Neon bar sign on the blink!
July 21, 2007 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Neon bar sign on the blink!

I have a neon bar sign on my kitchen wall (Budweiser Chameleon if you must know - yes, I'm a classy bloke!). It's about 5 years old, and recently it has started intermittently going off and back on every few minutes, as if it's in a David Lynch film! Is this a terminal condition or can it be fixed?
posted by kenchie to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It probably needs the ballast replaced. Unfortunately you may not be able to access the ballast to replace it.

Last time I owned a beer sign, I couldn't get into the base, so when the pull-cord broke, it was effectively ruined and I had to trash it. Basically they're made as disposable items, which has always seemed sort of too bad to me.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:30 PM on July 21, 2007

Sounds like the transformer. There should be a name plate that lists the primary and secondary voltage and milliamps. You should be able to Google around for a neon transformer. Just be cautious, they can hold a charge for a while. Unplug it, and let it sit for a while before you work on it. After taking a peek at one, I think I will have to add one of those to my collection. You aren’t the only one with neon’s around!
posted by Climber at 1:34 PM on July 21, 2007

I disagree with the fixable assessment, though I'm no expert. I do a lot of fluorescent light replacement, though, and when they start to blink, it means the bulb needs to be changed. New bulb - works fine. Ballast or starter problems make it either not light or burn out way too fast.

Assuming it's the same with neon, you just need to change the "bulb". Unfortunately, well, you see the problem. I think it's done. I also think that's why lots of bars have unlit neon signs hanging on the walls inside as decorations.

I'll defer to actual neon sign gurus, though. Know any bar owners or long-time bartenders?
posted by ctmf at 1:47 PM on July 21, 2007

If you find you can't get it fixed, call up your local beer distributor, and see if they'll sell you one for a little bit of a markup. Shouldn't be hard to convince them (well, sales tax might be obnoxious to deal with for them...).
posted by cschneid at 2:15 PM on July 21, 2007

No, no ctmf, neon tubes last for decades -- it's the transformer. Easy to find a replacement, these days.

Beware handling old ones scavenged 'cause they can leak dangerous PCBs.
posted by Rash at 2:16 PM on July 21, 2007

Look at the rating on the transformer and check ebay.

Unless you purchased this neon from a distributer you knew personally, they are not usually sold to the public. These signs are commonly stolen from bars and liquer stores. Not to say you stole it, but it may be a hot sign. Calling the distributer may bring some heat on yourself as even the simple neons go for about $300.
posted by JujuB at 8:42 PM on July 21, 2007

What generally fails in a standard fluorescent tube is the emissive coating on the hot filament that gets the ionization current going when the tube is first powered up. Neon sign tubes don't have starter filaments; they get their initial ionization current happening just from running at ridiculously high voltages. Ridiculously high voltages break down transformer insulation over time.
posted by flabdablet at 5:05 AM on July 22, 2007

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