Reel to reel tape recorders, or AKA, open reel, may not have the comeback like vinyl, but it's still alive and doing well in the audio groups. On this page, I'll share what I know and that's it, so let's get started.
I have several open reel decks; TEAC, PANASONIC and OTARI, with formats of 2 track, 4 track and 4 channel. First, let's take a look at a 2 track format.
So the experts say, R2R is making a comeback. Magnetic tape has a good, rich sound and provides a hands on experience for music enjoyment.
This is 2 track. The width of the tape is divided in half. Tracks 1 & 2 represent stereo left channel and tracks 3 & 4 represent stereo right channel. This format only allows the tape to record and play in one direction.
This is 4 track. The tape is divided into 4 tracks. Tracks 1 & 3 are used for stereo right and left. If you have a machine that requires the tape to be turned over at the end of the reel, tracks 3 and 4 are used for the other side. If you have a machine with auto reverse, it simply switches from 1 & 3, to 2 & 4.
This is 4 channel. The tape is divided into 4 tracks, all going the same direction. This type machine will have 4 inputs and outputs for recording one channel at a time. Configuring the in's and out's allow you to also do either 2, or 4 track.
Previously mentioned, I have several decks, but my favorite is the OTARI MX-55M-N. This is a smoothe, gentle 2 track machine, with professional audio. No belts to replace.
GUMMED UP WORKS!
One of the most common problems with an open reel unit is non use. When they sit, the grease dries out and all moving parts freeze. Can it be fixed? Absolutely, but you're in for a new, long experience. Many times, it requires lots of heat and brute force to get things apart. I've done it several times. Many very good how to videos can be found on YouTube. Anything that moves will require disassembly, cleaning and relubrication. It's lots of work, but believe me, it's worth it when it's done.
A pinch roller is that rubber roller that sandwiches the tape to the capstan, pulling the tape through the tape path at the correct, constant speed. Pinch rollers not only need constant cleaning, the rubber dries and gets hard.
If you can find a replacement pinch roller, it's costly. New tires are available for some makes and models, but not all.
When a pinch roller starts looking like a sun checked tire, it has little, it any, hope. I recently watched a YouTube video, where someone used Rubber Renue, so I bought some and tried it. It does work.
One day, my tape began wondering; not staying in place. The pinch roller looked good, but obviously something wasn't right. I applied Rubber Nenue and the tape now holds in place. All I can say is, "It works." The old, hard rubber became plyable again.
If you try this, do it outside. This stuff is highly poisonous and flameable. Don't breathe it and don't get it on you. Great stuff, but use extreme caution.
As for cleaning the pinch roller. DO NOT use alcohol. It will dry the rubber and decrease its life. Alcohol is fine for the heads and guides.
Broken / Bad Belts
In time, belts will die, guaranteed. If you're lucky, it will just break. Sometimes rubber belts will turn to goo. If it does, you're in for a mess to clean up. Lots of alcohol and old rags are required. Generally, there are two belts; one for the main drive and the other for the counter. New belts are cheap and easily obtainable on Ebay. Some machines are user friendly serviceable, while some require a major take down just to replace the belt. I've done both. You probably don't need reminded not to have any oil on the belt, or its surface.
If you're interested, there are articles online that talk about the cause of rubber turning to goo.
Reels of Tape
There are basically two types of tape reels; one with the small center hole and the other with what's called NAB. While NAB is a 10.5 inch reel, the small hole reel comes in various sizes, up to 10.5 Inch and as small as 3 inch. NAB reels will require adaptor hubs for the deck.
Tape has shlef life. After years and possibly poor climate control, the tape self destructs. It can get sticky, or just plain flakey. Using bad tape will clog the tape heads and gum up the entire tape path. Alcohol and Q-Tips will clean everything, but bad tape will not improve. It's best to dump it and keep the empty reel. The first sign of bad tape will create a squeaking noise along the tape path. NOS tape on Ebay can be risky. Unopened NOS tape can be totally unuseable. When a tape has reached it's life expectency, one of tthree things will happen. 1) Tape will begin flaking 2) The tape path will collect residue 3) The tape will squeal as it passes through the path. When it does any of these things, toss it. It's done.
While tape is obtainable in various widths, this page is maily about 1/4 inch tape.
A Couple More Machines I've Rebuilt
Others In Use
TEAC Remote Control
Model specific and wired, not wireless. I found this to be very useful during recording sessions. Not sure what damage, if any, the wrong remote might do to your unit. Always verify the model before using.
For the most part, they don't exist. While you may occasionally run across some rare NOS parts on Ebay, most parts are going to be the result of someone parting out an old deck. For now, used parts seem to be available, but for how long? When they're gone, they're gone.
As per my experience, things don't break. They freeze up from non use and that's all fixable. Finding an old open reel deck at the flea market, or a Goodwill store might be a treasure to have. If you get a DOA, part it out on Ebay. You'll make a fist full of money and provide parts to those who need them. Open reel is a win, win for everyone.
Open reel tape machines, depending on the model, provide various speeds, beginning with 1 7/8 ips, 3 3/4 ips, 7 1/2 ips and 15 ips. Recording studios will have units with higher speeds, but we'll talk about home use. The faster the tape moves, the higher frequency response you'll get. If you have a limited budget, you might want to slow it down, but you'll compromise the quality. Although 7 1/2 ips isn't bad, 15 ips is impressive.
For a few decades, open reel tapes offered music albums that were also offered on vinyl. They all came on 7 inch reels, recorded at 3 3/4 ips and 7 1/2 ips. The artwork on the box was the same as found on an lp cover. Still available on Ebay, but the price has gone through the roof. A once $8 Beatles tape is now worth $100. Neat to have, but not at that price.
For R2R tape reels, there are two types. See below.
VU Meter Lamp Replacement
VU meter lamps burn out regularly and it's no fun replacing them. If you want to be somewhat creative, you can build an SMD that will last probably forever. An SND is a surface mount diode. Two of them in series, along with the appropriate resistor, makes a great lamp. You'll have to use ohms law to determine the correct resistor, depending on the SMD current and the supply voltage of your recorder. In this particular case, I made SMD's for a TEAC A-4010S. The supply voltage is 6 volts and the SMD current is 20ma, so the resistor is 220 ohms. There's a video on YouTube showing the process.
In the pictures below, you will see the necessary parts and the finished product. You will need the SMD's, 1/4 watt resistors and some 2.5mm clear heat shrink tubing. SMD color is up to you. I used white, but you can get warm white to replicate the original filient bulb.
Note: The resistor is placed between the SMD's for spacing.