To clean vintage parts or not to clean...


Well-known member
Nov 14, 2018
San Francisco, USA
I'm building an EQ clone where I've been able locate and purchase working used / NOS parts that I'm planning to use. 

Obviously electronic parts with contacts need to be cleaned  (switches, pots for example) or at least made electronically sound, but what about surface dirt / rust on  transformers casing / wires? 

In this case I have a number of vintage input and output audio transformers and two power  transformers that all show some signs of light surface rust and / or dirt from the decades that is more than surface dust.  I've tested them and all returns expected results both loaded and unloaded. 

Should I leave the 'vintage patina' on these devices or do whatever is required to clean up as best as can be done?  If clean, beyond wiping down with a water or alcohol lightly dampened cloth, what suggestions do you have to clean dirt / rust without destroying whatever may still be good surface material?

See attached picture for example of slightly dirty / rusty transformer.

Thanks in advance!
~ Greg


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Well-known member
Nov 18, 2015
I remember reading the manual for the Federal compressor ,
It stated that all rust blemishes and scratches on the equipment were to be lightly sanded then painted with the supplied touch up kit . In my experience its very difficult to match paint exactly ,but  close is good enough and it does halt the progress of rust spots . I generally havn't  found surface rust on transformer lams to be any kind of issue apart from cosmetic . , I sometimes  use a small rotary wire brush in a drill to tidy up transformers and metal work . Ive made my own touch up paints by mixing small pots of humbrol enamel to get close to the existing colour .

Judging from the pictures your best off going down  the 'touch up'  route ,as the surface is 99% good , its lasted 60 or more years ,with a little renovation work it'll last another 60 easily .

Michael Tibes

Well-known member
Jun 5, 2004
Berlin, Germany
I'm very much after function and reliability, so try to clean everything which might influence the sound. Dirt can do a lot of damage, particuarly in tube circuits. If there is a risk that a part can't be replaced I need to consider that. If it can be replaced (within reason) I don't mind if it breaks (typically that might be resistors). I'll also clean the surfaces as for as possible without risking damage, but I don't think about repainting stuff. If it was a car I'd say it has to run smoothly and reliable, but I don't mind patina. Actually I like it ,-)



Well-known member
Jan 30, 2010
Maine USA
The mojo is in the patina. Rust on tranny shells or cores does no harm.

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