How to Rewire a Vintage Phone so it works Today!

The title of this post is lie number one of a litany of lies to be found on the Internet.

You are NOT going to learn how to rewire a vintage phone. You are not.

I know this from experience. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself as I am want to do when I’m in fits.

I have a number of oddities hidden in my basement. For instance there’s this. And these.

Amongst the stuff is a collection of antique/vintage telephones. Some work. Some don’t. You may wonder why I care whether or not a relic of a phone with an actual dial on it works or not. I like them. I like old phones. I like old things. And I particularly like old thing that can still be used. There’s a certain nostalgia and sentimentality about using a big old handset. Plus if you’re on it you can tell people you can’t talk any longer ’cause you’re stuck to the wall and you need to get things done. That excuse doesn’t work if you’re talking on a portable phone.

There’s one in particular I’ve been wanting to get up and running for a long time.

Northern Electric 302

This phone was in my grandmother’s house in Renfrew, Ontario. It’s not only in perfect condition, it’s one of a couple of phones in my basement that have been part of my family for generations.

So some time before Christmas I decided to look up how to rewire some of my old phones with their vintage 3 wires …

… to a modern phone line. One would think it’s just a matter of attaching red to red, green to green and so on. But it’s not. Sometimes this connection will get the phone to work to make and receive calls, but the ringer won’t work. Or it’ll make calls but can’t receive them. Or vice versa. It’s a messy business this phone wiring thing. They’re like Fiats. Or Lindsay Lohan’s brain. Nobody really knows how the wiring works.

More Wires

I looked up a few tutorials on-line and a few videos on YouTube and one video seemed to have great potential. All you have to do is attach red to red, combine the green and yellow from the phone and attach them to the green of the phone jack line.

I’m not sure why I was shocked when it didn’t work but it was the Opening a Wine bottle with a Tree Trunk all over again.


Around 3 hours into it I realized, this probably wasn’t gonna work out for you folks. I would NOT be doing a post on how to make your vintage telephone ring.

But I wasn’t giving up on mine. You see, I have that gene in me. That little slice of DNA that won’t allow me to stop. I can’t give up. I will get so angry and frustrated at points that I need to eat potato chips just to calm down.

Because of the Great and Stupid Paleo experiment, we don’t have any potato chips.

So I got more angry and more frustrated and decided to work through it by eating a block of cheese. Which isn’t very good alone in large portions so I also had some crackers. I’m O.K. with that.

You know why? That little respite from the stupid Paleo plan was enough to get me to settle down and figure it out.

Phone Guts Before

I had another old wall phone downstairs that was wired properly so I dragged that upstairs and compared the guts. They were similar. Similar enough that I could figure out how to hard wire the new phone jack line into the old phone. It made calls and received them. No ring.

So I made some uneducated guesses moving wires and changing things and finally … it rang.

302 Phone Guts

The phone now holds court in the living room.

Antique Phone

If I’d had a bag of potato chips around instead of just cheese and crackers I’m fairly certain I would have been able to resolve any and all conflicts in the Middle East.

And because you were kind of screwed out of any learning anything at all in this post, I have made for you this little video proving that my phone does indeed ring and work.

Vintage Phone ring


Proof of vintage phone working.

Yet another reason to love the olden day phones. No Skype.


  1. Lin N says:

    Well done on figuring out getting the phone to work! Great old phone! Love yer ‘cowlick’. Weird term that…..have a brilliant day!

  2. Susan says:

    Gawd I love you!! I miss the old Stromberg Carlson phones that you could drop and they’d still work. It’s all crap out there now. xoxoxo!!!!

  3. DianneT says:

    My Dad had the DNA to stick with something until he figured it out. I think I’m lucky to have inherited some of that DNA from him, but sometimes I drive my family crazy! Loved your post and that video was hilarious!

  4. Jrn says:

    By the way,retiring thermostats and phones like you are all willing to tackle? Such courage! I might try the phone though (rewiring). But not the thermostat.

  5. Shauna says:

    oh darn it, my Mom has a phone nearly identical to this one and I was hoping we would be able to rewire it so it would work too. I don’t think I have the DNA like you do to experiment until it works.

  6. Jrn says:

    Oh, wait! I found a better site with the phone purse
    The Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses and they are NOT trying to sell anything. Made in the 1980s-or1970s and apparently rediscovered by Lady Gaga (never thoughti’d have anything in common with her)

  7. Jrn says:

    Love that phone! I want one. As an obsessive garage sale shopper I actually found an old telephone purse which actually works as a phone- IF you plug it into the wall jack!

    Is there anyway to upload photos here ? Anyway, my purse is this one but I bought it for$5 not $119 or whatever: I have NO connection to that auction but I can’t find a good photo of that purse anywhere.

  8. Heather S. says:

    If I had a land line I would do this! Sadly no land line and my cat would probably chew through the cord. Awesome video! Your hair looked fine. it was full of character.

  9. Linda says:

    Awesomeness! I do love that old ring. I bought a 60’s model from Goodwill and I love the “heft” of holding on to it. The pulse dialing does take a long time, but who cares?! Love your pj’s and punk hairstyle…

  10. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    The phone looks great and you look..kinda like I do at the moment..but skinnier and blonder..pj’s at 12:30pm..good day here..It’s not nice to lie to your Mom..although so necessary at times..

  11. Patti says:

    Damn. This makes me want to get a landline!

  12. Janet says:

    Love the phone…it’s darling. So’s the video, BTW.
    Any chance you’d know how to rewire my husband so he’d want to get the greenhouse recovered and the trees topped? Thanks for the blast from the past! I hated it when my Grammie decided to get one of those ugly Trim-Line phones. Part of the fun in visiting her was getting to see all the old stuff. Her included, of course.

  13. mimiindublin says:

    I’d have given up before I even started.
    On the rewiring, not the video/hair/rouge.
    Your Mother is going to kill you when she sees what “done” hair is!

  14. Lynne says:

    Ahhhh haaaaaa loved the video !!

  15. Jeannie B says:

    What a lovely old phone Karen. Just think of all the conversations that your gram had on it, over the years. Back in the ’80’s, I installed six extensions and jacks throughout our circa ’50’s house, in the basement and on the main floor. The wiring was old, coming into the house and it was a bit of a nightmare getting all the phones to work and ring. Trial and error mostly. I told the family, never to touch those “fiddled- with” connections, ever! Also lived in fear of ma Bell finding out. Doesn’t matter anymore. By the way, my iPad is set to the “old ring tone”. It rings when I get a new e mail.

  16. Janet says:

    Karen, I am so jealous! You rock!

  17. Jennifer says:

    How is it you can read my mind, I was just staring at the vintage phone that I put in my daughters room (because seriously 5 year old’s need a vintage nonworking phone in their room) thinking I need to make this work prior to her being a teenager so she can truly experience having her own phone and twirling the cord in her fingers while talking to a friend on deep serious matters like what kind of potato chips they are bringing to a party. Because I wrote such a long comment and both kids saw the video, they dragged the phone out and said alright Mama get out the tools, guess I know what we are going to do today! Thank you.

  18. susan w says:

    Maybe they can commune with your hens

  19. katrina says:


  20. susan w says:

    The ring reminded me of Sesame Street’s Martians encountering a telephone

    Made me happy and in further awe of your brilliance and fanatical perseverance.

  21. Kipper says:

    Reminds me of an old comic..kid is rummaging around a room and says to someone not pictured “you know if they put cords on phones they’d not be so easy to lose”.
    That is a lovey ring!

  22. Gigi says:

    Almost went right to paying the bills and decided instead on a quick detour to KarenLand. Of course I should always trust my instincts, as I was richly rewarded with a plucky, save-the-world, in your face sucka, now I’m smarter than you-and a better dresser, morsel of genius. Thanks. I think I hear your phone ringing. It’s your mom. She wants that sweater back if you are just going to let it sit in your closet and not wear it.

  23. Laura Bee says:

    Beautiful! (The phone, you & your jammies)
    After having 2 or 3 cordless phones break or be lost, I gave up & went back to an old rotary. People asked to use my phone & the most common reaction was – half way through, they forget where they were in the number! The cat chewed the cord & I was afraid to rewire it, hubby didn’r like it anyhow, so I bought him a new corded/cordless combo Motorola. I hope that it won’t break or that I won’t lose it in a leaf bag or wherever the others went.

  24. That ring brought back memories. Cute video. Congrats on figuring it out.

  25. Debbie W. says:

    Oh I am so jealous of your grandma’s phone and with your patience (and smarts) to get it working!! I have a hard time helping my 6 yr old put together lego that has step-by-step directions!!

  26. Natika33 says:

    I’m wondering the same thing as Cindy. I thought it wasn’t possible to pulse dial anymore….

  27. Lisa says:

    Love the sound of that ring. Great job on fixing it! Cute video too.

  28. Miriam says:

    You never cease to amaze me. I must lack that gene: if it’s too hard, I tend to give up and read a book.

  29. DzynByJules says:

    I have that exact phone, hoping to get mine up and running then you could call me maybe! Not really sure how to get it to ring though.

  30. Langela says:

    Lipstick and rouge-LOL! My kids heard the phone ringing and asked, “What is that?” With all the new-fangled ring tones, they didn’t know what a ringing phone sounded like. I LOVE the sound of it.

  31. Debbie from Illinois says:

    Love the phone! Love the video even more!

  32. marilyn says:

    hahahaha betty,betty,betty…love the ring tone on that old beauty!

  33. tammy carter says:

    I love someone who knows that Fiats, just don’t work! Grew up riding in one, just getting in and out was like brain surgery!

  34. Karen says:

    Awesome! I would LOVE a phone like that except I might miss the caller ID to avoid the sales calls. There’s something about the character of antique/vintage things that just beg to be preserved.

  35. Gina says:


  36. Amy in Stl says:

    I’m facing a similar wiring dilemma, but kind of reversed. I have boiler heat and central air and both use a different thermostat. One from the 30s and one from the 70s. I bought a fancy new programmable wifi thermostat but the old wires aren’t the proper colors and they are soldered on so if I screw up, I might have a $150 brick and no heat. Have you ever wired a thermostat? The only advice I’ve gotten so far is call an installer. :(

    • Karen says:

      Amy – I have wired a thermostat, but it was so long ago I can’t remember how to do it or explain it to you. Did you get one of those Nest thermostats??? ~ karen

      • Amy in StL says:

        I wanted one, but the research I did revealed they aren’t compatible with both systems. I needed one I could set to heat only/no fan and apparently they’re unable to do that. I bought a Honeywell 8xxx and it’s very simple; but the innards of the old ones have nothing marked or colored!

  37. Cindy Marlow says:

    I have that exact phone. So, you unhook that one red and attach the red/yellow combo then you unhook that one green and attach the green. Does the black just go off into lala land? I’m guessing that one cannot make calls on this phone (well, maybe YOU can because you might have perfected the “boop, beep, beep, boop, boop” tones with your mouth) since it wouldn’t have tone dialing. Does pulse dialing still work?

    • Karen says:

      HI Cindy – Yes, you can still make calls on it. You just can’t “push 1 for assistance” etc. Rewiring this old phone was a little more complicated for some reason. I had to change the hook up of the wires inside. And yes. The black wire from the “wall” basically does nothing. ~ karen

  38. Kim Merry says:

    I used to have an old black dial phone hanging in my sewing room a few years back. One of my daughters friends asked to call her mom, I said sure just use that phone. A few minutes later I looked over and she was trying to push into the little holes! She said “It doesn’t work”, I had to show her how to DIAL the number! I still get a chuckle thinking about it!
    Love the video!!!!

    • Pati says:

      Kim, I had a 1960’s dial phone and I had to do the same thing with my stepson ! And he was 17 at the time !!!!! Amazing,ain’t it ????

  39. Lisa says:

    Good job! should have called me…(oh couldn’ didn’t is my make phones work (3 wires on the old sets..tip..ring..ground)Beautiful phone,btw!Nothing like hearing the old bells ring again,eh :)

    • Karen says:

      Lisa – This old phone didn’t work like that. Technically it should have, but I had to move the wiring on the inside around for some reason. Like I was changing a switch. If you’re really desperate I have another phone that I can’t get to ring for the LIFE of me. I think someone disabled the ring years ago so the inside wires are screwed up to begin with. Bleh. ~ karen!

      • Lisa says:

        Well..whatever you did it right! I know those real old sets got macgyvered so many times over the years ( ring ..two ring…burppp)that I am surprised the wiring is still if you are real desperate and want to ship it out west I’d be more than happy to give it a go..or find someone who can within the company.Or if you let me know the model I may be able to find a decent schematic..:)

        • Karen says:

          Thanks Lisa – I’ll look into what model it is and look for the schematic on-line. If I can’t find it I’ll see if you can find one for me! ~ karen!

        • Tootie says:

          I’m ready to send you mine to fix
          fand pay you. I’m in CA.

        • Lisa says:

          Tootie..if you are in might be cheaper to find someone down that way to take a look at it…I’m in Manitoba Canada…far far

        • DSK says:

          “The title of this post is lie number one of a litany of lies to be found on the Internet.” But it did wake up my interest, not a bad lie :-)

          I, and many others would like to guide you trough the process of doing this at this forum:

      • Michelle says:

        I disabled the ringer on one of those fancy schmancy pant looking ones (not as cool) only because when it ring,it was the loudest most horrifying electronic buzzer ring – ever! Maybe rest assured, yours could be the same.

    • Hilary says:

      Hi Lisa

      I found your reply on the ‘ – i have an old bakelite telephone, which has a UK adaptor to fit into a phone socket in the wall – do you happen to know if I can adapt this somehow to work in Canada?

      Thanks for your help,


      • Lisa says:

        Hilary..sometimes its possible to adapt your phone by just by re-wiring your old set with a new cable/wires from a newer phone (one made in the 80’s or 90s) .And just replacing the connections inside the set with the newer cable.Unfortunately there may have been some modifications made inside the older set depending on the configuration it was designed for in it’s past (partyline ringing sequence or just single line ringing) I am not sure of Karen’s policy on exchanging emails here but if we are able to get in contact with each other I may be able to “talk” you thru it..:)

    • Pammiloo says:

      How would I contact you if u think u could fix my 1970 ( ? ) push-button/rotary look

  40. cred says:

    I hate skype, too for all those reasons your video reveals.

  41. Christine says:

    Another cool thing about the old phones is that you always know where it is.

  42. RosieW says:

    I would SO take on a project like this, i.e., exactly like this. Great to know it’s possible. My daughter’s home in Buford, GA was the first in the city to get a telephone installed. Would be great to find one from that era. Meanwhile wonder who in the world the homeowners called since only a few businesses had them. House is circa 1915-16.

    You go, gal.

    Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

  43. Moe says:

    Ok, so I’m impressed. My hubby and I spend ALL afternoon yesterday changing out a couple of light fixtures and there were only three wires and they didn’t need to ring. NOT a fun job.
    If I send you a HUGE bag of potato chips can you help me figure out why my vacuum sealer sucks the air out of the bag but then stops and lets the air back in when it’s sealing the bag? It’s commencing to piss me off really bad :(
    The new/old phone looks amazing by the way. And so do you…. Mother should be proud :)

    • Karen says:

      Moe – Oh dear lord. If you think that I look amazing in that video I have not set the bar nearly high enough. ~ karen

  44. Hazel says:

    I’m impressed. I recently bought a 1970’s phone from ebay because I was a) fed up of the cordless phones breaking and having to buy new ones b) fed up of them not working when we have a power cut (fairly often here) c) I liked the idea of a tomato red telephone.
    I have to say I asked a nice ex-telecom engineer to come and rewire it, which he did, and for less money than he should have done because he enjoyed the nostalgia. I think he also thought I was slightly deranged for wanting it and therefore shouldn’t be taken advantage of.

    I love it and the children have finally realised that it’s switched on as soon as you pick up the receiver.
    The only downside is that (in the UK anyway) it doesn’t register when the recorded voice says “push one for X”.

  45. Ruth says:

    Your mother is going to be livid when she sees the video! LOL! I’m sure you’ll get cool points for figuring out how to fix the phone though…. especially if the grandmother in question is HER mother.

  46. ulli says:

    another job well done!

  47. Toronto Boy says:

    I have to admire your tenacity and resolve!

    Incidentally, I was taking a look at your Youtube channel and realized that you haven’t posted a link in either the video or on your channel. I suspect that doing so would garner a few more views to your web site! People on Youtube are missing out on some much needed comedic relief à la Karen! BUHAHAHAHAA! Cheers!

  48. Ashley W says:

    I think you are epic and amazing and wonderful! Thanks for the daily joy. :) (sorry to Fella for the emoticon….. <3)

  49. Laura says:

    You are brilliant! Your mother will be proud in spite of your rouge-less face.

  50. Raymonde says:

    Good job on the repair Karen! Besides, that tree stump table and phone were made for each other!

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