Vinyl Record

Reel-to-Reel Tape Problems

CONTAMINATION  Dust, mildew and other forms of debris are the most common kinds of contamination on reel-to-reel tapes.  The debris is usually loose and can be removed by wiping.  Most of the debris will be on the tape pack edges and can be removed by vacuuming etc.  It is however generally advisable to clean the tape by wiping both sides with a lint free material.  This can often be carried out by putting the tape machine on fast forward and applying as gentle a pressure as possible to both tape surfaces.  Stop the tape frequently in order to apply a clean wiping surface to the tape.

In extreme circumstances it may be necessary to clean the tape through a bath of liquid, such as Freon TF, and then wipe and dry.  Isopropanol alcohol is another alternative but this can be hard on acetate based tapes.  On some polyester based tapes water will suffice.  Whatever the bath solution the tape should be completely dry before rewinding onto the take-up spool.  Moisture left between the layers can cause layer-to-layer adhesion over a period of time.

Avoid touching the tape with bare hands as grease and sweat from finger contact can encourage mould growth on the tape.

BRITTLE BACKING  This is an acetate problem in which the tape easily breaks.  With age and dry conditions acetate backing can loose its flexibility and become very brittle.  There is no real permanent cure for this but if the tape is suffering badly one possible temporary solution is to expose the tape to high humidity for a period of time.  The base will absorb some of the moisture and hence some strength and flexibility will return.  Temperatures of 80 to 100 degrees F. and humidity of 80+% have worked in these cases.  The recording should then be copied to a more modern format.

PHYSICAL DISTORTION  There are many kinds of physical damage which can happen to a tape.  In storage they generally result from the tape being wound excessively tight or loose.  A common form of distortion in acetate tape is cupping.  This is where the tape width section makes an arc or `U’ shape and the tape does not lie flat.  The humidifying process described under brittle backing will sometimes temporarily solve this problem.

Another form of distortion is rippled edges.  Depending upon the degree of the problem the tape may be playable with an increase in tape to head tension.  If the problem is more severe a pressure pad may be needed to ensure good contact of the tape to the head.

SPLICES  Splices are often originally poorly made and even good splices tend to separate with age.  If poor quality or improper splicing tapes were used adhesive often seeps out from under the splicing tape causing the tape layers to adhere together.  The adhesive can often be cleaned away with isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab, the splice then being remade.  Old splices can also `dry out’ and the tape merely `breaks’ at the splice during playback.  If this is the case the old splicing tape is easily removed and a new splice made.

LAYER-TO-LAYER ADHESION  (Or Blocking)  One cause of this problem is moisture which has penetrated the tape layers and dried therefore softening the coating.  When wound the magnetic layer may adhere to the backing of the next layer.  This adhesion generally occurs near the hub of the reel as this is where the pressure is often highest.  There is no cure for this phenomenon but slow, gentle winding by hand can often free the layers without too much of the magnetic material being transferred to the adjoining layer.  Copy the tape as soon as possible before the contamination spreads further throughout the recording.

SQUEAL  Find out where in the tape path the squeal is occurring.  The cause is often merely a build up of debris on the guide or head.  A thorough cleaning of the tape path of the machine will generally solve the problem.

Squeal can also be caused by the tape having poor lubrication or loosing its lubrication with age.  In these cases the tape path is clear but there is still squeal.  In some cases a reduction of tape to head tension is enough to solve the problem.  In more severe cases removal of all stationary surfaces in the tape path except the playback head is necessary.  It is also possible to recoat a tape with a lubricant solution to enable a copy to be made.

RUB-OFF  The correction methods for rub-off depend on the type occurring.  If the deposit is dusty and powdery the dry wiping of both sides of the tape with a lint free material will eliminate most of the debris in order for a copy to be made.

If the rub-off is sticky and gummy then sticky tape syndrome is probably the cause and the tape will need baking before it is playable.  (See separate chapter).

PRINT THROUGH  This phenomenon of analogue recording occurs on every tape to some degree, though it is not generally detectable.  How severe it is depends on the type of recording and the type of tape used.  Print through can be lessened to some degree by winding immediately after recording and storing the tape tail-out. 

ERASED SIGNAL  There is virtually nothing that can be done to recover an erased signal.  There may be remnants of the signal which might be intelligible but there will be no way of recreating the original fidelity of the signal.

THE REEL  Tape can be easily be damaged if it is not properly spooled onto the reel.  The tape should be wound onto the reel at an even tension and should be packed smoothly .  Often tapes are wound unevenly onto the reel causing `popped strands’.  This can damage the edges of the tape during spooling and playback.  On other occasions the tape can move in the reel causing a pack slip which again damages the edges of the tape.  Ensure that the tape is spooled in the centre of the reel and not at one side (flange pack).

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