Friday, April 27, 2012

The Gold Cisco IP Phone

DIY Gold Cisco IP Phone
Several years ago I was in a Cisco office in Herndon, VA and I was cruising the hallway looking for someone (paging Dr. Ta). During my wondering, I came across the unicorn of Cisco phones - a gold plated 7971. At least, I think it was a 7971. I thought it was kind of odd and found out later that it was a "trophy" given to AMs who hit certain thresholds. Cute. 

Well, I all but forgot about that phone until recently. One of the engineers on our Collaboration team is Bruce Enders. Bruce has been in the industry for a long time and has recently retired. Well, of course I want to send Bruce off in style. What do you get someone when they retire? A gold watch? A plaque? A night out on the town? Well, NetCraftsmen was doing the plaque, company gift, and night out on the town. So, that left me with the watch. Bruce recently bought a new watch and really likes it. So, I decided to give him the next best thing: a Gold Cisco IP Phone. This blog is about the process used to turn an old gray piece of telephony plastic to a shiny new gold show piece (insert bling sound >here<).

Dismantling the 7960
I didn't have a spare 7971 lying around but I did have a few 7960s. Which somehow seemed more appropriate. So, with very little ceremony, I dusted off the old C3PO and got down to business. I started with an article on called "Cisco 7940-60 Disassembly". This article provides a walk through on how to get the back cover off of the phone. After completing those steps, I landed here:

Once the back cover is removed, the system board needs to be detached from the front of the phone. This is pretty straightforward. There are nine (9) screws that attach the system board to the front of the phone. The screws need to be removed, along with the cables that attach the handset cradle diode, speaker phone, and mic to the system board. The following image highlights the screw and cable locations.

After removing the screws and detaching the cables, the system board can be pulled out and set aside for later. The next step to dismantling the phone is to remove the switch-hook mechanism and the actual diode on the top of the handset. 

At this point, dismantling is almost complete. The only thing left is to remove all of those buttons (line buttons, softkeys, DTMF keys, etc.). To do this, remove the two rubber input sensors and then pluck out the various buttons/keys.


Painting the phone is the fun part. I used Krylon Premium "18kt Gold Plate" metallic paint. I picked up an 8oz can from my local hobby store. Spray painting shouldn't require much explanation. Follow common sense guidelines and go to town. I used two coats of paint. A lacquer overcoat would be nice (though, I didn't apply an overcoat).
NOTE: Prior to painting, I put painters tape on the MWI light (handset) and the "retro" Cisco logo on the foot stand. Apply the tape firmly. For both the MWI light and the logo you will see a clear line form around the edge of what you want to protect. Use a knife tip to run around that line (to separate the tape) and then remove the excess.

It was raining outside when I did this, so I had to apply the paint outside (under cover, of course) and then let it dry inside. I avoided getting high on paint fumes by setting up a fan and opening the backdoor just a tad.


Once everything is nice and dry you can set up to re-assemble. Place all of the various parts out in some organized fashion and, if you have cats, make sure you don't leave anything unattended (like I did).

So, how do you re-assemble? Well, do you remember when you were a kid and you found yourself stuck up a tree? How did you get down? That's right, the same way you got up. Putting the phone back together follows the same principle.
  1. Turn the front face plate over so that the inside of the face plate faces up.
  2. Insert all of the buttons in the appropriate holes (having another phone next to you helps speed this up). 
  3. Replace the rubber input sensors. There are tiny holes that help guide the proper placement of these sensors.
  4. Re-attach the system board (remember, there were 9 screws - Oh, and they are different sizes. Did I forget to mention that?).
  5. Re-attach the cables and the switch-hook mechanism.
  6. Replace the back cover. Putting the back cover back on is trickier than taking it off because you have to line up the four tabs at the top of the phone. Two above the LCD and two above the phone cradle.

Final Product

There really isn't much to it. The phone is back together and is still functioning. Same old boring phone, but with a shiny new coat. Here are a few shots to commemorate the completed product. Not a shabby retirement gift for a friend and colleague.

Thanks for reading. If you have time, post a comment!


  1. That's pretty good.

    Also, most of the unicorns (love that!) out there are 7970's. I think they stopped doing it somewhere back there.

  2. This looks really good Bill. In fact, I have a spare 7960 laying around in my house somewhere, and I think I'll tackle a custom paint job this weekend. I'm thinking current company logo and color scheme.

  3. Thanks for the reply and the clarification. I wasn't sure which model it was. I know it had the color display and, at that time, only the 7970 and 7971 had color displays. Dating myself here...


  4. Anthony,
    Somehow I missed your comment on May 2. Thanks for the feedback! I'd be interested in seeing pix of your new model.


  5. I know what I'm doing this weekend! That's fantastic!

    There's a company that provides (or used to anyways) this service but it's really pricey ( They used to have a nice interface where you could select a different color for each piece and see how it looked on a mockup but looks like they took that part of their site down. It was several hundred dollars though.

    I always meant to do it but being a cheap skate I could never quite justify the cost. I never realized I could do it for basically the cost of a can of spray paint and several weekend hours though. Many thanks!

  6. Well I've got the paint but not sure how to disassemble the handset. I don't want to clog the mic/speaker. I don't want to put this on a shelf - actually plan on using it! For the handset cord I think a vinyl dye would work ( or I'm completely overthinking it to be sure, but want to do it right the first time. You'd think there would be colored handset cords for sale but the options are pretty limited, but from what I've read the vinyl dyes are the way to go. You'd also think that there would be plenty of handset disassembly info, but nope.

    I'll be sure to send a picture though!

    1. Will,

      As noted, I used the instructions here:

      They were spot on. I would definitely like to see a picture and I like your idea on the phone cord. Regular latex paint won't stand the test of time.

      Happy hunting!


  7. By handset I mean the receiver. I don't see any mention of that on the voip-info page. I'm thinking of just taping off that side of the receiver and hitting it with a brush after spraying the rest.

  8. That Gold phone rests in a place of reverence, in what passes for my office, in my retirement home in the West Virginia Mountains. I had wanted to ask about the process of its conversion to Gold at the going away party, but emotions and maybe a few Margarita's made it slip my mind that night. I still do some remote work for some folks in DC, and that phone is always in view when I am at my computer. Thanks Bill! And thanks to all that signed it as well!
    Bruce Enders