The Project G Stereo

Restoring a design icon

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration
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Above: The Clairtone Project G stereo, designed by Hugh Spencer and produced by Clairtone from 1964 to 1967. Fewer than 400 were made with about 50 still known to exist. Photo: George Whiteside. 

For a decade, in the 1960s, Clairtone Sound Corporation captured the spirit of the times: sophisticated, cosmopolitan, liberated. From its modern oiled-walnut, rosewood, and teak consoles to its minimalist logo and promotional materials, Clairtone produced a powerful and enduring body of design work.

Click on image for full view

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration

Irving Penn photo from a Clairtone Project G brochure. The lady sitting in the Arne Jacobsen ‘Egg’ chair is Hanna Gilmour, wife of Clairtone co-founder David Gilmour.

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration

Actress Tuesday Weld poses with a Clairtone Project G stereo, 1965.

Founded in 1958 by two young Canadians, Peter Munk and David Gilmour, the fledgling manufacturer of stereo and TV consoles quickly became known for its iconic designs and masterful advertising campaigns. The company employed some of the most talented designers and original thinkers working in Canada at the time––among them, Carl Dair, Dalton Camp, Chris Yaneff, and Hugh Spencer––who ensured that Clairtone used the wittiest copy, the latest typefaces, and the most up-to-date exhibit and signage systems.

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration

Promotional image for the G2. Introduced in 1966 the G2 was meant to be a more affordable option costing about half of what the Project G did.

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration

Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin on the set of the 1965 movie ‘Marriage on the Rocks’ with a Project G in the background. Sinatra was so taken with the stereo that he ordered seven as gifts for his inner circle of friends.

Clairtone’s acclaimed Project G stereo, with its space-age styling, epitomized the Swinging Sixties. Famously, Hugh Hefner owned a Project G. So did Frank Sinatra. Oscar Peterson affirmed that his music sounded as good on a G as it did live. In 1967, suggesting how deeply Clairtone’s G series had come to be identified with popular culture, the G2 appeared in The Graduate alongside Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft.

About ten years ago I began collecting Clairtone’s Project G and G2 stereos. I knew very little about them other than that they were a Canadian design from the short-lived, but high profile company known as the Clairtone Sound Corporation. What I didn’t know was how few were made with far less existing still – around 50 are still known to be around by my calculation. What I also didn’t know was how to restore one of these stereos, which in most cases was needed after decades of neglect. But after some trepidation I learned as much as I could and successfully restored the first one. And it’s a steep learning curve – especially with rosewood! In the past decade I have restored about 30 Project G and G2 stereos and here’s a quick pictorial of one such restoration.

One of the more extensive restorations with the 'Found' Project G. Now located in Palm Springs, California. Click on image for full view.

 

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration

The ‘Winnipeg’ Project as it appeared in the book ‘The Art of Clairtone. The Making of a Design Icon’. This is the stereo I listen to almost every day. Photo: George Whiteside

 

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration

The ‘Waddington G’ was actually found near Kingston, Ontario but I first became aware of it when I saw at an auction (Waddington Auction) and someone else won it. A few years passed and the auction buyer contacted me and asked if I wanted it. I did and it was restored. Now in Vancouver.

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration

The ‘Cheltenham G’. This was one the first I acquired and it was sent to New York. However, the buyer married and his wife contacted me in need of some help repairing it – their two year old son tried playing DJ with it and did some damage. While fully working this one went out not being fully restored but rather just de-dented and cleaned. The owner wanted a complete ‘off -chassis’ restoration and this is the result. Now in Palm Springs, California.

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration

The Toronto G. As the project G was made in Ontario several have popped up there like this one which was fully restored and is now in Los Angeles.

dc hillier clairtone project g g2 frank sinatra restoration

A restored Clairtone Project G at in it’s new home. In this case the ‘Glass Pavilion’ designed by Steve Hermann in 2009 and located in Montecito, California.

CBC News feature about the Project G

 

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mcfv
Guest
mcfv

Well now I want one! Where do I start looking…. Great article!

West
Member

Absolutely wonderful to see this restoration of a Canadian icon!

W. Eric
Member

Fantastic article and photos – thank you, DC, for your work on these beauties and for bringing them to our attention with such insight and reverence for their uniqueness…

Rey Bill
Guest
Rey Bill

What an extraordinary treat to read and see this story!