pattern. Other parts of the cabinet
have nondescript grain and appear to be an assortment of woods.
The old cabinetmakers used colored lacquer to give the whole piece
a uniform color and mask differences in wood types. I would use colored
toning lacquer, too, after removing the damaged finish on top.
Only a light stripping job was needed. I wanted to remove the
damaged upper layer, but leave as much of the
original color and character as possible.
Citri-Strip is a comparatively new stripper product, which I like a lot.
It is an easy-to-control gel which does not contain environmentally-unfriendly
methylene chloride or give off harsh fumes.
To use a gel-type stripper, you pour a small quantity in a clean can (catfood
cans are ideal for small pieces like this),
then brush it generously onto the victim and wait for it
to work. The gel stays pretty much where you put it, and remains
liquid for a long time.
After the stripper had worked for a few minutes, I checked
with my putty knife to see if the old finish had loosened. Then, working
very gently to avoid scratches, I removed the old gunk. This is the
most critical phase in this type of stripping. If you start scraping too soon,
or scrape too hard, you can do more harm than good.
As soon as most of the gel was scraped off, I switched to paper towels dipped in
paint thinner. Working quickly, I mopped away of the
remaining stripper and loosened finish, then gave the whole top a final
wash with paint thinner on a soft, lint-free rag.
When I was done, the top was smooth and blemish-free, and it retained much
of its original color.
The next step was to match the colors. I began by wiping a coat of
walnut stain over the entire top, including the new piece. This evened out
the color of the stripped area and made the new veneer somehat darker.
With only one stain coat, it was still too light, of course.
After the stain dried, I masked the area around the new veneer
with paper and tape, and sprayed on brown toning lacquer until the
color looked right.
As the above photo shows, the toning lacquer made the veneer very dark indeed. When
I removed the masking, however, I could see that it matched the rest of
the cabinet just right.
The new piece blends right in!
Most folks will never notice that a repair was made.
Restoring the Cabinet Body
The main body of the cabinet looked pretty
decent, without major scars or chips in the finish.
A lacquer finish in this condition can often be
restored by rubbing it out with a
rag dipped in a mixture of lacquer thinner and retardant.
The thinner softens the original finish and the retardant
keeps the thinner from evaporating too quickly. This gives
you time to respread the softened finish, eliminating surface chips and scratches.
This treatment smoothed the finish all right, but it also
lightened the color in worn areas a little too
much. I got out the spray can of brown toning lacquer
one more time, gently hitting the lightest areas until it
looked just right. Now the color looks just as it did when
I bought the radio. Worn areas such as the top edges still
look somewhat lighter, as before, but the rest of the finish
no longer has ugly scars or chips.
The last step for the cabinet was to spray on two
thin coats of clear lacquer, buffing out the finish after
each coat with super-fine steel wool. The result is a deep,
lustrous finish. Because the cabinet was
never sanded or stripped of all color, it still
has plenty of character, showing various wear marks and
color variations. But now it looks like an original piece that was
very well cared for, rather than the beat-up thing
that I hauled home from the garage sale.
Inside the cabinet, on the side next to the hot-running audio
output tubes, is stapled a small square of insulating material.
In case that pad contains asbestos, I sprayed two coats
of clear acrylic finish over it, to seal it and prevent
any stray fibers from escaping into our home. Asbestos is
nasty stuff, but this pad isn't exposed to any mechanical
stress, so sealing it off should take care of any potential
problems for good.
Cabinet Hardware and Grille
Polishing old brass parts is just about my favorite part of
restoring old cabinets. This radio has a fancy brass escutcheon
surrounding the dial opening in the front. The brass was
probably shiny when the radio came from the factory, but
it had tarnished almost black by the time I got it.
My current favorite for
shining up metals of all types is Mother's Mag & Chrome
Polish, readily available in auto stores.
I used very fine steel wool to help things along in
the worst spots, and finished up with a soft rag.
Once it looked good, I sprayed on a single coat of clear
lacquer to prevent tarnishing in the future.
Many manufacturers used lacquer over brass, by
the way. If you have a brass part that polishes up only
on exposed worn areas, it most likely has a lacquer finish. The
brass can be polished only in parts where all the old lacquer
has worn away. If
you remove the old lacquer with stripper, you can polish the whole
piece and then re-lacquer it. Some people find the resulting
bright finish "too new" for their taste. You can
buy an aging solution to darken the brass to an antique patina.
I ordered a new grille cloth from
Antique Electronic Supply,
which happens to offer an exact replacement. You can get
an even wider variety of grille cloths from
Antique Radio Grillecloth Headquarters.
Incidentally, the plain model S-22 (without the clock)
has a different grille cloth, with a fancy floral design
in the center. I have never seen a replacement for that
unique pattern, so if you have one of those sets, take
good care of the cloth!
Another step was to repaint the decorative
metal piece that holds the clock in the center of
the grille. It had some noticeable noticeable
corrosion that wouldn't polish away, so I sprayed
on a coat of dark grey paint that matched the
One last touch was to cut small circles of felt and glue them
on the cabinet feet, in a couple of spots where the original felt
had fallen off. I had already cleaned up the clock, which seems to
be in fine working order. As soon as the grille cloth arrives, I
can glue it into place and reassemble everything, at which point the
cabinet will be well and truly finished!
As mentioned above, this set uses a pair of electrolytic
capacitors housed in copper cases. They polished up
beautifully, and I also gave them a coat of clear
acrylic to keep them shiny. Here is the chassis photo again, for reference.
The copper cans have little vent holes on the top, making them look
like old salt and pepper shakers.
These are "wet" electrolytic capacitors, consisting of a flat metal
coil immersed in a mild solution of boric acid. In many cases, the solution
leaks out, rendering the unit inoperative.
I honestly didn't expect either capacitor to work, but when I checked them,
one tested right at the specified value. Incredible! You can read
more about this type of capacitor, and see what's
inside one, in my Philco Model 60 Cathedral
That's as far as I've gotten at this writing (June 11, 1998). As soon
as I finish the electronic restoration, I'll
update this page with all the details and a few more photos, including
one of the finished set.