Radical Tape-Ectomy

So, I completed the project to digitize all the tapes I needed to return to Jeff. The new rig worked very well.

I then started in on Jeff’s tapes.

I grabbed a random handful from the box and started digitizing. All was going well until I hit the tape called “Walk This Way” Tape # 26. This was a tape of all music from Jeff. There was Aerosmith, Elvis Costello, Yes, Fleetwood Mac and Emerson, Lake and Palmer and more. It was a classic sampler of Jeff’s musical taste of the time. Unfortunately, it had issues. Halfway through digitizing the tape started going wonky and going all herky jerky in the case. The recording was slow and agonizing to listen to, and eventually shut itself off. It must have been rubbing inside and dragging. I am no stranger to this. If it wasn’t a Jeff tape I would have tossed it, but this was a piece of history.

The only thing to do… radical tape-ecotmy.

In the old days I had a small box full of spare tape parts, reels, play pads, empty cases and such. This was long since abandoned. I did however have a tape nearby that was empty. This was copy of the Mel Ford and The Fairlanes from 1991 at The Crystal Corner in Madison. I pulled it from Dalton’s magic box of tapes and took it in the van to listen to. Apparently I botched it, because it’s blank. After confirming that I still had my original copy, I decided to use this blank version as a donor.

The process began with me taking the Mel Ford tape apart with a tweaker screwdriver.

The screw together tape is the mark of at least a middle of the road quality tape. You know you are using cheap tapes (which jeff and I sometimes did) when the only way to save one is by breaking it open.

Once all 5 screws were out I opened it up and removed the thin plastic tape guard.

Blank Mel Ford tape, set aside for disposal.

Then I opened up the “Walk This Way” tape.

Once opened I transferred the tape over to the Mel Ford case.

I have had a few tragedies during this procedure in the past. I’ve had the tape reel collapse then have to be rewound by hand with a pencil, or had the tape crinkle and end up worse than it started. At the very least you want to avoid touching the tape. Good tapes have a nice little leader strip like you see above.

I got it rebuilt in the Mel Ford case and it was now ready to try again. The “Walk This Way” tape pieces I kept for rebuilding post digitizing.

Over to the tape converter.

The recording sounded strong and smooth and normal speed in the headphones! I walked away.

Later I checked it at about the point it shut itself off before… during Yes. It was still sounding good. I thought we were through the woods. You guessed it though… a check later revealed that it had shut off again about 3/4 of the way through. Part way through the Fleetwood Mac song “Dreams” it had stopped like it had before. UGH!

I rewound it and fast forwarded it several times thinking it might need to smooth out the reel a bit, but that didn’t help.

I was forced to try something that normally I don’t do. I decided to remove the thin plastic tape smoother. Usually this had exactly the opposite effect on the tapes and made the reels wind up all crazy. In this case though, since the tape was only going to be played lying on it’s side and auto reversing, it might do the trick.

So I removed the tape smoother.

I rewound and fast-forwarded once more, then started digitizing it again.


I was able to get the entire first side digitized perfectly. No slow downs or drags, it made it past Fleetwood Mac, I watched it auto-reverse and everything was still cool. I checked it about 10 minutes before the end and it was still playing normal. When it clicked off, completed, I was ecstatic.

Done! Digitized for posterity with a little help from Memorex.

When I was putting the tape BACK into the original case I noticed how horribly scraped the smoother was from inside the Ampex tape. It was awful.

No wonder this tape was struggling.

Don’t worry though Jeff.

It has been saved.

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