Brimar Beauties for Plug & Play

[Atif] is quite fond of his custom Oscilloclock Model 1, originally supplied with a bright green Brimar SE5F/P31 CRT. He just loves its crisp, clear trace! But wouldn’t it be great if he could plug-and-play a different CRT, to suit his mood of the day?

[Atif]’s Oscilloclock Model 1 SE5F with P31 green phosphor… Could we change the mood?

More specifically, could I create a second display unit (the acrylic tube on the left) using a CRT with a soft, long-persistence blue trace? And could he just swap the units around at will, without having to make any changes to the control unit?

Absolutely! But to make the 2nd unit completely compatible for plug-and-play, we’d need the same SE5F type CRT, with a different phosphor. Looking at Brimar’s catalogue, this CRT was available in several phosphors – including a P7 blue. This is the same as used in the original Prototype, and it’s really good at showing off those exotic trailing effects!

Brimar supplied the SE5F in several standard phosphors – including the highly desirable P7

So the hunt began…

Now, this particular P7 CRT is famously difficult to come by – whether new OR used.

The most common piece of old equipment employing the SE5F was the ubiquitous Telequipment S51 oscilloscope, but the overwhelming majority of those had a P31 phosphor CRT installed. Indeed, of all the demonstrably working S51’s posted on eBay in the past decade, I have never seen a single one showing an obviously blue trace!

After many months of scouring auctions, suppliers and CRT fanatic colleagues across the globe, I managed to locate one SE5F/P7 in highly questionable condition – and located in Italy! With Google Translate as my friend, negotiations ensued, and – taking a substantial risk that the CRT would actually function – the unit was duly purchased and shipped.

A dirty, slightly rusty SE5F/P7 CRT – snatched from the brinks of destruction in Italy

Often, well-used CRTs exhibit scratches, spots, or burn-in marks on the internal phosphor coating. Fortunately, this CRT’s phosphor proved unblemished! And powering it up (for the first time in decades, most likely), it proved to be electrically faultless, as well!

It works!

Beautifying the Brimar

You may think that cleaning a CRT is hardly worth writing home (or the world) about.

But this specimen was slathered in sticky, gooey tape residue, which had to be carefully removed. My chemical of choice for this is, believe it or not, eucalyptus oil! Not only does it remove the gunk, but it also serves to clear up any nasal or bronchial congestion that the technician may have at the time. Two birds with one stone!

The more difficult issue was removal of the graphite coating. During manufacture, the front-most 8 cm of the glass of each SE5F was sprayed with a conductive graphite-based paint. Why? To make a high-voltage capacitor with the spiral accelerator anode (the beautiful green stripes) and similar graphite coating on the inside of the glass. By connecting the external coating to ground, the thrifty circuit designer could avoid using a separate (and expensive) high-voltage filter capacitor in the anode power supply!

External and internal graphite coatings
form an effective high-voltage capacitor!

Why remove this coating? Because during use, it gets scratched and marred, as the above photo shows. Such a messy CRT could never be worthy to mount in a clear cast-acrylic case for an Oscilloclock! In addition, the coating obscures some of the attractive spiral accelerator anode, and blocks the incredible view of the trace from behind. And regarding circuit design, we at Oscilloclock NEVER scrimp – the Power Board has oodles of filtering capacity without relying on a graphite coating!

While eucalyptus oil is also effective, it can get rather expensive in the quantity required – especially as the Oscilloclock lab is not conveniently located in Australia! The more reasonably priced chemical of choice here is nail polish remover. As always, there is a side-benefit – the nasal passages are assuaged by a delicate floral scent during cleaning, and fingers have an arguably nice smell that lingers for quite a while!

Joking aside – gloves, open windows, good ventilation, and safety glasses (in case the CRT implodes) are key ingredients for this process!

Eucalyptus oil and nail polish remover has done wonders to this Italian-sourced beauty!


Having found the perfect CRT, [Atif]’s plug & play unit is now well under construction.

Epilogue – “Good things come in threes”

It’s not good just getting one CRT. What if [Atif] wanted a spare? What if I wanted a spare for my venerable Prototype clock? Following from the Italian success, I continued a further 6-month hunt, and managed two achievements.

The first was a Telequipment S51b unit located in the U.K. that was non-functional, but that I suspected may have a P7 phosphor installed. How could I possibly suspect this? Well, perhaps this is an art rather than a science, but there were several tell-tale signs:

  • The way the phosphor looked under the camera flash or ambient light
  • The colour (or absence) of the graticule (the plastic cover in front of the CRT)
  • The fact that I got a double when I rolled the dice to decide whether to take the plunge or not!

The seller of this unit was not willing (or perhaps not technically able) to extract the CRT, check the CRT type, or ship overseas. Fortunately, my colleague in the U.K. was more than happy to receive the scope at his end. Thus arranged, when the unit arrived he extracted the CRT and confirmed that – sadly – I had purchased a P31 CRT.

Oops, it was a P31 – the dice did not roll in my favour that time!

But I shipped it across anyway, and the CRT tested well. Rescuing a functional SE5F/P31 from eventual demise was still a worthy accomplishment!

The second achievement was prompted by an auction listing for a “Brimar SE5F”, but with little indication as to the phosphor. The photos of the label (see right), even with subsequent close-ups provided by the seller upon request, were not conclusive.

The image shows two characters beginning with ‘P’. It looks like “P1”, which is another extremely common green phosphor used in many CRTs since the beginning of time. However, we saw in the catalogue earlier that Brimar only supplied GV, P7, P31, and P39 phosphors as standard. It is unlikely that any equipment manufacturer would have requested Brimar to produce a custom CRT batch using the less-exotic P1 phosphor… Leaving the P7 as the only likely candidate!

Convinced, the CRT was duly shipped across and tested – and lo and behold, success! A spare P7 was safely procured.

And with that, the long saga of this CRT hunt closes. As they say, “good things come in threes!”

Like what you see?

Cathode ray tubes used to be manufactured in all shapes, sizes, and colours. Some prove harder than others to find! But if you prefer an exotic creation, don’t give up – there is something for you out there, and here at Oscilloclock we will find it.

As always, see previous posts and the Gallery for info on unique creations!

The trailing effect

A colleague asked me whether the trailing effect you see on the seconds hand was a photography trick, or something actually visible to the human eye.

Trailing effect

Yes, the trailing effect is real, and it’s thanks to a characteristic of the CRT’s phosphor screen called persistence.

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