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Tape and Dape Deck Maintenance

Needful Things for Proper Deck and Tape Maintenance
We get a lot of calls from people who just resurrected their old Revox or are just getting into open reel recording for the first time. What do I need to properly maintain my tape deck and preserve the life of my tape? The following list and discussion covers most of the bases of this subject. The order of the listing is not definitive; there's some overlap there but all are important and we discuss why.
  • Lasermedia CL100 Tape Head and Guide Cleaner: If you don't keep your tape heads clean, your sound will get muffled, you can clog the heads, and you can damage the tape by scouring it with minute chunks of dirt. Why not just use  alcohol? You can test this yourself. Get some polyurethane, put a couple drops on a piece of glass and see if alcohol will dissolve it. Polyurethane is mixed with oxide in the tape manufacturing process. It can rub off the tape over time and deposit itself on the heads. You want something that will dissolve the polyurethane so you can remove it from your heads and metal guides without abrading them. Also, CL100 is non carcinogenic.
  • RB Annis Han D Mag: The RB Annis Han D Mag is the best tape head and guide demagnetizer we know of. Many tape guides are made of chrome plated hardened steel. They're extremely difficult to demagnetize and need huge electromagnetic force to remove the magnetic fields. The Han D Mag will demagnetize even 2" studio heads. If you don't properly demagnetize your head, in particular, your tapes will in time start to lose their high end, as well as have additional noise due to magnetism built up in the heads. The Han D Mags aren't cheap, but they're worth the price and should last you a life time with proper use.
  • Lasermedia CL-100 Head & Guide Cleaner, and RC5 Pinch Roller Cleaner: The Lasermedia CL-100 is the best thing out there to clean your tape heads, and the RC5 is the best thing to clean your pinch rollers without fear of dissolving them or hardening them. Still, it's best to clean pinch rollers only when you see visible dirt buildup, especially if you can feel lumps of dirt on the roller. This will cause flutter and other problems with your tapes. Why not use isopropol alcohol? Isoprop can dry up, harden, and crack your pinch roller making it useless. Many home decks in particular have no factory replacement rollers available.
  • Leader Tape: We have many different kinds of various colours with many more to follow. If you're a home recordist, most of your decks will not stop playing or recording until the tape flops around and the shut off arm stops the transport. There's a few models like the Revox A77 with a photo stop sensing circuit, but most don't. Also, it's almost impossible to rewind or fast forward a tape so it stops without the tape end flopping around. This damages the end of the tape. It's better to slap a length of  leader tape around, which you can easily replace,  than your actual media. Also, there's quite a bit of damage done to tapes simply threading them to the takeup reel and on rewind the source reel. Ask anyone collecting pre-recorded open reel tapes about tape end damage!
    The reason for colored leader tape is to clue you in to the wind condition of the tape you're looking at. You can have your own colour code for the head of the tape and the tail of tape. But it's nice to pick up a tape and see that it's played through and suited for storage. In the US recording industry lingo, red leader indicates the head end of the tape and blue is the tail end. But you can also have your own lingo. OR USE TIMING TAPE: Timing tape is simply leader tape with timing patterns printed on it at set intervals like one set at every 15" and a different one at 7.5". There's also arrows ----->>>> showing you which is the head end of the tape.
  • Splicing Tape: Splicing tape is the very specialized and massively important tape used to connect the leader tape to the actual recording media. Also, in true analogue recording, it's used to splice sections of the actual recording media together. For instance if someone sneezed in a performance, you might be able to cut it out. We got a call from PBS about splicing tape. The producer was complaining that all the tape splices in his project dried out and failed. And he had to spend a whole weekend to "fix it." And it was "blue" splicing tape. Back in the day, when everyone made splicing tape, 3M made the best splicing tape you could get. At this point, it would be best to avoid anything blue simply because it's probably the same stuff that PBS had a problem with. Our AC1S89 series white splicing tape is made by a German company and has excellent specifications. USR will go to the ends of the earth to provide the best for our customers.
  • Splicing Blocks: If you're going to connect leader tape to your media, or especially do in intra-tape splice, you must have one of these. They're expensive. But you can't do a proper tape splice on the kitchen table. A good block like the ones USR sells will lock the media into position for your edit. We normally have used, but resurfaced blocks available. They're blocks from the leading studios in the world but..they needed some more care. Who knows what tapes went over these blocks!
  • Hold Down Tapes: Hold down tapes have two functions.  The main function is to hold down the end of the tape when you place it back in the box. You want to preserve the tape pack. You don't want the reel to unspool itself in the box. This can happen easily if the tape end is allowed to dangle loosely. Tape is normally under tension. The edges that hang out might curl over. The second consideration with hold down tape is, if you use red tape to hold down the tape, and this is the scheme you use, it will show you that's the front or head end of the tape as long as you wound it right.