The Everlasting Ameco AC-1

courtesy: WB1GFH's AC-1 site

I continue to be amazed at the high prices being paid on E-Bay for original Ameco AC-1 transmitters but perhaps I shouldn't ... they've been doing this for several years now.

Few radios that I can think of have elevated themselves to the cult status enjoyed by the AC-1, but the 3-tube Knight Ocean Hopper regen also comes to mind. Both radios typically reach $100- $200 on auction, with some going for much more. There were plenty of AC-1's sold and built over the years so it's not as if they're rare.

They seem to pop up frequently on E-Bay and the auctions are usually very spirited. I see a nice looking one at present, with 23 bids so far and now at $150! I guess the timing is just about right, with a large supply of now-retired ex-50's Novices who once owned an AC-1, looking to turn back the clock and recreate their early radio experience.

As transmitters go, they don't come much simpler, but the well-designed and smartly marketed radio made it extremely popular among the vast numbers of newly-licenced teenaged Novices who likely didn't have much spare change ... the first ones hit the market in the late 50's, right in time for the strongest solar cycle on record, selling for $14.95 in kit form. AC-1's continued to be sold into the early 70's with the price rising to around $25 ... a nice long run for most ham gear. I may be wrong but I don't think they were ever available in anything other than kit form.

 Here is what the kit looked like upon arrival ... this one still NIB in 2012!

It's not difficult to imagine the level of excitement that this would have stirred up with a young Novice, eager to get on the air.

There is also a large builder's interest in making AC-1 'clones' along with a dedicated Yahoo Group for additional support. Several years go I decided to scratch-build my own clone and found that I had everything needed except for the gray hammertone spray paint. Although most AC-1's used black chicken head knobs, some early models used maroon knobs so I decided to go with a red slide switch and red chicken head knobs on my reproduction. The important decal was available at the time from the Yahoo group but I see them now being sold by Radio Daze, for those that may want to try their hand at building a clone themselves.

The AC-1 uses the inexpensive 6V6 elevated from AF to RF duty, in a crystal-friendly Colpitts crystal oscillator. The only departure from the norm is the output circuit. Most inexpensive one-tubers end up with a link-coupled output but the AC-1 uses the more versatile pi-network ... something that no doubt added to its production costs but produced a transmitter able to load a wider range of antenna impedances while providing superior harmonic attenuation, both important in a beginner's rig.

My clone puts out 8 watts on 80m and 7 watts on 40m. Although never intended, doubling to 20m sees a large drop in efficiency, with output power dropping to 2 watts. Swapping to a 6L6 yields an extra couple of watts. Not enough to be noticed at the other end except when doubling or tripling.

I haven't had my clone on the air for a few years and think it's time to spark it up once again for some summertime fun on 40m CW. It would be great to work another clone or even a real AC-1 if you have one, but any contacts will be exciting if you would like to try.

I'll be hanging around 7118 kHz or down near 7040 and ... I won't be loud!
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

9 Responses to “The Everlasting Ameco AC-1”

  • David WB4ONA:

    You can buy a BRAND NEW Ameco AC-1 kit today for $399.93 (Ouch!) Just point your browser to www(dot)thenewameco(dot)com. The new AC-1 kits seem to be made in Bulgaria but are sold through some clown in Skokie, IL. Keep in-mind, the U.S. Government’s CPI Inflation Calculator says $16.95 in 1955 is worth $154.07 today, not $399.93 (a mark-up of 260%).

  • Bob KK5R:

    Good story. brings back some memories of wishes and wants in the early days of my interest in ham radio. My dream was to own a Heath AT-1 which is roughly comparable to the AC-1. The Conar receiver-transmitter pair was purchased but never put on the air. There was another little transceiver offered by Western Radio, I believe, but while it looked interesting,it wasn’t very popular, it used miniature tubes and took too many shortcuts.

    The challenge is the same then as today. The price was what people could afford but using the minimum of power and equipment and still making contacts was the challenge and the reward. QRP operation today continues this with better results IF the right kind of antenna is used.

  • Ken KG4LLQ:

    What a great little transmitter, back in the day. As far as the current price of almost $400. I built a two tube (6DQ6A oscillator tube with a 0B2 tube voltage regulator) for 40 & 15 meters in 2014 and the parts (all new except the two coils which I made myself) cost me about $300. Be aware the 0B2 regulator regulates voltage to the screen grid of the 6DQ6A which eliminates any chirping. With a proper FT-243 crystal she sounds as good as modern transceivers! Output is 12 watts & is based on plans from the ARRL back in 1960. With all that said, a price of $400 for a Bulgarian built Ameco reproduction is probably $200 more than it should be. I think a fair price would be about $200. Remember the most expensive component is the AC power transformer for the power supply. You can’t skimp on the transformer!

  • Kosta Stojanov KY6AA:

    We are members of NA1LZ Radio Club in Skokie IL and we are selling the AMECO AC-1 DIY kit is our site. My name is Kosta KY6AA .The price of the Ameco AC-1 kit in eBay is $188.81 + $12.60 S/H. To keep the price low we had to order the chassis and the transformer in Bulgaria,Europe. Most of the cheap stuff comes from China,but we don’t know nobody in China…I tried to contact David WB4ONA and provide him with the right information about what we sell and where, but WB4ONA call sign in is unmanaged and no additional information is available.

  • Jason N3YUG:

    I just got one of these kits from Kosta. I looked at purchasing new parts and building one of these myself. I got up to $160 and that was with no crystal, fuse holder, chassis, power cable or shipping costs from the serval different places. I just ordered the kit, and it is very well built, great instructions, and well done. I can’t wait to see what it sounds like on the air this week sometime.


  • Jim WA5WRE:

    Bought one at the age of 14, put it together, checked it out, set it aside and never used it. Don’t know the reason, and have no idea what happen to it. However, the prices they are getting is ridiculous. Any Ham worth his weight, should be able to replicate it for a few hours of work, and a good junk box for little or no cost. If a real look a like was needed, the only cost would be the screen prints. That’s my point, have built many of them over the years. Take care, and the best of 73’s to all. Jim WA5WRE

  • Matthew Blanding; K4FNX:

    Great comments about the Ameco AC-1. I still have my original AC-1 built from kit in 1959. Have been looking a Knight Kit Ocean Hopper to recreate my Novice station, but prices are too high. Still have a Lafayette Space Spanner but not the same. Hope to post photos of my 1959 Novice station on QRZ.Com soon.

    Matt, K4FNX

  • Dave W1AMX:

    I built my AC-1 in 1962 while in the Air Force. Stationed at Stead AFB, north of Reno, NV, I was in communications and we had the MARS station as part of it. After getting my novice ticket (WN7AEB), I would take my rig to the station where they had a 40M dipole up 80 ft. Along with one of the Super Pro receivers, I’d take my one and only crystal and get on the air. Made lots of contacts with the little TX. Once out of the AF and with my first house, I rigged up a 20M dipole under the eaves of the house and fed it with 33 ft. of 300 TV twinlead laying across the attic floor. The AC-1 would load up into that antenna on 40 just fine. By then I had a Hallicrafters SX-140 receiver. Many more contacts with just that one crystal. Had a surplus round 0-50 mA meter whose contacts fit perfectly across the J-38 key’s wire posts for tune up. Not much of a station – but a whole lot of fun. One who kicks himself for selling my AC-1. 🙁

  • Charles Russell:

    I have a working AC-1 circuit xmitter. If interested contat me. KB1UOH

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