Tape Users Guide
To get the best performance from your tape and tape machine requires regular inspection and cleaning of the tape path.
Professional recording engineers will typically perform this cleaning/inspection every time a new tape is loaded or after several hours use of the tape, so you can safely perform this procedure every time you load a tape.
Most reel to reel machines have a common layout and cleaning procedure, however it is always recommended that you carefully read the manufacturers instructions to determine the correct procedure for your make and model before proceeding.
Use a 95%> pure isopropyl alcohol and regular cotton swabs (cu-tip/cotton buds) to carefully clean the guides, heads and rollers, excessive force may misalign the heads/guides, so be sure to use only a small amount of pressure when cleaning these parts.
If your machine is horizontal and the capstan shaft is pointed vertically, you should be careful not to let any excess isopropyl alcohol drip down into the bearings/motor, this may cause the lubricant to degrade or dissolve which could severely damage your machine, so just use a slightly dampened cotton tip and clean with care.
NOTE: the capstan shaft is the primary driver of the tape, it's diameter and rotational speed determine the tape speed and accuracy of it's movement across the heads, so any signs of pitting, rust, deposits... will need to be rectified to ensure correct operation.
DO NOT USE ISOPROPYL ON THE PINCH ROLLER, it may degrade the rubber, clean with a dry cotton swab or remove and clean with a mild detergent/water solution, rinse & dry thoroughly, replace.
Inspect the pinch roller for any signs of wear, cracking, malformation or warping, deposits, or general damage. Replace/restore if neccessary.
Check all the parts of the tape path that contact the tape for signs of wear or damage, rectify them before loading a tape.
Ensure that the guide rollers and tape lifters (if applicable) are moving freely, without resistance or noise, this will help ensure the tape travels evenly.
If your machine has excessive wear to the tape path contact points it can severely damage the tape, so check it regularly for signs of wear and tear.
It is normal for a small layer of the oxide coating from the tape to be deposited on these parts during normal operation of the machine, this layer can impede the sonic performance of the heads, typically resulting in a loss of high frequency (treble) response.
Thorough regular cleaning will prevent this occuring, however there is unavoidable wearing down of the tape heads due to the friction of the tape rubbing across it during normal operation, older machines with high usage will typically exhibit some head wear, so they will require careful inspection and possible repair or replacement.
Replacement heads can be expensive and require specialist tools and knowledge to replace/restore, often they will need to be sent to a specialist for a relap to restore their surface and curvature, or replaced altogether when worn beyond repair.
If you clean and maintain your tape path, you will get the best results and longest life from your new RTM tapes. Well maintained tapes can last for generations, so it's worth the small effort to preserve your audio for decades to come.
Manufacturers service and user manuals for a vast array of tape machines can be found free on Hifi Engine
Spare parts, restoration kits and calibration tapes for Revox, Studer, Nagra and some generic makes are available from Nagravox
If you would like to delve deeper into tape machine alignment, calibration and usage, we recommend this course by award winng studio engineer Brad Leigh on the Udemy website, the course covers all aspects of cleaning, alignment, calibration and operation of 2 track and multi-track tape recorders without you requiring a diploma in audio engineering to understand it.
If you have any questions regarding what tape is best for your machine, or you would like to know more about maintaining your machine/s, we're happy to assist you via: