#519: Mistakes I Made Fixing Broken Tapes

GETTING MORE TALE #519: Mistakes I Made Fixing Broken Tapes

I used to play cassette tapes almost exclusively. Even when I had started growing a CD collection, my cassettes dominated. Why? They were portable. I could record a CD or LP on them, put them in my Walkman, or play them in the car. I didn’t have a good way of doing that with CDs. Plus, you could record a CD to a good quality blank tape, and make a better copy than if you bought it on a pre-recorded manufactured release.

But tapes break. They wear. They get old. There were ways of fixing them, which I sometimes screwed up gloriously. What mistakes did I make?

MISTAKE #1: Dirty hands

You shouldn’t even try to fix a tape with dirty hands. Any time I opened one up to splice or carefully wind the tape on the spools, I was touching them with my unclean, ungloved hands. This deposited dirt and oil on the tape, deteriorating the sound and then transferring that dirt and oil to my tape heads.

MISTAKE #2: Magnetized screwdriver

Here’s another no-brainer that I missed. I had a cool little screwdriver that was magnetized. It was hard to lose those little screws with one of those, since they stuck to the screwdriver. Brilliant way to keep all those little screws from disappearing, but not good for tapes!

I wondered why a lot of my tapes had drop-outs in the sound. Many could have been caused by my favourite screwdriver while trying to fix them. This is common sense but I didn’t think my little screwdriver could possibly do any harm!

MISTAKE #3: Incorrect reassembly

Putting the tape back together is sometimes harder than it looks. Small parts pop out and sometimes it’s tricky to get them back in correctly. The slip sheet – a little piece of plastic inside the tape shell – helps reduce friction and squeal, but only if you put it back in with the slippery side facing the tape spool. When hastily reassembling tapes, I sometimes put the sheet in the wrong way causing slowdowns and noise.

Another critical part is the pressure pad. This applies light pressure on the tape to keep it against the player’s tape head. These pieces were tiny and sometimes popped out of place. There were some tapes I put back together with this piece improperly inserted. The lack of pressure on the tape reduced the sound quality greatly.


MISTAKE #4: Splicing with Scotch tape

I spliced successfully with Scotch tape…but only in the short term. As the Scotch tape ages, the stickiness reduces and becomes slimy. This means in time and with a few plays, a careful splice would break. You don’t want to get any of that stinky gunk in your tape deck, so use proper splicing tape. They used to sell it commonly at places like Radio Shack, but I came from a cheap family that used whatever was available. Hence my tapes were spliced with Scotch.

MISTAKE #5: Butter fingers

It’s tricky getting all the tape wound around the right spools and ready to screw back together. Sometimes – quite often actually – I would struggle with this and inevitably crunch the tape between parts of the shell. Once you crunch or crease the magnetic tape, you’re going to hear an audio problem.

I didn’t wreck every tape that I tried to fix, but I did make these mistakes periodically. No wonder my tapes sounded like crap.