DIY iPad Gramophone Amplifier Project

I had a really good time making this first version of a gramophone iPad amplifier, after seeing one at Restoration Hardware.

I was lucky enough to find a gramophone-style horn at Stuffology in Kansas City's West Bottoms. I'm not sure what type of player it came from. It is definitely not a 'gramophone' brand, since the bottom of it is brass and has an L-shaped bend in it. This fact actually saved me considerable time and effort and tool cost when carving out the channel.

EDIT: Upon further research, this horn is from an Edison Model H19, available from 1919 to 1927

To prep the horn itself, I had to cut off a horizontal bar on the front of the horn, then used my Drimel to sand off all of the old paint, then used steel wool and CLR to clean it up. I used Rustoleum Universal Paint & Primer Gloss Black.

For the wood base, I went to The Urban Lumber Company in Missouri, climbed around on the scrap wood heap with Tim, and found a nice piece of ash with the right dimensions I needed. Tim was kind enough to do a couple of cuts and plane the ash since I have few woodworking tools (namely an axe, chisel, and small saw).

For weeks I was perplexed on the sound channel. I examined Restoration Hardware's version, and found they cut a hole in the bottom of their block of wood, carved out a channel, and covered the hole with a wooden plate. I figured this would be beyond my skill-set and require a larger outlay of money for tools than I was willing to spend. Alternatively, I've seen some on the net that cut the wood block in half horizontally, carve out a sound channel, and glue the halves back together. I do not like the look of that version, preferring a whole smooth block of wood, similar in appearance to Restoration Hardware.

In the end, the L-bend saved me from either option. I used a 1-1/2" spade bit at an angle in the back of the wood block, making it deep enough for the horn to sit comfortably.

I determined where I wanted the iPad to sit in relation to the horn, drew a template, and used a normal drill bit to "swiss cheese" my way into a small channel (and basic hammer/chisel) that would keep the iPad upright.

Now, to get the sound from the iPad to the gramophone, I needed a long horizontal channel running through the middle of the block. I should have used an auger bit, but didn't want to spend the money, so I used a long spade bit, drilling at a cross-angle. Unfortunately with the spade bit (versus and auger), its hard to control the angle. My horizontal angle was spot on, but I was a little off vertically and I ended up drilling through the bottom of the wood. A little wood filler plugged it up OK. Thankfully that was my practice block. I re-aligned the bit and got right underneath the iPad channel, drilling further down to connect the two. Upon first test, more audio came out of the iPad channel than the horn, so I used the spade bit to enlarge the carry-channel.

Overall, I am happy with the way it turned out. I have an extra piece of ash that I'll work on a final version with. It has a nice live edge on it. I'll try to use a router for the iPad channel for a smoother, polished look. And I'm sure there's some nice tool out there to carve a sound channel without the hack job I had to do, which will probably carry sound much better. I tried an experimental blue stain on the ash, and while I like the color, it doesn't go well with the project. For my final version, I may keep it natural, or use a black ash stain.

I also upgraded my iPad Retina to an iPad Air 2, and the speakers have been moved, so I will need to make some adjustments to the sound channels if I'm going to use this amplifier.

There are certain music styles that do no go well playing on a gramophone horn. Anything with much bass, or louder rock music with heavy drums. But jazz, classic rock, and country have a pleasant tinny sound to them. Mostly I made it as much as a conversation piece than an audio amplifier. And just to prove that I could make it! Also helping with this project were a few tall PBR's and Hank Williams III on the radio
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