Boldly Going where Many Have Gone Recently

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Dan Efran

Active Member
For my 45th birthday, I decided to reconnect with my inner child by buying him a lot of cool toys.

Specifically, a bunch of super-cheap toy props to mod and repaint. I wanted to see how far I could go toward fleshing out my prop collection on a very tight budget. There are some wonderfully semi-accurate toys out there these days. Lots of toys I used to wish for have arrived. It's awesome.

First up, the Diamond Select TOS Communicator. I have read several delightfully informative threads here about upgrading these. I'm not as picky about details as some collectors, so I didn't go to quite as much effort upgrading mine, but I did want to fix up a few little details.

This will be familiar territory to many of you, I'm sure, but I hope my quick-and-dirty approach will inspire someone.

First of all I have to say, what a cool toy! It's not perfect but it looks (to my very non-expert eye) at least 80% or 90% correct right out of the box; it makes a decent approximation of the right noise when you open it; it talks to you; it calls you back; it spins its moire. And they didn't even cut a battery door in it! Very nice.

Here it is next to my cell phone.

Comm and Cell.JPG

Really not bad. However....

The first thing that jumped out at me was that speaker grille that's painted silver along with the panel around it. I'm not Mister TOS, but I know that ought to be gold.

Grille.JPG

I'm really impressed with the level of detail here. The grille piece has a complicated texture that, if not totally accurate, sure fools me. It even appears to be glued in slightly crooked. Nice touch, IMHO. But the color looks way off.

A bit of research says, pale gold. I pulled out a fancy gold pen I have. It says "Krylon 18kt Gold Leafing Pen". I don't know what that's supposed to mean; to me it seems a lot like plain gold spray-paint in a pen.

gold pen.JPG

Seems like the right tool for the job. Though I think a metallic gold Sharpie would work just as well.

Taped Off Grille.JPG

I taped it off and just scribbled on it. I actually got a bit of gold on the frame despite the tape, but I just rubbed it off quickly with my finger.

Gold Grille.JPG

Ahhh. Much better.
 

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Dan Efran

Active Member
Did you get one of the earlier versions with the brass lid?

Alas, no, I got the plastic lid. It's pretty nice "metallic" plastic and the color is very good, but it doesn't look like metal.

Plastic Lid.JPG

Rub n Buff to the rescue.

Rub n Buff.JPG

This 'gold leaf' color is close to the original plastic color, but shinier. But it's not too shiny.

It didn't want to stick to the plastic, especially on the smooth inside. Here, partway through the rubbing and buffing, you can see the plastic showing through in a few places. It's pretty subtle due to the similar colors.

Partly Rubbed n Buffed.JPG

I probably should have sanded it down a bit first but I didn't want to mess up the original vague shine. I figure if the RnB wears off through use, it'll make weird "tarnished" spots, and still look kind of okay. I also didn't want to manhandle this part too much - the rod between the hinges looks fragile.

But I eventually got it mostly covered with Rub n Buff, and it looks a lot better to me.

Rubbed n Buffed Antenna.JPG

In particular, the hinges are now shiny. I feel like that's a detail I see in a lot of reference pictures.

Shiny Hinges.JPG
 

Funky

Master Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Well, dang it! I wish you would have posted this sooner. I JUST gave away one with the brass lid last Saturday. If I still had it I would have just sent it to you.
 

Dan Efran

Active Member
Well, dang it! I wish you would have posted this sooner. I JUST gave away one with the brass lid last Saturday. If I still had it I would have just sent it to you.

Wow, thanks! That would have been absurdly kind of you!

...Stay tuned for my other upcoming projects, I guess! :devil

Seriously, I still find it amazing that the toy ever had a real metal antenna. Anyhow, the plastic one is decent, and I already had the Rub n Buff.

The next step was to address a little technical glitch.

The toy has a "try me" tab so that it can be displayed "open" in the box without spinning the moire all the time. In that mode it only plays one voice sample.

When you pull out the tab, it's supposed to switch into the regular mode. But some of them don't. (I saw several Amazon reviews that indicated this problem could occur, so I was not at all surprised when it happened to me.)

The tab separates two little spring contacts from the circuit board. You can see them from the outside:

Try Me Or Else.JPG

Apparently, their spring had sprung.

I made a little coil of wire to serve as a jumper.

Jumper Coil.JPG

I could have just jammed this in through the "try me" hole. That would fix the problem. But I wasn't 100% sure whether to stick it above or below the tabs, and besides, why would I pass up an excuse to open the thing up and have a little look around?

(To be continued.)
 

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cavx

Master Member
Small budget builds are fun. They may not (or they may) look as good as a big budget build and I get a real kick out making something fast for virtually nothing.
 

Dan Efran

Active Member
So it was time to open up the toy. (Actually I'm telling this out of order. You can't get the antenna off until you take it apart.)

The back of the case is held on with four screws. Opening it reveals the batteries. It comes with LARGE batteries:

LARGE batteries.JPG

That's the brand name. LARGE.

I don't know why, but that makes me laugh. Moving on. The batteries are held in a second layer of back shell. That's held on with more screws. But not for long....

Wires and Gears.JPG

The inner back shell is full of gears. The circuit board is screwed to the front. You can see where the Try Me spring contacts are firmly mounted with, like, brass grommets.

Try Me Grommets.JPG

The actual springs are on the other side. Carefully unscrewing the circuit board....

One of these screws is not like the others.

The Shortest Screw.JPG

I kept track of where the shorter screw came from, so I could put it back in the right spot.

Anyway, that revealed the Try Me springs and the rest of the guts.

Guts.JPG

Here are the spring contacts with the tab inserted again:

Trying Me.JPG

The idea is, you pull out that tab and the contacts spring down to touch the pads beneath them on the circuit board.

But they totally don't. Some flaw in the design or production, I suppose. Not springy enough to hold their shape when stored with the tab in for a long time? Wrong shape? Wrong metal?
I gather that some of these work fine, so maybe it was a bad batch? A particularly old batch? Who knows? I can speculate, but in any case, they don't work on mine.

Anyway, I made a little coil of thick copper wire, and jammed it right in there. There are two springs, but they're connected, so only one needs to make contact.

Jumper'd.JPG

Problem solved.

- - - Updated - - -

Small budget builds are fun. They may not (or they may) look as good as a big budget build and I get a real kick out making something fast for virtually nothing.

Me too. I love using found objects and scraps. It feels a bit like cheating to start from this excellent toy that only needs a few touch-ups, but it's very satisfying to go ahead and make those changes.

LARGE batteries.JPG


Wires and Gears.JPG


Try Me Grommets.JPG


The Shortest Screw.JPG


Guts.JPG


Trying Me.JPG


Jumper'd.JPG
 
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Dan Efran

Active Member
If you're good with electronics and don't want to wait for the official bluetooth communicator, you can build your own. http://makezine.com/2009/11/02/star-trek-bluetooth-communicator/

That's pretty awesome. Looks like you lose the spinning moire though. Makes me strongly suspect the official one won't spin, since it'll need a similar amount of circuitry.

If I didn't already have a cell phone with a satisfyingly comm-like form factor, I'd be pretty tempted. (I'm also tempted to paint my phone's lid brass and add a silver pinstripe around the sides....)
 

Dan Efran

Active Member
Speaking of the spinning moire, all I did to mine was clean a bit of visible dust out from between the discs.

I love that the toy includes this fairly challenging feature, and it looks pretty nice. Sure is loud, though!

I took a quick look at the motor/gear system while I had it exposed, but I didn't attempt to quiet it. I don't know how. But it would be nice! There's a definite grinding sound from the toy when it's running. Oh well, "subspace interference."

Gears of Whirr.JPG

Instead, I turned my attention to the inside of the front shell.

I had hoped to remove the jewels (they're all one part) for a quick repaint. This is the one serious toy-ish disappointment in this piece, IMHO. The light shines through the silver paint in places it shouldn't.

Glowing Bezel.JPG

Not good. I can't paint that from the outside, so I thought I'd remove it temporarily.
But that part is glued in with what looks like blobs of the pure Evil from Time Bandits.

Speaker and Jewels.JPG

I'm not going to mess with that this time around. I don't want to break anything or somehow make it hard to put the piece back.

I experimented with some black tape and a hole punch to see if I could flag off the light from within. Maybe I could just paint the inside, in situ?
Nope, couldn't find the right spot to put the tape, if there is a right spot. Too awkward to try painting in there. The LEDs are tiny, not far from the jewels, and pretty bright.

I guess I have no choice but to deal with those black blobs someday, but I'm putting it off for now. I'll just live with the light leaks for as long as I can stand to.

The speaker was up next. The toy was just too loud. The chirps when you open a comm should be reassuring, like the voice of a friend, not blasting your ear like a car alarm.

I thought about trying something fancy. Maybe insert a resistor into one of those yellow wires? Even a tiny potentiometer, as a volume knob? Would that work?

I just took the speaker out, put 3 or 4 layers of electrical tape over the grille holes, and put it back. Problem solved. It's not quiet, but it's not jarring anymore.

While I had the speaker out, the sound was much quieter. I would have guessed it would get louder when it wasn't pushing the sound through those tiny holes, but no, it was whispering like someone else's phone call. I guess the whole shell resonates, amplifying the speaker? Interesting.

At this point I was almost done with the guts, and ready to close it up again. There was just one little matter to attend to first....
 

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Dan Efran

Active Member
So while I was waiting for this Comm to arrive, I researched it a bit. I learned here on the RPF that there's a "secret" jumper on the board which, if removed, allows a hidden message to be played.

Sure enough, prominently and clearly labeled on the circuit board. The magenta notes are mine but you hardly need them. It's in the bracketed area called J2.

Jumper J2.JPG

Now it's a "bronze" board! Yay!

Interestingly, this jumper was not just a blob of solder, but a zero-ohm resistor. See that little surface-mount resistor R1 that seems to say "364" on the top? Well, J2 was just like that but it said "0". Sorry I forgot to get a "before" picture. The above is after I already scraped off the "restraining bolt", to mix franchises if not metaphors.

If they wanted it really secure, they could have had the circuit insist on a particular non-zero resistance, so that you need to add a part for the fancy version, not remove one. But I'm glad they did it this way instead! You don't get to hack hardware security on every prop replica project. This was entertaining.

To be honest, though, the last thing this needs is more sound clips. It's nice for it to say, "Bridge here, Captain." I can work with that ilk. But some of the sounds are outgoing calls instead. Am I supposed to lip-sync them? Those are just in the way. Oh well. The "secret" extra sound is neutral. "turn up your gain". Fine. I will!
 

PartyRichter

Active Member
I love the design of the Original Series communicator. I have the same diamond select model...thanks for the gold leaf Rub 'n Buff idea! I predict a weekend of tinkering...
 

zapwizard

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
The three light domes don't look like they are held in using glue. The four black dots on the back are plastic nubs from the rest of the enclosure, melted into a sort of rivet holding the light domes in place. (In the trade they are called hot-melt rivets) You can shave off the melted plastic using a exacto knife. Once scraped off you should be able to easily remove the domes for painting. Then you can use hot-glue to re-attach the part.
 

Dan Efran

Active Member
I love the design of the Original Series communicator. I have the same diamond select model...thanks for the gold leaf Rub 'n Buff idea! I predict a weekend of tinkering...

You minght want to sand very very lightly before applying the rub n buff, especially on the inside of the lid. It was tricky keeping it from gumming up the holes, since I found that I had to use quite a bit of the stuff. Usually it doesn't take much at all. So I used a stiff brush to jab the holes clean again. Worked okay.

- - - Updated - - -

The three light domes don't look like they are held in using glue. The four black dots on the back are plastic nubs from the rest of the enclosure, melted into a sort of rivet holding the light domes in place. (In the trade they are called hot-melt rivets) You can shave off the melted plastic using a exacto knife. Once scraped off you should be able to easily remove the domes for painting. Then you can use hot-glue to re-attach the part.

You're probably right. Once I pick a good opaque silver paint to fix the light leaks, I'll scrape it loose.
 
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Dan Efran

Active Member
Anyway, the next thing I did was to improve the "knobs". The toy's version is really not bad!

toy knobs.JPG

But most of the photos I've seen of the real ones show a bit more detail. There seems to be a hole in the middle.

So I made a hole in the middle of mine. I just hand-twisted a small drill bit into the end. Not enough to make an actual drill hole, just a divot in the top.

knob modding.JPG

I think that gives it the right look and it took about one minute each.

Also, some photos seem to show a gold band around some knobs. I don't know much about that. But the original comms were not all the same, so I felt free to interpret this detail loosely. I drew a gold band around one of my knobs.

band of gold.jpg

After updating the knobs, I could put the whole thing back together.

That's almost the end of the upgrade. There were just a few loose ends to tie up.
 

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Dan Efran

Active Member
So to wrap up this project, I wanted to remove the white 21st-century text from the back.
Eventually I'll probably take it off entirely with sandpaper or solvents. For the present, though, I just scribbled over it with a black Sharpie.

Back is Black.JPG
Not perfect, but adequate.

And that was it, for a while. I was basically done...but I was still bothered by the light leaking around the jewel bezels.
Glowing Bezel.JPG
Yuck. Light shining through the toy is a pet peeve of mine. I can't really leave it like that.

While doing research for my TIE Interceptor project, I came across the suggestion to use poster mounting putty (Blu-Tack, etc.) as a paint mask. Aha. Perfect for this job too.
But it's been too cold to paint for a while. Finally, today was a nice warm day, so I opened 'er up again, pried off the edges of those hot-melt rivets, and pulled out the jewels piece.
where it had been.JPG
Masked the jewels. (The original silver paint creeps up onto the sides of the jewels a bit in places. Sigh.) I hit the part with three light coats of silver spray paint, five minutes apart, then let it dry a while, and hot-glued it back into place.
puttyprocess.JPG
The result is a definite improvement.
better bezels.JPG
Not perfect. There's still a bit of light coming through. Not as much as before. Also, I thought I had the jewels panel mounted back on its hot-melt pegs, but it looks like it's not on all the way, because the bezels are shorter now - closer to flush with the comm shell. Not all the same amount, either: the yellow one is especially low. Oops.

Actually, I think it looks pretty good that way. But the bezel height was more authentic before I messed with it.

So I guess I'll probably open this up one more time, scrape the original paint off the jewels, paint the bezels with a few more coats of silver, and fit that panel back in more snugly. For now, it's "done". I've taken this toy/replica from a respectable fresh-out-of-the-box 85% to about 98% of what I wanted it to be. Obviously there are much better comms out there, but for me this is just fine. Now it is!
 

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