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Dangers of old tape recorders for playback; using the elevator head

Filed under: magnetic tape developing,project notes,Sony APR-5000,storage-care-handling — 2009-09-02 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-10-30 by Richard L. Hess

We are currently working on some un-published tapes for a major Canadian folk artist. We have a 7.5 in/s 2-track stereo recording that was one of (if not the) first studio recording of this artist from circa 1972.

At some point, this tape was played on a 1/4-track machine that injected hum onto the left channel. Here’s what the magnetic viewer showed:


At the very top we can see a remnant of the left channel material, then the 120-Hz bars (62.5 mil spacing), then the remainder of the left channel material. In the middle is the guard band and at the bottom, the right channel.

Using a specially manufactured (by JRF Magnetics) assembly that contains a 4-channel 8-track head with a continuously variable height adjustment, we were able to lower the track one head to the middle of the good portion of the left channel. With that height positioning, track five’s head was well into the right channel, so we got a good transfer without the hum.

We believe this hum was written by the record head due to a malfunction in the recorder rather than an intentional erasure. If there had been an erasure, more of the left channel would have been erased and there would be a guard band between hum bars and the left channel audio as almost all erase heads were wider than the audio heads.

This type of damage is all too common using old consumer tape machines for playing tapes. I had an old junker machine in the 1960s that did this once to a tape. Unfortunately, it was also a quarter-track recording, so it was gone.

The magnetic record is fragile.

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