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My $50 Cornwall Project


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Hi All -


Pretty new to this Forum; even so, I have already gotten some great help and advice from the members here. I thought there might be some interest in following my journey to refurbish a pair of 1971 Klipsch Cornwalls that I happened to luck into over the summer of 2020. By sheer luck, I came across an ad for these listed for just $50. The seller was located about 2 hours drive (one way) from my job. And, that day I happened to take my convertible to work instead of my Suburban - I mean, who wouldn't want to drive a drop top on a warm, dry, sunny Utah day?


So here's the backstory: I texted the seller immediately and was surprised that I was just the third person to respond (although the ad had only been posted about 10 minutes at that time). I told him I would definitely take them, and offered to pay immediately via Venmo or Paypal. The seller said he was OK waiting for me to show up to collect payment. He explained that when he mentioned to the first 2 prospective buyers where he was located, they both backed out. I knew that if I wanted these I had to go there ASAP; no time to drive back home first and get the truck. I explained that I was 2 hours away and was DEFINITELY coming .I verified his exact address with GPS and saw it would take 1 hour and 58 minutes to get to him.  Would he be OK holding them for 2 hours and 15 minutes. I would have been devastated (and a bit pissed off) had I driven that far only to find that they were gone. The seller said "no problem - but at 2 hours 16 minutes I move on to the next guy". Deal!


Imagine his surprise when I showed up on time... but in a convertible. With a good bit of luck, we managed to load them up. And, by the time I got to his location, he had gotten close to 50 other calls / texts from interested buyers. To his credit, he kept his word and didn't sell them out from under me. He did mention that he even got a few offers significantly over his $50 asking price, but declined them, telling them that they were already sold.


So, I will end this first installment with a couple of photos. I knew even while I was driving there, that if I was successful, this was going to sound like a BS story. So, I made sure to take a screenshot (a few actually) of the original ad showing the price. And a few of the Cornwalls loaded up in my 2003 BMW 330cic. I've attached one of each to this post.


P.S. - BTW, the seller was the original owner and yes, he knew what he had. He just figured that in this day and age of Bluetooth, Alexa, and Beats headphones that no one would want such large speakers anymore. If you look at the ad he even mentions taking them to the landfill if he gets no interest(!) Boy, was he wrong...









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So, here is what the speakers looked like when I got them home and dusted them off (see photos).


After cleaning them off, and wiring them up, I tested them out using my Pioneer SX-780. The good news was that they sounded decent; and I went around and verified by ear that all the drivers were indeed functional. Of course, there were some issues - but what would you expect for 50 bucks?


The first and most obvious issue is that the woofers are not the originals. They had been in fact replaced with (probably) 1990's era subs. The subs did work; but if I was going to own a pair of authentic vintage Cornwalls, they are going to have actual Cornwall drivers in them. And if I was going to own a pair of authentic vintage Cornwalls, I wanted to have something that looked and performed 100% like it did back in the day. Something to be proud of.


With that in mind, I put together a list of everything that was going to need to be done to get these Cornwalls back to their former glory:


1) Sonics

 - Replace the aftermarket subs with authentic, period correct Klipsch Cornwall woofers;

 - Inspect the midrange and tweeter horns / drivers to ensure everything is within spec and working properly. Disassemble and clean them, install new gaskets for the midrange horns;

 - Inspect the crossovers and either recap or replace completely, depending on condition;

 - Replace the aged internal crossover to driver wiring 'harness' with modern, heavier gauge wire


2) Cosmetics

 - Refinish the cabinets original walnut veneer (in my mind I am hoping to go a little darker than their current appearance);

 - Repaint the scuffed up black matte motorboards;

- Clean up the rear panels, which were not veneered and were painted a medium brown at the factory. Unfortunately they had been exposed to white paint at sometime and there were splatter marks all over the panels. The goal was to remove the splatter without damaging the original paint job or the original labels that were still attached to the rear panels;

- Fabricate removable speaker grilles in a contrasting fabric. The original grille material (which was black - there were a few tiny bits left on the motorboard edges) was stapled to the motorboard and non-removeable. I wanted the ability to have removeable grilles which became a production option for the Cornwall a few years after mine were originally built


3) Extras

 - After some online research, I saw that some people used risers to elevate their Cornwalls off the floor. I decided I would fabricate my own risers to keep costs reasonable;

 - Install any missing period correct logos / badges, etc.


I felt like this was a pretty comprehensive list, but I realized that once I got started there was always the potential for other things to pop up. I also should say that I am not anywhere near a professional carpenter or cabinetmaker; I have done a little refinishing work on speakers before but these were at the worst 'starting point' finish-wise that I had ever worked on. I've got some general tools (like screwdrivers / socket wrenches / etc) but my garage is stocked more for automotive stuff than woodworking. 


Lastly, I am going to try and keep a running tab on both dollar costs and labor time hours as I go through the refurb project. I figure should anyone else out there be thinking about doing a similar type project, this might serve as a good template to let you know how much time, effort and money you are going to end up spending. And if it gets difficult or goes south, I won't sugarcoat it. If it's an easy step, I will say so. Same if I any of this is a PITA or something best left to a pro - I will let you know.








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I decided to do this first, as I felt like this might be the 'hardest' part of the project / thing I would be most likely to screw up or not satisfactorily complete. I figured if I was going to mess up anything to the point that I might have to send these out for professional help, then let's get that over and done with. I had repaired speaker drivers, etc. before so I was pretty confident that I could remove / reinstall hardware inside the cabinets... I was a little less confident about the cabinets themselves, LOL.


Materials Needed:  

 - 220 and 400 grit sandpaper, 4 sheets each / $4.97 per 4-sheet pack 

 - Watco Danish Oil, dark walnut, one pint container / $8.97  (There is also some Restor-A-Finish in the photo; I did NOT use that, as it was not as dark a finish as I wanted)

 - 2" Fine bristled synthetic paint brush  / $ 9.47

 - Sample size Behr Interior semi-gloss paint, Midnight Black / $4.88

 - Roll of Painter's Tape / $3.88

 - Disposable 2" paint brush / $1.97

 - Varathane Oil-based clear Gloss Polyurethane, 236 mL / $6.88

 - Mineral Spirits, quart container / $ 8.97

 - Asst. disposable sponge brush set / $1.97


Total Expense for this Step: $56.93 plus tax


IMG_7839.JPG.791979c22d461bedf138edfc01a15013.JPG   IMG_7840.JPG.b769c667c6ab077fcd7982d8d813be5e.JPG   IMG_7868.JPG.8c2f84c0042d8b5a4bbc26ec50b95e44.JPG


Time Required:

 - Approx. 8 hours total time for sanding / prep, repainting the motorboards (1 coat), oil finish application (3 coats), polyurethane application (2 coats). Does NOT include drying time between coats


Ok, so here goes...


First, remove the back panel and remove all the drivers, crossovers, wiring. Why? because these are big, heavy speakers - and removing the hardware and back panels reduces the weight significantly. Plus, we've already decided that the hardware needs inspection and some work, so it will need to come out at some point - and it would really suck if you dripped paint or oil onto a driver front or inside a horn, etc. And with the back panels off you can move the speakers by lifting from the (dry) inside instead of having to wait for the exterior to fully dry before attempting to move or touch anything. 


Once everything is out - I didn't bother to take photos of removal, as I think everybody know how to use a screwdriver, LOL - you will be left with a 5 - sided cabinet "shell":


IMG_7816.thumb.JPG.da9960a6c9ee9b0bf6338341a2e5d0ef.JPG IMG_7817.thumb.JPG.5e9d2c300f8f6d87c4fe271efadcdb8b.JPG


Note that I put down some cardboard to hopefully prevent any drips or spills from hitting the flooring, and that I raised the speakers off the ground using (4) cheap 1" Tupperware containers per speaker. This would allow me to get at the bottom trim, etc. without hitting the cardboard barrier.


Now it's time to sand down and prep the existing finish. This actually ended up being quite a bit easier than I expected, with one caveat. A close up inspection revealed a few fairly deep scratches in the veneer; I made a decision that I was not going to try and remove every single scratch; rather, I would get rid of all the light surface scratches and work to minimize the visibility of any deeper defects. My reasoning for this was based on two things; 1, my skill level (or lack of it); and 2, I had read that the veneer on most vintage Klipsch cabinets was not particularly thick - and I was worried that if I went too nuts with the sanding that I might sand right through the veneer in spots.


Sanding is easy, if you remember a few important rules. Always sand by hand, applying steady and even pressure as you go. Always go straight back and forth in the same direction as the woodgrain. Check the sandpaper frequently to see if the section you are working with has any rips or is worn out. Check your sanding work frequently, especially if you are working on a deeper scratch or scuff. You only want to sand as deep as you have to. Start with the coarser sandpaper (lower number) and then go over everything with the finer grit paper (higher number). When you think you are satisfied with how the surface looks and feels (it should feel smooth without any grooves or uneven surfaces), use a vacuum with a soft brush attachment to completely clean every part of the cabinet, including the motorboard and inside the cabinet. The sanded dust gets everywhere!







Next, I used the painter's tape to tape off the frame around the motorboard so I could paint the board. Again, really easy to do. Apply the paint evenly; be sure to go in the direction of the woodgrain, make sure any places where the original paint had peeled off are fully covered. Be sure to paint inside the driver openings, since the drivers are all installed behind the motorboard  you will see the opening surfaces when you are all finished. You can use a cheap, disposable brush for this step. Allow at least 30 minutes of dry time before removing the painter's tape. Allow to dry overnight before attempting to apply the finishing oil to the rest of the cabinet. That small sample size paint can was enough to repaint both motorboards with about 1/3 of the can left over.


                                                         BEFORE                                                                                                                                                             AFTER

IMG_7820.thumb.JPG.af840bb9eeccd0f307fef50d02d88b80.JPG  IMG_7821.thumb.JPG.1f199eeb0cbc1ed3304987cb78771cd6.JPG




Now it's time to apply the oil. Intimidating to think about; surprisingly not too bad at all to actually do it. First thing I did was look up how to do it on the Internet, which actually was very helpful. Among the tips I learned... buy a good brush, don't use a cheapo throwaway for this. I took a disposable 12 oz. cup and filled it about 1/4 of the way with oil (shake the oil can a bit first). Apply the oil sparingly; don't load up the paintbrush or it will drip everywhere. I dipped only the last 1/2" of the bristles into the oil and then let any excess drip off back into the plastic cup. I applied oil to all the edges of a surface first - like all around the top surface - and then stroked the brush across the surface, always with the grain, back and forth. Be careful on the sides as gravity will make it drip if you apply to heavy a coat. Don't forget to do all the trim areas around the front motorboard. As long as you are careful, I didn't see any need to tape off the black painted portions of the board. After about 15 minutes go back over each surface with the paintbrush (don't add any more oil to the brush) to ensure that the oil coat is uniform and even, and that there are no heavy sections or drip lines visible anywhere. Once you are satisfied that the coat looks good, allow to dry completely before applying the next coat. This could take an entire day depending on room temperature and humidity. Patience here seems to be more important than actual skills. If you rush it you will end up with an uneven, gloppy mess.


Once you have applied at least 2 coats (I did 3) allow everything to dry for 48 hours minimum to be able to apply the polyurethane. Now, full disclosure, these speakers did not originally come with a poly finish; but I wanted to max out the shine, and also protect the finish long-term so I won't have to do this all over in 5 or 10 years.


Again I used a disposable plastic cup to hold the polyurethane. I diluted the polyurethane by adding half as much of the mineral spirits (so, 2 parts poly and 1 part mineral spirits) because I read a tip that straight polyurethane may be a little too thick and might show brush marks once dry. I used a cheap disposable sponge brush to hopefully eliminate bristle brush stroke marks in the finish. I went with a high gloss poly, but they also sell matte finish and semi gloss versions as well. I applied 2 coats, with a full 24 hours of dry time between coats. And, as always, go with the woodgrain - not against it.





Here are some photos of the (re)finished product. Not too bad for an amateur, I think -


IMG_7829.thumb.JPG.f969adef1b6dede7ac2a1cdacc48d9c9.JPG IMG_7830.thumb.JPG.a74c4de78c780aba47136bca5e08c650.JPG


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To do the bottoms, I sanded them at the same time as I sanded the rest of the speaker. I waited until the rest of the speaker had been oiled / polyurethaned and dry for a week before I turned the speakers upside down and laid them on an old towel (instead of cardboard and tupperware) to apply the finishes to the bottom panel...




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9 minutes ago, moray james said:

nobody has mentioned (I don't think) but those woofers are not K33's.

The OP noticed.


13 hours ago, RobC63 said:

The first and most obvious issue is that the woofers are not the originals. They had been in fact replaced with (probably) 1990's era subs. The subs did work; but if I was going to own a pair of authentic vintage Cornwalls, they are going to have actual Cornwall drivers in them. And if I was going to own a pair of authentic vintage Cornwalls, I wanted to have something that looked and performed 100% like it did back in the day.


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