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What Are the Best Tips for Tape Recorder Repair?

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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2014
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There are many different types of tape recorders, from reel-to-reel devices to video home system (VHS) decks, most of which have been replaced by newer technologies. In order to keep these devices in good working order, there are a number of general tips that can be followed. Many of these devices that stop working properly simply need to be cleaned, so that should be the first step in any tape recorder repair procedure. This can typically be performed with a cotton swab and some type of solvent, depending on the particular tape recorder. Other types of tape recorder repair often require replacement parts, such as new motors, motion sensors, and switches.

Most tape recorders use some type of magnetic storage method, and the tape itself is typically held on reels or inside cassettes. During operation the tape is moved from one reel to another, or between spools inside a cassette, and passes over one or more heads that are designed to either read or write magnetic data. These tape heads typically become dirty through normal usage, which is one of the major sources of failure in tape recorders. Due to this normal buildup of oxides and other contaminants, cleaning should be carried out on a regular basis.

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The best way to clean tape heads can differ depending on the type of tape recorder. There are a few different types of cassettes that are specifically designed to clean the tape heads of video and audio cassette decks. The two main types are dry and wet, and the wet type uses a solvent that is typically less likely to damage the heads. When a cleaning cassette is not available, it is often possible to use a cotton swab and a solvent such as alcohol. If the rubber components become stiff, applying a typewriter platen cleaner may soften them again.

Demagnetizing is another common type of tape recorder repair that can be carried at the same time as cleaning. Handheld demagnetizers can be used to repair any type of tape recorder, though there are also specialized cassette units. If a handheld type is used, it should be not be turned on when in close proximity to any other electronic devices. It is then necessary to physically touch components such as the heads, guides, and capstan with the device. After each component is touched, the demagnetizing unit should be moved away very slowly to avoid accidentally magnetizing anything else.

Other tape recorder repair procedures can be more complicated and involve replacing specific components. If an old tape deck no longer turns on, a likely cause is one or more bad capacitors in the power supply. Motors sometimes fail as well, in which case they typically need to be replaced. If the motor can be heard, but the tape does not move, the cause is sometimes a broken drive belt. This is usually an easy component to replace, though it can be necessary to locate a belt that is properly sized so that it does not slip or burn the motor out.

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Logicfest
Post 2

@Soulfox -- that is only true if you are dealing with a tape deck that has a belt. A lot of them (I don't know the percentage) are of the direct drive variety and don't use belts. In fact, the better tape decks are direct drive.

On the subject of belts, it is fairly easy to tell if you have one. Those generally stretch over time, so if the tape deck's speed is noticeably off the chances are good you have one with a belt in it.

Soulfox
Post 1

If cleaning the tape recorder doesn't work, the next most common thing to go wrong with one is the belt. The belt is the thing that puts the motor in contact with the moving parts and it tends to wear out and break over time.

Had an Olsmobile Cutlass years ago with a factory tape deck that had to have a new belt every few years. I learned later that the repairman could have used a better belt that would have lasted longer but he never did. Perhaps he just liked making money off of repairing my deck regularly.

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