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These speakers were given to me by a friend of mine at church who had them in the back of his truck destined for Goodwill.  The cabinets were fairly rough and the grille fabric had been replaced but everything else was original.  I had never restored a set of speakers before but thanks to the encouragement of Roy, Glenn, Kent and others on this site, I have spent the last 6 weeks restoring them and am very happy with how they turned out.  Here are a few of the details:

Year: 1963-4
Make: Acoustic Research
Model: AR-3
Serial #s: C21604 & C21611

Restoration summary:
- Original dual 24uF and 6uF paper capacitor replaced with new Solen 24uF 400V and Dayton Audio 6.2uF 250V Precision Audio Capacitors from Parts Express
- Original 16 Ohm / 25 Watt wire-wound potentiometers were corroded beyond repair and were replaced with modern reproduction wire-wound potentiometers of the same size and specifications from captainfantastic07 on eBay.
- Cabinets sanded and hand-rubbed with Watco Danish Oil (Dark Walnut) and finished with four coats of Minwax satin polyurethane.
- Woofer perimeter and bolt holes resealed with speaker sealing caulk from Parts Express
- Original plastic speaker grill frames replaced with more durable 1/4" Masonite for easier installation and removal.
- Masonite speaker grille frames spray painted flat black before wrapping with fabric to prevent frame being seen through fabric.
- Reproduction speaker grille saran material from Q-Components in Canada.
- 3M automotive trim adhesive tape followed by ¼” heavy duty staples to prevent slipping of material or fraying of fabric edges
- Reproduction “AR Inc” and "3" pin from jKent

Attached are a few pictures so you can see before and after and some of the steps along the way.  I plan on enjoying them for a while and then will probably try selling them locally before putting on eBay to avoid the hassle and potential damage associated with shipping.

Thank you to Roy, Glenn and Kent for all of your input and for the wealth of information everyone else has contributed to this site!  If you have any questions or comments, please let me know!

Thanks,
Steve

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Welcome, and wow!!! Amazing job restoring those gorgeous 3's. I'm drooling with envy! They look terrific, and you even have the perfect spot for them.  Congratulations!!

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8 hours ago, samberger0357 said:

Welcome, and wow!!! Amazing job restoring those gorgeous 3's. I'm drooling with envy! They look terrific, and you even have the perfect spot for them.  Congratulations!!

Thanks Sam!  I also uploaded a video to YouTube if you want to hear them.  Just ignore the goofy guy talking (me) and focus on the speakers!

 

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Love it, but put those grilles back on. Not only do they look much better, but I believe the grilles play into the sonic signature of the speakers. 

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13 minutes ago, lakecat said:

Looks great! Did you brush on the satin poly? I use the MinWax satin spray poly and it sure doesn't come out as glossy as these look. Weird.

I'm glad you mentioned that.  Of the entire process of working on these speakers, the finish has been the most frustrating.  I brushed on each coat, waiting 3-4 hours between each coat and lightly sanding with 220 between each coat.  No matter what I do though, I end up with brush marks, orange peel and areas where the finish is thicker than others.  After reading up on how to solve the problem I let the polyurethane cure for an entire week and then sanded lightly with 220 then 320 and then buffed with a superfine 3M pad.  This gave a very uneven gloss when I was done so I put another coat on and gave up.

It is still bugging me and I am considering sanding it down and starting over again but I don't really have a plan that would result in anything different than what I already have.  I have even considered sending them to someone who does antique furniture restoration and letting them take a stab at it.

If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears!

Thanks,

Steve

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That's a really nice set of AR-3's - congratulations on rescuing them!

I've never used Minwax poly over Watco, only with other Minwax oil stains, and with a good & uniform result so maybe the uneven gloss is an interaction problem between the two products.

I also agree with Lakecat that the final finish on your speakers is significantly more glossy than what I've come to expect from Minwax spray satin poly.

The color on your speakers is beautiful, but if you do decide to strip things back, Minwax Special Walnut 224 mixed with just a touch of English Chestnut 233 or Red Chestnut 232  can come very close to the original AR oiled walnut color in most circumstances. It helps to let the finish set for a week or so, before spraying your poly.

With the Minwax poly spray, go lightly on your first coat, and subsequent coats should be applied within 2 hours of each other, otherwise you should wait 72 hours between applications.

Oh, and it's always a good idea to use a tack cloth to remove any residual dust from the cabinet, prior to applying your first coat of stain to avoid blotches and help the veneer to evenly accept the stain. 

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Steve....maybe can is mismarked? I had a can of spray poly that I returned to store because it was not satin but gloss. I brought wood in show them. I got a new can. That is so glossy, I can't see that is satin.....at all. 

I would lightly sand that varnish to get finish off. Get the satin spray cans of MinWax. I lay my speakers on their backs on a 6x6 block of wood twelve inches long to expose all sides and front. I cut a piece of cardboard to fit where grill goes to protect drivers. I then spray a light coat on all sides and front at once....holding can about eight inches away and doing slow sweeps....following grain...and spraying top to bottom....then bottom to top.

I let that dry for 72 hours because I sand it lightly....tack cloth it down...before adding heavier second coat in the same manner as first coat. Two coats should be all you need. Myself....I paste wax the cabinet after drying for a week. 

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On September 24, 2018 at 7:58 AM, Steve Gifford said:

Thanks Sam!  I also uploaded a video to YouTube if you want to hear them.  Just ignore the goofy guy talking (me) and focus on the speakers!

 

Hey Steve!

You did a great job on these and, really, after all the work you put into them, you plan to flip them? 

They sound great, and are a long term investment. Personally, I'd keep these for a very long time, which is what I plan to do with mine.

Cheers, Glenn

 

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Thanks again for all the input!  So here's what I did today... Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater by sanding them down and starting over again, I sanded each side down with 220 grit with the grain in areas where there were obvious and ugly drips, brush marks and orange peel.  I then carefully but thoroughly sanded the entire cabinet down with a 320 grit sponge.  This flattened out 90% of the surface imperfections but left the sheen dull and ugly, but very smooth.  I then took a 3M Very Fine buffing pad along with some automotive swirl remover paste and with an orbital buffer on low speed buffed out each side until the dull finish became buttery smooth and clear.  The results were very interesting... although still much glossier and slightly darker than original, the process brought out some beautiful, almost iridescent grain characteristics of the wood.  Though not a typical look, if you see them in person and walk around and let the light bounce off the grain at different angles it is simply stunning.  It is very hard to capture in pictures but I attached a few to try and show the effect.  Happy accident...

One of the reasons I was strongly considering flipping them is first, I don't really need them, but mostly because I was so disgusted with the finish and frustrated with the process I was about done and ready to let someone else take a stab at them.  After reworking them, my wife even commented how pretty they were and nice they looked on the bookshelf.  With that said, I think they are now going to live here for a while.

Thanks again for all the feedback and suggestions!

Steve

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The thing you have to watch out for when finishing with polyurethane is that unlike traditional finishes like shellac, varnish or lacquer where each new coat will chemically merge into the coats before them, bonding multiple coats into one, poly will not. The solvents in which poly solids are suspended don't react with cured poly. You can apply multiple coats, but each new one lay up on top, so before you put on another coat it's much more important to make sure the previous one is as free of imperfections as possible.

If I'm not spraying I prefer to wipe or pad on, because no matter how careful I am with a brush I always seem to end up with a stray bristle embedded in the finish.

If you apply multiple coats of any finish, regardless of what surface sheen you want from the final coat, all the ones before it should be gloss. The flatting additives used to make satin or matte finishes tend to be just a tad bit obscuring, and applying a lot of coats that contain them can result in a cloudy finish. My personal preference is to use only gloss and after the finish has fully cured to take down the shine with abrasive pads or compounds until I get what I want. Poly wood finishes are pretty similar to automotive clearcoat, so you can definitely accomplish good things with car products.

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1 hour ago, genek said:

The thing you have to watch out for when finishing with polyurethane is that unlike traditional finishes like shellac, varnish or lacquer where each new coat will chemically merge into the coats before them, bonding multiple coats into one, poly will not. The solvents in which poly solids are suspended don't react with cured poly. You can apply multiple coats, but each new one lay up on top, so before you put on another coat it's much more important to make sure the previous one is as free of imperfections as possible.

If I'm not spraying I prefer to wipe or pad on, because no matter how careful I am with a brush I always seem to end up with a stray bristle embedded in the finish.

If you apply multiple coats of any finish, regardless of what surface sheen you want from the final coat, all the ones before it should be gloss. The flatting additives used to make satin or matte finishes tend to be just a tad bit obscuring, and applying a lot of coats that contain them can result in a cloudy finish. My personal preference is to use only gloss and after the finish has fully cured to take down the shine with abrasive pads or compounds until I get what I want. Poly wood finishes are pretty similar to automotive clearcoat, so you can definitely accomplish good things with car products.

That is fascinating to know the chemistry behind the different finishes and makes a lot of sense after having used the polyurethane and witnessed some of these characteristics first hand.  Had I known I probably would have gone different route. The thing that I really enjoy though is the learning process and gaining some of the knowledge from everyone that has contributed to these pages. Thanks for the chemistry lesson! - Steve

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I'm curious, how thick would you say the veneer is on them. By the way they look terrific!! I see you have some pretty deep scratches on them but the finished product looks really good. I've heard the veneer is much thicker on the 3's than on some of the newer models. Great work!

Arken 

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In the future, if you insist on using poly on projects, I highly recommend General Finish's Arm-R-Seal.  It is a wipe-on, poly/tung mix.  It is really easy to apply and (in my experience) doesn't orange peal.

Also, allow at least 48 hours between coats.  Lightly sand with 220 between coats.  You can go up to 600 on the final quote.

 

L_P

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2 hours ago, arken said:

I'm curious, how thick would you say the veneer is on them. By the way they look terrific!! I see you have some pretty deep scratches on them but the finished product looks really good. I've heard the veneer is much thicker on the 3's than on some of the newer models. Great work!

Arken 

Since this is the first speaker I have refinished, I really don't have anything to compare it to as far as veneer thickness.  If you are interested though, Glenn has a great section on veneer repair which shows several pictures of pieces of cut veneer.  Here's the link: 

 

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On 9/26/2018 at 9:31 PM, genek said:

The thing you have to watch out for when finishing with polyurethane is that unlike traditional finishes like shellac, varnish or lacquer where each new coat will chemically merge into the coats before them, bonding multiple coats into one, poly will not. The solvents in which poly solids are suspended don't react with cured poly. You can apply multiple coats, but each new one lay up on top, so before you put on another coat it's much more important to make sure the previous one is as free of imperfections as possible. . . .

If you apply multiple coats of any finish, regardless of what surface sheen you want from the final coat, all the ones before it should be gloss. The flatting additives used to make satin or matte finishes tend to be just a tad bit obscuring, and applying a lot of coats that contain them can result in a cloudy finish. My personal preference is to use only gloss and after the finish has fully cured to take down the shine with abrasive pads or compounds until I get what I want.

Steve,

Those look absolutely beautiful. Glad to have played a small part in the restoration by providing the badges.

You did a great job on the grilles. Mine are a bit loose so if I get ambitious I may try your method. I use 3M auto trim tape for other things but never thought to use it for the Saran grill material. Did you heat the Saran at all to get good fold-overs?

I thought Gene's post bore quoting here for future refinishers. He makes 2 VERY important points:

  1. Lacquer actually melts into the layer underneath for good adhesion and leveling. There's a technical term I've forgotten but lacquer works great. I refinish all my KLH radios with lacquer (this was their original finish). Early AR speakers that were not oil finished were lacquered. I recently saw first-hand some components that Glenn had re-veneered and lacquered and they were fantastic. Finish was like a Steinway.
  2. Always use gloss. Flatting agents obscure. I remember watching my father make cabinets for our rec room 60 years ago. He finished them with multiple coats of high gloss spar varnish and when finished rubbed it out with pumice & water followed by rottenstone & oil. The resulting finish was absolutely smooth and clear with a beautiful satin finish.
  3. -Kent

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On 9/30/2018 at 1:34 PM, JKent said:

Steve,

Those look absolutely beautiful. Glad to have played a small part in the restoration by providing the badges.

You did a great job on the grilles. Mine are a bit loose so if I get ambitious I may try your method. I use 3M auto trim tape for other things but never thought to use it for the Saran grill material. Did you heat the Saran at all to get good fold-overs?

I thought Gene's post bore quoting here for future refinishers. He makes 2 VERY important points:

  1. Lacquer actually melts into the layer underneath for good adhesion and leveling. There's a technical term I've forgotten but lacquer works great. I refinish all my KLH radios with lacquer (this was their original finish). Early AR speakers that were not oil finished were lacquered. I recently saw first-hand some components that Glenn had re-veneered and lacquered and they were fantastic. Finish was like a Steinway.
  2. Always use gloss. Flatting agents obscure. I remember watching my father make cabinets for our rec room 60 years ago. He finished them with multiple coats of high gloss spar varnish and when finished rubbed it out with pumice & water followed by rottenstone & oil. The resulting finish was absolutely smooth and clear with a beautiful satin finish.
  3. -Kent

They wouldn't be the same without your badges!  

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14 minutes ago, harry398 said:

why are you selling these?

 

do they not sound as good as something else you have?

Good question!  Going back to the beginning of this whole story, I am not an audiophile and knew nothing about these speakers prior to stumbling onto them in the back of my friend's pickup truck headed for Goodwill.  I do however enjoy learning new things and am somewhat mechanically inclined from several years spent in automotive engineering so I thought I would give restoration of these beasts a try.  Other than struggling a bit with the finish as mentioned above, I am very happy with the way they turned out and with how they sound.  I also now have a much deeper appreciation for their history and the part they played in the history of audio speaker design.  I have learned a lot through the process about things from capacitors and resistance to types of wood and the differences between polyurethanes and lacquers.  For me, the process and the learning were the primary goals, not the finished speakers themselves.

With that said, I am finding that even now as I listen to them, I am still learning!  A couple of examples: When I first finished them and brought them up from the basement where I had been working I put them on top of the bookshelves in our living room about eye-level with the mid-ranges.  They sounded very nice and crisp but not as full and rich as they had when I tested them in the basement.  After a week or so of listening to them like this, I read up some more on the ideal speaker placement and how the dynamics of the sound can change depending on the height and angle of the speakers, their placement within the room and the surface they are sitting on.  With this info, I moved the speakers to the floor, spread them out a bit more towards the corners of the room and tried them again.  Holy smokes!  The speakers suddenly came alive with such a deep and rich tone that they didn't sound like the same set of speakers!  The mids and highs that had dominated the sound before still remain crisp and clear but are now more appropriately balanced with the deep, rich bass.

So then I began to wonder what else am I missing in the overall listening experience?  How does the amplifier affect things?  More reading and another conclusion... the Onkyo Integra receiver I am running the speakers with is only rated for 6 ohm speakers @ 85 watts/channel.  My uncle recently retired as the president and owner a large audio engineering company in St. Louis so I got in touch with him and learned more about nominal vs peak power, THD, damping factors and other characteristics that can strongly influence the sound.  The outcome... he is sending me a Sony TA-N80ES that will run the speakers at 270 watts/channel at 4 ohms with at damping factor of 100 and a THD of 0.004% which should provide a much cleaner sound and control the woofer much more accurately, especially at higher volumes.  I get it this Thursday and can't wait to hear the difference!

I know this is a long answer to a short question, but everyone that contributes to this site comes at things each from their own angle.  I do not "need" these speakers but the more I learn about them the more I appreciate them and am in less of a hurry to unload them as I continue to learn and enjoy.

- Steve

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