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Unfamiliar AR cabinet finish


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Shown is a pair of AR-4's (s/n 08XXX), and I cannot recall ever seeing cabinets of this speaker model with this color or wood grain appearance. My best guess is that these were sold as unfinished birch with a subsequent owner-applied cherry stain, but that thought is merely speculation. While the 4x was offered in only oiled walnut and unfinished pine, it is difficult to find original sales literature for the AR-4 model, and since other AR models (1, 2, 3, 3t, 3st) were offered in birch, perhaps the AR-4 was also available with this veneer species?    

Nonetheless, these speakers have a very unique and attractive appearance. 

AR-4 cherry (1)?.jpg

AR-4 cherry (2)?.jpg

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The grain on these look like pine to me, but unusually clear compared to what we typically see on unfinished pine AR cabinets.

Compare to this:  http://sterrittlumber.com/product/clear-pine/

The drips on the backs and the scratches on the tops that are darker than the surrounding wood indicate a non-factory stain that was applied after the wood was scratched.

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Pine or birch -- hard to tell. They definitely appear to have a cover coat applied after leaving the factory. Here are samples of pine and birch:


These early 4x's have the CTS woofers with RC circuitry attached and they sell quite well on the auction site for whatever reason -- $265 and headed up more than likely since these are in nice shape.

I would guess they are birch judging by the facing trim but AR used birch for that on the unfinished pine cabs that also were made of plywood which these are not.


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I got a kick out of genek's attached link because that excellent lumber yard is actually right in my neighborhood!

I agree with both of you about the after-market stain, as evidenced by the minor drips on backside, but I tend to agree with Roger (leaning toward birch), based not only on subjective visual assessment but also his comment about the cabinet side panels being particle board rather than plywood. Plywood panels were always used with the pine finish.

Also, with the pine finish being offered as a "value" option, it is doubtful that the purchased cabinet stock would have been the premium grade "clear" pine, as this would have killed the small cost savings altogether. The pine finish (see pic) had a much more animated flat grain structure, and IMO, always looks unattractive when finished with any darker penetrating stain.

Re: AR's birch finish (see second pic), perhaps I should have looked further before posting this query, because I now see that birch (unfinished) was offered on 4x's as late as 1971 (see chart), so it just might have been offered on earlier AR-4's as well. (Roger, these speakers I showed in the first post are AR-4's, not 4x's.) 

AR-4x pine.jpg

AR birch.jpg

AR 1971 specs.jpg

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Generally, I would make the exact same assumption, but if I hadn't lopped off the bottom of this chart, it could be seen that the double asterisk for the birch option specifically notes that the 4x's in birch remained unfinished. Don't ask me why (???) the 4x was singled out, but I have seen this same notation (unfinished birch) once on paper labels from a pair of AR-2's. 

In any case, I'd love to have a pair of AR-4's (or 4x's or 5's) in the birch finish. It's always fun to see the "blondies", but this may be one of the first times I've seen an after-market stain applied that did not ruin the original veneer.  

4x finishes.jpg

unfinished birch.jpg

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Is there any 100% accurate and easy way to tell difference between BLO (or other oil/wax) finish and lacquer... be that poly, acrylic, nitrocellulose etc ???


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Hi Glenn, thanks for sharing and welcome to the CSP forum. That is a gorgeous pair of 3a's you have, but my guess is that you have a pair of cabinets that have the (somewhat rare) cherry veneer which, in the 1971 catalog, was offered at the same price ($250 each) as the popular oiled walnut. Unlike the 4x's (or4's) discussed above which for some reason came with unfinished birch cabinets, AR-3a's in birch would have typically been lacquered, and like genek has already lamented, it is unlikely that someone would purchase the lacquered birch option, then remove the lacquer, and re-stain to assimilate cherry veneer. I think you have the real deal - - are there any ID tags on the backside?  

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Thank you for the link to discussion about AR finishing.  It was interesting to read about the multilayer lacquer finishing process for the cherry finishes. 

I agree with your guess that my AR3a s are cherry.  Unfortunately they are not gorgeous on all the faces, some faces have scratches and some chips, fortunately no damage to the wood.  The advice in the linked discussion that the only way to refinish the film finishes is to strip and redo is daunting.  I will try shellac sticks before I refinish.  That may work and is reversible if it doesn't. 


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13 hours ago, Liangshan Marsh said:

The winning bid : $819

Sheesh..... I do love my AR-4's, but that's a whole lot of cabbage for a small, modest loudspeaker - - in fact, the highest sale price I've ever seen. The listing was only partially informative, at best - - no pics of drivers, etc. - - but apparently, someone else found this finish to be rare and unusual.

13 hours ago, GlennW said:

the only way to refinish the film finishes is to strip and redo is daunting.

There are several others on this site who are experienced with these specific finishes (and woodworking in general) and may be able to offer some advice, including small veneer repairs. I do know that shellac finishes can sometimes be forgiving for subsequent restoration processes, with fairly easy removal as the shellac reacts with denatured alcohol, but I have no idea if hardened lacquer behaves similarly to lacquer thinner or other solvents. I do now see in your pic that there are noticeable scratches on the top of one speaker, but if you do wish to restore the cabinet finish, I suspect you'll get some help here. 

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