In the early 1960s, tubes still ruled consumer electronics. Family equipment was dark, and smelled of hot Bakelite or grilled dust. It hummed with a sound which we do not yet know that he was well on guitars. We began to listen sounds from elsewhere. Funny little flashy devices went invading our teenager bedrooms and participated in their clutter. They diffused sharp sounds that slammed well with rock and Roll or Brit Pop. It was a completely different sound than family equipment. We spent our sixties adolescence between these two sensations: muffled brown old receivers and bright orange pocket transistors, such as between blues and pop.
When we opened our pocket radios to replace the battery, we finded out these tiny stuffs that would become essential components of the twentieth century : transistors.
Sescosem transistors, circa 1964.
Strange little things
I was a novice yourselfer. I think I have blown or crushed almost all that first transistors I tried to desolder and retrieve, so I had to buy some. Going to the electronics shop was something like a pilgrimage for me and a descent into hell for my purse.
Sometimes we came back home with Philips transistors, individually packed. We opened carefully their red and blue box, for fear of breaking them. These “Black Glass” have stayed in my memory. Their black glass case with its mysterious immatriculation and irregular red dot, their thin leads, all this was like a mix of tinkering and High Tech. We had often to be content with french transistors produced by the Sescosem, Thomson’s ancestor … They were good components in fact , and cheaper, but their appearance was not so attractive : they were sold in bulk, and they looked raw in their metallic housing, painted with glaucous colors.
We had vaguely understood that these creatures amplify currents that get in there… All was happening inside the crystal of a rare and weird named material: Germanium.
Abandoning germanium, circa 1968
We were experimenting step by step, but the story came up short. Around 1968, as I just built my first preamps, those first transistors became suddenly obsolete. Germanium transistors that were too fragile, temperature sensitive, unconstant, were replaced by smaller and perfect critters. Their material was no more intriguing. Their low prices and industrial perfection led us to use them without paying attention.
I confess that I often didn’t lower me when a silicon transistor fell to the ground in my studio, while a few years earlier, it was a tragedy when an antique black glas escaped from my hands.
Go and see :
Black Glas transistors