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How To Build & Use A Red Box
Released in November, 1992 - Last Revision on July 12, 1995


The following issue has been updated and put into it's own series of pages, so instead of reading this, go to You'll be able to find all the information below and a lot more.

Table of Contents
  • What In The Hell Is A Red Box?
  • Converting A Tone Dialer
  • Programming Your Tone Dialer
  • Trouble-Shooting Your Tone Dialer
  • Combination Red Box & Tone Dialer
  • Using A Tape Recorder or Walkman
  • Hallmark Cards
  • The Stealth-Combo Box
  • Voice Memo-Minders
  • PC Sound Blaster Red Box
  • Finding A Phone That Will Work
  • Making A Long Distance Domestic Call
  • Making An International Call
  • Making A Local Call
  • Red Box Frequencies
  • Miscellaneous Notes
  • Famous Operator Quotes
  • What In The Hell Is A Red Box?
    If you've ever made a call from a pay phone and put in real quarters (heaven forbid) sometimes you may have heard a series of chirping noises in the back- ground, really faint. Those are the tones that a pay phone hears when you deposit money and there's a lot of ways that you can immitate these tones to get free calls. This file will hopefully cover every known way to accomplish this. If I've left anything out, get in touch!

    Converting A Tone Dialer Into A Red Box
    I believe all the credit for this section of the phile should go to Noah Clayton who originally wrote this for 2600 magazine.

    You will need:

  • Radio Shack pocket tone dialer model #43-141 ($24.95 each)
  • Three AAA batteries
  • Soldering Iron
  • Small regular and phillips screwdriver
  • Wire clippers
  • A 6.5536 MHz crystal

    Be sure to get Radio Shack's newest type of tone dialer. The old ones were gold and brown and looked pretty ugly. The new ones are black and the corners are rounded off a little more. They also seem to be more water-resistant and it seems to be easier to fit the new crystal into these models.

    You can either order the crystal through Radio Shack or buy it from an electronic's store. Buying it through Radio Shack is a real bitch because you have to wait two weeks for them to order it and most employees don't know what you're talking about when you ask for it. I've had them INSIST that they can't order that crystal for me because they don't carry it. If you live in the St. Louis area as I do, I suggest GateWay Electronics on Page Av in Missouri. They have a knowledgable staff and their crystals are only about three bucks a piece. (Compared to Radio Shack's $4.99 each!)

    Place the dialer on the table keypad side down and speaker side up. Remove the battery cover and all batteries. Use the phillips screwdriver to remove all four screws on the back of the dialer. Now slide the flathead screw- driver along the side to separate the two halves of the dialer. Slide the speaker half underneath the keypad so you don't break off the wires.

    On the left hand side down near the battery compartment, you'll see a silver cylinder looking component. This is the crystal you want to remove. Pull it up with your fingers and break away all the glue that's holding it down. Use your soldering iron and un-solder it from the circuit board. You can throw this crystal away as it has no real use in life.

    Now the hard part. The new crystal you're putting in is twice as big as the old one so it's kinda hard to get it in there. There's a few capacitors that you can bend over to make some more room. You'll also have to bend the leads to your new crystal inward a little. Solder the new crystal in place of the old one and you're all set. Snap the two casing halves back together being careful not to pinch any wires. Put the screws back in and insert your three AAA batteries.

    A good idea is to wrap the crystal with scotch tape or electrical tape. This will prevent contact with other components since the crystal is so big. You could also simply put a piece of paper under the crystal.

    One additional thing you can do it totally remove the LED light. The only thing this light is good for is running down your batteries really quick. If you use the unit without the light connected, you NEVER have to turn the unit's power off and the batteries will last for a few years before you need to replace them.

  • Programming Your Red Box
    First you'll have to program your box's memory to make the right tones. You'll be using the three priority buttons on the top of your unit. P1 will be your quarter, P2 your dime and P3 will be the nickel. So here's how to do it:

    (1) Switch the unit on. The red light in the corner should come on unless you've disconnected it.
    (2) Slide the DIAL/STORE switch to the STORE mode.
    (3) Press MEMORY, *, *, *, *, *, MEMORY, P1. That programs your quarter.
    (4) Press MEMORY, *, *, MEMORY, P2. That programs your dime.
    (5) Press MEMORY, *, MEMORY, P3. And that's the nickel.
    (6) Slide the DIAL/STORE switch back into the DIAL mode and you're ready to start phreakin'!

    Try pushing the priority buttons now. Each one will emit a different high- pitched chirping noise. This is what the phone hears when you deposit money into a pay phone. If you've ever red boxed with a taperecorder or heard the actual pay phone tones before, you'll notice that these tones are slightly slower than the real ones. Don't worry, the pay phone can't ever tell the difference and you rarely find an operator that can.

    If you want to program in $1.00, it's best to use this programming string: MEMORY, *, *, *, *, *, 0, *, *, *, *, *, 0, *, *, *, *, *, 0, *, *, *, *, *, MEMORY, P1.

    This will make $1.00 go in a lot faster than if you'd used the PAUSE feature because "0" is being used as a substitute for PAUSE. (The phone just ignores the 0.) Don't use this string on a live operator, though! Thanks to Even in California for giving me that idea.

    One of the most common problems I've had with my red boxes over the years, is that the tones will stop working in the middle of trying to put in your money or they'll break up, giving you a live operator. This could be because you did a bad job soldering the new crystal in. More commonly, the contacts on the power (or the DIAL/STORE switch) have bent the wrong way, causing them not to touch the circuit board anymore.

    To fix that, open the unit and bend the contact in the switches out a little. Not too much or they'll break when you use the switch. If you've removed the light in your unit, there's really no reason to ever turn it off so you could glue the power switch into the "ON" position.

    Try Our New Combo Platter!
    If you're the type of person who just has to have a tone dialer AND a red box (like me) then you can have both without having to carry around two seperate units.

    1. Buy a small two-position switch like Radio Shack's model #275-407.
    2. On one end solder the old crystal, on the other end solder your 6.5536 crystal and in the middle solder two small wires, each about 4" long.
    3. Solder the other ends of the two wires to where the old crystal used to be. Pretty easy, aye? You can put the two wires through one of the vent holes in the back of the unit. On my red box, I took the plastic piece off the back of the battery cover (You know, where you're supposed to write the memory numbers?) and electrical taped the switch down. It actually doesn't stick out hardly at all and looks fairly professional.

    Now you can switch between red box and tone dialer. You can store your stolen calling card numbers in the other memory locations or use the touch tones to get free calls on those damn privately owned pay phones.

    You know, a disturbing bit of information I heard from Zak recently is that Radio Shack won't be selling these tone dialers anymore. I don't know if this is true or not but I plan on stocking up on tone dialers here in the near future. The reason, supposedly is that the only people that buy these things are phreaks.

    The Low-Income Red Box (A Walkman)
    If you can't afford a real red box or you don't have any soldering experience, you can use a tape recorder as a red box. There are several ways to record the tones. One way is to go to a pay phone and call your answering machine or voice mail. After the beep on your machine, deposit about three dollars in quarters and hang up. Your three bucks should come back. Go home and on your answering machine will be a tape with the red box tones.

    Another way is to find two pay phones that are next to each other. You'll need a portable tape recorder and a suction cup telephone pick-up. (The phone pick- ups can be purchased at Radio Shack for about $3.00.) Pick up the first pay phone (Phone A) and call the other one (Phone B). Put the suction recorder on Phone A and deposit about three dollars in Phone B. Hang up both phones and hopefully your money will come back.

    A third way is to record the tones directly from someone else who owns a red box. Pretty easy to figure out.

    To play the tones back into the phone when you need them, use either a portable tape recorder or a walkman with some headphones. Hold the speaker from the recorder (or the headphones) to the mouthpiece of the phone and press "play" when asked for money. Make sure not to have the volume up too loud or the distortion will make a real operator come on the line. You can also use a big bulky tape recorder or a boom box but you'll look a little silly when you try to play your tones into the pay phone.

    Hallmark Cards
    Hallmark has these new cards that actually let you record a message for your loved ones so when grandma opens the card she hears your voice saying, "Merry Christmas, Grandma Edna!" Then Grandma Edna will drop the card in horror, thinking that she's gone completely nuts and probably die of a heart attack.

    After you've shoplifted a few of these cards and taken one apart, you'll see that that electronics inside are pretty small. You can record your red box tones on this chip and then conceal the whole mess anywhere you want and you'll have a tiny red box to use.

    The Stealth-Combo Box
    The following article was written by DeadKat of CoTNo and is, in my opinion, the best ever variation of the original tone dialer design. You can pick up this article and other CoTNo Zinez on the FTP.FC.NET site. Highly recommended.

    Ever since the original Rat Shack Red Box mod was printed in 2600 Magazine, there has been an explosion in red box use. Red boxing is still one of the primary topics of discussion on alt.2600 years later. The Radio Shack Tone Dialer mod was one of the first boxes I ever built and has proven to be the most useful of all the boxes I've experimented with.

    For years, though, I've played with the original design in order to improve it. My favorate variation of the original plans is what I call the Stealth- Combo box. It is based on the original design, but makes use of mercury switches to allow the use of both DTMF's and ACTS tones. In other words it combines the functions of the red and white boxes.

    The reason its called 'stealth' is the fact that when the dialer is held in its normal position, it will produce touchtones as if it were un-modded. When held 'upside-down' it is capable of producing tones similar to the Bell ACTS tones that emulate a quarter being dropped into a payphone. This design not only gives you both features, but leaves the box looking and seemingly acting 'normal'.

    Following are the complete steps to building the Stealth-Combo box that I demonstrated at the Denver 2600 meetings. These instructions assume that you have some experience working with electronics. If you don't, pracitice a bit before you go cutting up your $30 tone dialer.

    Parts List

    One (1) Radio Shack 33-Memory Tone Dialer (Cat. No. 43-146)
    Two (2) Radio Shack Experimenter's Mercury Bulb Switches (Cat. No. 275-040)
    One (1) 6.50 Mhz Sub-Miniature Crystal (Don't use 6.5536, its too big)
    Three (3) AAA batteries
    Stranded insulated wire no larger than 22 gauge
    Electrical Tape

    Recommended Tools

    Soldering Gun of 20 watts or less
    Small Philips Scewdrivers
    Needle Nose Pliers
    Wire Strippers
    Wire Cutters
    Exacto Knife
    Epoxy or super glue


    1. Remove the 6 screws securing the back of the Tone Dialer to the front. Four of the screws are underneath the battery cover.

    2. Gently pry off the back being careful not to break the four wires that connect the speaker to the circuit board. Lay the back cover to the side of the dialer. You should now be looking onto the back of the dialer's circuit board.

    3. Locate the original crystal (silver cylinder) on left side of the circuit board. Carefully cut the crystal off the circuit board as close to board as possible. Use needle nose pliers to pull the crystal loose as it is held in place with rubber cement. Be careful not to crush the crystal!

    4. Measure out 2 pieces of wire that are long enough to go from the original crystal solder points, around the edge of the dialer, to a point on the lower right side of the circuit board. Solder one end of the wire to the lower original crystal solder point and the other end to a lead on the original crystal (keep the leads on the crystals as short as possible). Solder the other wire to the other lead on the crystal but _not_ to the circuit board. Leave it hanging for now. Use tape to insulate the crystal's leads.

    5. Route the wires around the edge of the circuit board on the _underside_ of the circuit board. You may have to remove the circuit board to route this sucessfully. The circuit board is held in place by 6 philips screws down the middle of the board. Glue or tape the crystal into place on the lower right side of the circuit board on the underneath side (the keypad side). This will leave us more room on the circuit board for the swithches.

    6. Locate four green capacitors on left edge of the circuit board. Cut off the second one from the bottom as close to the circuit board as possible. Important! Make note of which lead on the capacitor went to which solder point. Unlike crystals, capacitors are directional and if you reverse the current, it will fry.

    7. Glue or tape the capacitor to the empty spot on the upper right side of the circuit board next to the LED.

    8. Solder wires from the leads on the capacitor to the original solder points of the capacitor. Run the wires along the edge of the circuit board and insulate the capcitor's leads with tape. You have now moved the capacitor and made room for the first switch.

    9. Glue or tape the first switch on the left side of the circuit board where the capacitor used to be. Carefully push the upper two green capacitors to the right to help make room for the first switch. Orientate the switch's leads down.

    10. Solder the free end of the wire that runs to the original crystal to one of the leads on the mercury switch. Solder a wire from the other lead of the mercury switch to the upper solder point of the original crystal. The circuit should now go from the upper solder point through the switch to the original crystal and back to the lower solder point.

    11. Test your work by putting the batteries in the dialer holding the slide switch which turns on the dialer in the on posistion. The LED should come on. If it doesn't, check your work. Make sure that the circuit is complete and the leads aren't grounding on anything. Hold the dialer in an upright position while holding the switch on and press some buttons. You should hear touchtones. If not, make sure you haven't broken any of the wires to the speakers.

    12. Locate the yellow capacitor on the lower right side of the circuit board. Gently pry the capacitor loose with needle nose pliers and flip the capacitor over. Insulate the leads of the capacitor with tape so that it doesn't come in contact with the resistors which it is now partially laying on. This will leave a nice open spot on the circuit board for the rest of our mods.

    13. Look at the back cover of the dialer. You will notice that on the lower left side of the back cover is some space about the size of a crystal. How convenient! Remove the small screen on the lower left side that covers a small opening in the cover.

    14. Glue the new crystal into the spot where the screen was with the leads facing out. The crystal will stick out the hole a little bit, but that won't hurt anything.

    15. Glue or tape the mercury switch in the space to the right of it with the leads oriented up.

    16. Solder wire from the new crystal to one of the leads of the mercury switch. Solder a wire from the other lead of the new crystal to the lower solder point of the original crystal. Make the wire to the solder point as short as possible with the case open. Insulate the leads with tape.

    17. Solder a wire from the remaining lead on the second mercury switch to the upper solder point of the original crystal.

    18. Test your dialer once more. This time hold the switch in the on position while the dialer is upside down and press the keys. You should here the touch-tones in a much higher key now.

    19. If everything has tested out, then close up the box. This is probably the most difficult step of all. You must have the mercury switches located just right, or it won't close. Also you must place the wires which run from the back cover away from the the components in order to optimize space. Carefully close the box, but be warned, it takes quite a bit of pressure to get the box closed. You may want to have a friend help you hold it closed while you screw the screws back in. You may break a switch or two before you get it right. Be very careful with any spilled mercury since as Karb0n once told me, "Dude! That shit will make you go insane!" You must get the case closed all the way, or the on switch will not make contact. This step can be very frustrating, but once you get it closed _and_ working, don't ever open it again!

    (C)opywrong 1994, DeadKat Inc. All wrongs denied.

    Voice Memo Minders
    These voice reminders can record tones and are extremely small. You can either buy one that fits in your pocket or you can buy one that fits on your key chain. In case you're surrounded by telco security, the F.B.I., local police and AT&T's top officials while you're at a pay phone, you can easily press the "MEMO ERASE" button to get rid of the evidence, though the police might shoot you when they see you go for the erase button.

    The PC Sound Blaster Red Box
    There's quite a few programs for your IBM computer now that will immitate red box tones as well as the tones for other boxes. Here's how you can use your PC to red box.

    • 1. Disconnect your PC, monitor, sound blaster, speakers, modem (if you're red boxing to a data line), and red boxing program and carry it all over to the nearest 7-Eleven.

    • 2. At most of the 7-Eleven's I've been at, there's an AC outlet somewhere out- side of the store. Plug all of your equipment in and turn it on. If there's no outside outlet, then ask the cashier if you can borrow their orange extension cord for a little while, explaining the you're from the Pay Phone Repair Department. To make it more believable, wear a shirt that says, "Pay Phone Repair Department."

    • 3. After you have all of your equipment set up and Blue Beep running, pick up the phone and dial 1+AREA CODE+NUMBER. When it asks you to deposit your money, hit the 25 cents key on your program and hold the speakers up to the pay phone's mouthpiece. Continue this until you've put in enough money.

    • 4. If it's a data transmission, quickly attach your accoustic coupler and run your Q-Modem program and try and connect before it hangs up. Note that you will have to call back this system every 1 minute as the pay phone mutes your sound while the "money" you put in registers.

    Hope that helps. You probably won't get past step one because once you set up all that equipment on the sidewalk, one of the pan handlers, winos or drug dealers that always hang out in front of the store will stab you so they can pawn your computer and come back to buy some MD 20/20. But at least you felt like Kevin Mitnick there for awhile, eh?

    Finding A Phone That Will Work
    Usually any GTE or Bell phone will work, Bell including Southwestern Bell, U.S.West, Ameritech, Pacific Bell, etc. You'll know it's a Bell or GTE phone because their logo will be on the phone. I've noticed in some areas like Pacific Bell and Ameritech the phones are rigged so that no sound can enter the mouthpiece of the phone until the call is connected, rendering your redbox useless. A way around this is to dial "0" and have the operator dial the call for you.

    Privately Owned pay phones are those ugly phones with some kind of generic logo on them that means some old fat local guy owns it and convinces innocent store owners to install his phone instead of a Bell phone, promising him bigger profits. Not a hard promise to keep, considering a local call sometimes costs 75 cents, they sometimes won't let you dial toll free numbers and long distance rates are twice as high (or more) than AT&T which is pretty bad. The best thing to do when you find a Private pay phone is to squirt a lot of ketchup or mustard into the coin slot and find a Bell/GTE phone somewhere.

    Making A Long Distance Call
    Okay, here's the fun part- Calling anywhere in the entire world and not paying a cent for it. Pick up the phone and dial the number you want to call in the fashion 1-AREA CODE-NUMBER. For example, if you want to call the White House in Washington D.C., dial 1-202-456-1414.

    You'll hear a click, then a computer voice will say, "Please deposit $2.85." (The exact amount differs with the location and time of day.) Mutter, "Fuck you, AT&T..." to yourself, switch on your red box, hold the speaker of the red box flush with the mouthpiece of the pay phone and press P1 for your quarters. Pause for a split second in between each quarter because if you go too fast, you'll get a live operator wanting to know what the problem is. You are able to go 20 cents over the amount requested and that will be credited to your call.

    After you've put in enough "money", the computerized voice will say in a cheerful, unsuspecting voice, "Thank you for using AT&T!" and your call is put through. Every few minutes the voice will come back and ask for more money.

    International Calling
    Your red box can also be used to call your loved ones in other countries, although, it's annoying to do because you HAVE to use a live operator and your conversation will be inturrupted every three minutes by a voice asking for another two bucks. But if you really need to call overseas...

    Dial 011-COUNTRY CODE-CITY CODE-PHONE NUMBER. An operator will ask you how you want to bill your call. Tell her you'll be using the spare change you make as a waiter and MoogooGuawkcaMeemay's Chineese restaurant to pay for your call. For best results, don't do this:

    OPERATOR: "Okay, sir, please deposit your money now..."

    YOU: "Okay, ma'am, I'm going to use nickels...(beep)...That was one nickel. Did you get that alright? Okay, here's my second nickel...(beep)...okay, there's two nickels, that makes 10 cents. How much more to go? $9.10? Okay...(beep)...I'm up to 15 cents now, right? Okay, good...(beep)... alright, there's another one...Hey, here's a penny on the ground! Can I use a penny? No? Okay, here goes lucky nickel number five...(beep)...did you get that? Okay....etc, etc, etc."

    The call will be completed like this: The operator will tell you that the call will cost (for example) $7.35. She'll tell you to deposit $3.00, you red box three dollars to her and she connects the call. When the overseas person answers the phone she'll say, "This is the United States AT&T operator, I have an international call for you, could you please hold while billing is completed?" Then the operator will ask you for another $3.00 and then the remaining $1.35. After all that you'll be connected only to be inturrupted every three minutes by an operator asking for more money.

    If you don't want the person you are calling to know you're calling with coins, you can ask the operator if you can deposit all your money right now and then be connected overseas. They don't like to do this (because you could lose all your "money" if they're not home) but they will do it if you ask.

    Local Calls
    To red box a local call it takes about a minute or two longer than if you really paid for it, but those quarters add up so it's definately worth it. Pick up the phone and dial zero. Tell the operator that you want to make a local call. If she tells you just to put in a quarter and dial the number, tell her, "Well, ma'am, there's shit all over the keypad here and all the buttons are stickin' together and I CAN'T dial it myself. The only key that works is the zero and that's got this sticky blue shit all over it. Then there's a half-eatin' Twinkee shoved in the coin return and dirt all over the four and seven keys..." Keep going on and on until she asks you what number you want to dial. She'll ask you for a quarter and connect your call.

    Make sure after your call connects that you hear the operator click off. Some operators are nosey and will just sit there listening to your conversation. Once I was explaining to a friend how I placed my call and suddenly the operator starts lecturing me and telling me she's going to call security on me. (And this was about three minutes into the conversation!)

    In some cities I've noticed you can trick pay phones into thinking that a local call is actually a long distance call by dialing 10288 before you dial the local number. So try dialing 10288 or 102881 before you make your local call and maybe you won't have to deal with that pesky operator. The only downside of doing this is that the call will "cost" more and you'll be inturrupted every five minutes to deposit more money.

    Red Box Frequencies
    For you tech-heads out there, here are the actual frequencies that the red box produces. Actually, this is what a pay phone produces. When you make a red box out of a Radio Shack tone dialer, the timing is slowed slighty on the quarter tone.

    The "tone" is 1700 hz and 2200 hz mixed together.

    A nickel is 66 ms on (1 beep).
    A dime is 66ms on, 66ms off, 66ms on (2 beeps).
    A quarter is 33ms on, 33ms off repeated 5 times.
    Miscellaneous Notes
    You can not call any of those 900 phone sex numbers with a red box, so perverts of the world...Sorry, Roy, you're just out of luck. You CAN call 976 information lines, though!

    If you're really desperate for money, you can sell phone calls to people. Hang around a phone and tell someone who's about to make a call that you'll give them a free call if they'll give you a quarter. This usually impresses the hell out of any ordinary person. If you live in a big city, you can go to the tourist section of town and sell long distance discount calls to out of state tourists. Consider yourselves warned, though, I've read a LOT of articles on people getting busted for doing this. One article even had a picture of a guy in an airport selling calls to people comming off the plane.

    If an operator confronts you and says, "Hey, you're not really putting in coins, that's a recording!" don't get all nervous and run from the pay phone. She'll lie and tell you that security is on the way to the pay phone to put you in jail but she's full of it. Instead, piss her off by explaining to her in detail exactly what you're doing and how you're doing it. If she gets an attitude with you, ask to speak with her supervisor or Service Asisstant. This pisses her off to no end. When connected with the supervisor, tell her exactly what you think of her and the company she works for. The worse thing they can really do is shut off the pay phone.

    Operator Quotes
    Sometimes a malfunctioning red box or making a local call cause you to have to deal with a live operator who can get testy when they find out you're screwing the place that they work for. Here are some responses I've gotten from them.

    1."Well, son, your toy doesn't seem to be working today. Why don't you try paying for your call instead?" -Hollywood, CA

    2."What'd you do, record those tones on the train tracks?" - my friend got this response when trying to use a very poor quality cassette of red box tones in Wood River, IL

    3."(sigh) Well, I'll put your call through, but next time I want you to pay real money for your call, okay?" -Galveston, TX

    4."That's it! I'm sick of you kids, I'm calling security right now!" -Cincinnati, OH

    5."You know you'll go to hell for stealing..." -Portland, OR

    6."I wish I could go over there right now and strangle that kid." -I overheard an operator in Seattle say this to her supervisor after they thought I had hung up the phone.

    7."Okay, hold on while I turn you in to security." - Indianapolis, Indiana (What are they going to do, arrest me over the phone??)

    If you have any questions about your wonderful, new hobby, you're having any kind of troubles or you have an operator quote to add to the above list, feel free to contact me, RedBoxChiliPepper.

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