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VCR Tracking and Cleaning—A guest article by Jim Wheeler

Filed under: archive operations,digital,video — 2006-03-17 by Jim Wheeler — Last Edit 2012-11-04 by Richard L. Hess

There was an off-line discussion about VHS-Hi-Fi tracking and breakup in Hi-Fi playback and how to correct it. I brought Jim Wheeler into it, and he agreed to write this article. —Richard

I invented the automatic tracking system in 1976 but it is pricey. If you want to pay about $2,000 for a pro-VHS machine, you can get true auto-tracking. Manual tracking works for most tapes. If not, there was a problem with the recording VCR. Alcohol is not good for cleaning heads and tape guides. I always use Xylene and you can buy Xylene at hardware and paint stores. Do not use Xylene on a pinch roller! Have your window open when you use it. I sniffed Xylene for over 30 years and am still okay–okay–okay….I recommend using Xylene for cleaning all components in the tape path except the pinch roller. I recommend Isopropyl alcohol for cleaning pinch rollers. [Some of us are using Formula 409 on pinch rollers—it depends on the pinch roller and its application—Richard]

The scanner surface and the video heads should not require cleaning. The problem is oxide/binder clumping on tape guides and sometimes on the stationary heads. At Ampex, I made it a practice to never clean the scanner surface or the video heads unless an exceptionally high-debris tape had been used.

Another one of my inventions is the scanner surface finish. It is frictionless. My surface finish created so much airfilm that I had to cut deep grooves on the upper half in order to get good head-tape contact.

The JVC HRS9911 is a great VHS machine. Most of the on-line VTR companies are out-of-stock but www.HDTVHOUSE.COM may have it for about $400. EBAY is a possibility.

If you have the Tech Manual for a VHS machine, you can find the RF output terminal and use an oscilloscope to look at the RF and adjust the input and output scanner guides to obtain a proper RF envelope. The Tech Manual should describe how to do this.

Be sure to rotate the tracking control to see both sides of peak RF. This is because you can be fooled by a wide/narrow record/play head combination.

[I asked Jim to provide a brief biography—Richard]

I started at Ampex in 1961 right out of college and enjoyed all 32 years. I worked with great people and learned a lot. I got a BSEE from Cal Berkeley in 1961 but I did not learn anything about electronics at Cal. I learned that stuff at the Univ. of Ampex in Redwood City.


Susan Kitchens Posted Mar 19, 2006 2:29 PM

Heya. I found this page while doing a search for tape head cleaning. I was thinking of cassette players. Is your \”use Xylene as a cleaner\” advice any different for cassette players?

Richard L. Hess Posted Mar 19, 2006 2:41 PM

I tend to use alcohol despite Mr. Wheeler\’s preference for xylene. It is less likely to damage things. I fear that xylene might attack some plastics. This topic is discussed back and forth on many of the mailing lists I subscribe to.

Jim Wheeler Posted Mar 20, 2006 12:35 PM

Alcohol does not melt the tape binder that is what is cemented on the heads and tape guides. It takes a strong chemical like Naptha or Xylene to melt the binder. Yes, they will attack plastics but why would you allow them to touch plastics?

I have used Xylene for over 40 years and have found it very effective whether on a pro deck or a cassette deck. I suggest having a nearby window open when you use any chemical other than Jack Daniel\’s.

Tom Proctor Posted Mar 21, 2006 7:08 PM

I just used some Xylene with a Q-Tip to clean the head on a Sony WM-D6C cassette deck. Yes, it does smell pretty nasty and is highly flammable, but used with caution it seems to be very good at cleaning heads. I had problems with the audio output on this deck that I couldn\’t nail down and now it seems to have overcome that issue. Not %100 sure it was the use of this solvent on the head but it could easily be the case. I think that if you are careful with the application, which you should be anyway, and apply the Xylene to only metal parts and heads, there shouldn\’t be a problem damaging the deck. On the other hand it doesn\’t take much imagination to envision this stuff melting plastic. Don\’t let this contact your skin, or breathe its concentrated vapors. Read the label on the can.

Richard L. Hess Posted June 5, 2008 7:00 PM

I have been using Naphtha (Ronsonol Lighter Fluid) for the past two years on heads and it does clean better than alcohol. I’m still using Formula 409 for pinch rollers and ceramic capstans.

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