The EICO HF-81 is one of the all time best integrated tube amplifiers made, competing with far more costly amps!
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Click for larger shot EICO hf-81EICO HF-81:
Vintage Route

Shocked...Pt. II

By Kelly Holsten

The road TIME PASSES..long...

Seems I can't ever get this page done and now I have two of these beasts. Ironically enough, neither of them is completely up to 100% at the moment even though they both sound great (the miracles of tube componentry - it can be firing on 3 cylinders and still be running). The original unit still needs the ps caps replaced so it has a bit of hum across both channels. The second unit has no hum, but does have a slight mains transformer buzz and runs hot as a bastard, suggesting that some of the caps might be leaking. Regardless, this amp runs VERY hot anyway but EICO claims the mains temp can reach as high as 225F although it is supposed to run around or below 195F without any problems. This is always going to be a hot running amp, although others debate on the necessity for a change of the bias resistor properties to bring about cooler specs.

On the HF-81 you see featured in these pages, you will notice the black chassis and shiny brass face plate. Rest assured, the ole EICO is usually anything BUT shiny when you pick it up from the lowly Ebay mutant holding pen; I was lucky in that both my units were in reasonably good shape although the first one definitely needed a chassis overhaul with massive, frantic sanding using enough elbow grease to render my arms (both of them) useless for the next squash game....

Click to view full image of face plate

Before the sanding was another beautiful exercise in anal retentive behavior that would have made Julia Childs resemble Fran Leibowitz. I extracted from the depths of the under-the-sink cabinet maw every brass polish I could find; nothing worked. The brass still resembled the color of my 3rd grade, imitation leather bookbag. It was 2am and I was losing grip. That is when I spied this rusty blue can of stuff that my Dad used to clean his fly fishing reels...15 years ago; Christ, the can looked like it hadn't been disturbed in two decades. Indeed, it was in worse shape then the EICO! Undaunted, I managed to pry the lid open and found the contents looked rather unassuming; it was just a bunch of wadding that smelled of a strange mixture of ammonia and week old bread dipped in egg yolk. It had to work. And work it did, that is, after I rubbed and polished the beast for over two hours of mind numbing Room 222 reruns. I had a mound of this wadding built up but boy did it get that useless brass looking new. After about the third application and pass over, I could see myself in the reflection whether I liked it or not! It really did the job and I recommend this stuff highly if you cant get the results from the normal polish. I think I saw a can of it in Wal-Mart the last time I floundered into that dump. It's worth a trip (trust me).


I get many email asking how I got my EICO HF-81 looking rather attractive, despite its lowly kit origins. I hear many people commenting on how they think the HF-81 an ugly duckling of sorts; well, it doesnt have to be this way. If you dont mind leaving thy stock EICO dreams behind. Personally, I think it a major upgrade and have had nothing but positive comments from everyone, including others that have opted for this approach after viewing.

In short shrift, here are the steps and parts involved:

  • As noted in the paragraphs above, remove all panels. They all come apart leaving the ugly as hell chassis resembling a doomed 8th grader's science project. Remove the brass plate from the front panel (two screws visible when knobs are removed) for shining with the aforementioned NEVR-DULL. If your plate is not in too bad a condition, you might try BRASSO which works very well and without any microscopic scratching. I think one can get the brass looking practically new on all but the most pitted examples. Between these two products, you should have no problems.

  • Take the panels and sand them if there is any pitting or scale. I actually hit all of mine with some additional super fine grit paper to make sure the paint would really adhere.

  • Krylon Semi-Flat Black - the #1 ChoiceFor paint, I have used two kinds. The number one choice is Krylon Semi-Flat Black. This paint is now becoming rather hard to find but it is the best performing of the bunch. Semi-Flat and Satin are basically the same shade. You dont want glossy as it looks rather chintzy. Flat is too dull. If you can't locate any Krylon, the next best choice is Rustoleum Satin Black, which is easy to find but not quite as good a quality as the Krylon. Both work better with even, light coats. I put seven coats on my original HF-81 you see pictured here. That is a bit overkill but I decided to go with it while all apart. While at it, be sure to spray the knobs at the same time. I cut a thin piece of tape to mask the "white" indicator line. They turned out perfectly, looking almost brand new.

To go the final "nine yards" you can clear coat the brass after getting to a mirror shine. This would keep it from tarnishing again. Of course, I have not done this yet, but if you polish the face plate every few months or so, it's ok. Someday I will break down and do the clear coat option. Try to avoid touching the brass when turning the controls. This is easier said then done but it really keeps the needs for repolishing down to a minimum. Oils from your fingers accelerate the process.

*postscript 2000
I must really apologize to those looking for something resembling a completed article here. At least the links and tweaks section has been added to with some consistancy. The rest of this mess has been sitting lackluster on my HD with time passing as equipment comes and goes. I still use my beloved EICO. AS of late, the prices have tended to really escalate from more online raving, some of which came from this end, thereby shooting myself in the foot as it were. I dont seem to learn this lesson as everything l love is getting in short supply! I must flee the forums!

return to EICO HF-81 Review pt. I

Click for larger image

EICO HF-81 Tube Selection

In all honesty, the first choice in tubes for this great little unit has to be NOS and not their modern counterpoarts. The difference is not subtle by any means.
See Tube World and Brent Jessee in links of importance

This selection at NEDS below is rather out of date and does not reflect current offerings
quotes and prices as of 10/20/00:

12AX7 (4)

12AX7 Ei Yugoslavia   $7.95 each

Tesla/JJ 12AX7/ECC83
   $7.50 each
These are near exact copies of exotic and rare Telefunken ECC803s.( not the flat-plate ECC83..the really rare frame-grid style which cost $100's of dollars if you can find any). Get close to real Telefunken sound at a fraction of NOS prices!

Sovtek 12AX7-LPS   $9.95 each
A long plate version of 12AX7/ECC83 that appears to be a copy of the old German Siemens E83CC.

12AU7 (2)

Tesla/JJ 12AU7/ECC82  $6.95 each

A new item from JJ/Tesla.Same frame grid construction as Tesla 12AX7/ECC83

12AU7 Yugoslavia   $7.95 each
Their copy of flat plate Telefunken

RT (Radiotechnique)
12AU7WA/E82CC (France)
   $19.95 each
These look very similar to the old Dutch Philips/Amperex and are in French military boxing, date code on boxes is 1962

RT (Radiotechnique) 5814  $19.95 each
Look identical to RT 12AU7WA,
but date code is 1964.

EL-84/6bq5 (4)

Ei-Yugoslavia EL84  $19.95 matched pair
A very nice EL84, a very good copy of the old Amperex 7189 tube. Available again although at a slightly higher price than before

Tesla/JJ 6BQ5/EL84
15.95 matched pair

Sovtek 7189/EL84M  $24.95 matched pair
A heavy duty EL84 that's a good replacement for 7189 as well

6CA4/EZ-81 Rectifier (2)

USA NOS 6CA4/EZ-81   14.95 each

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