16

In my loft I have a collection of old quarter-inch tapes dating back to the eighties, mostly, though some as far back as the sixties. I'd like to be able to hear these again, and maybe transfer some of them to digital. However, I've heard that old tapes deteriorate and shed their oxide when attempting to play them. I've heard that they can be baked in an oven, and that this can allow one last play, sufficient to transfer the material. Before I try for myself and maybe damage them, does anyone have a definitive answer and/or practical experience of this? Is a domestic oven suitable? What time and temp? How about other formats - I also have some miniDV video tapes from the early 2000's - anything I should know about those too? Any suggestions welcome - thanks.

  • 3
    I’m voting to close this question because it has nothing to do with music, practice or theory. – Tim Jul 22 at 16:21
  • 1
    @Tim OTOH I view this as just as appropriate as the myriad questions about connecting stompboxes or MIDI tool interactions. Now get offa my lawn you youngsters – Carl Witthoft Jul 23 at 14:28
  • 1
    @CarlWitthoft - point taken, although it's hardly about music per se. It ccould be speeches, etc... And I allow youths onto my lawn - but only behind a lawnmower! – Tim Jul 23 at 15:45
  • 1
    @Tim, Carl There is an at least tenuous, (but IMO sufficient!), connection to music. The tapes are mostly 8-track and stereo masters from the studio I had in my basement in the 80's, plus a few live performances by local bands - one of whom are building a nostalgic website featuring their music - and my tape is the only record of them playing live that still exists. – peterG Jul 23 at 16:39
22

Sticky-shed
The great 80s tape debacle - which I'm determined these days should be called ShedShed;) - affected a few tape types from the period. The first to be spotted & which spawned the investigation to find a cure was the Ampex 456, which was the studio mastering tape of the era.

Even if your tape doesn't suffer from it, you still need to take care, ensure paths are clean & that there's no 'simple' age-shedding, which can still happen, even if you don't get sticky-shed.

Sticky-shed is different from regular shedding. Old tape passing over the heads will cast off 'dust' [literally losing particulate of the magnetic surface] from its surface, causing loss of top-end as it starts to crowd the repro head. Cleaning the heads after each tape, or at worst each track, will give you a pass at rescue.

Sticky-shed, however, takes this one large leap further. Not only does the surface shed particulate, but the entire substrate will cling to the heads. It may squeak or judder & in the worst cases will be sticky enough to actually jam solid on a head - causing havoc .

If you get sticky-shed, you have to bake your tapes.

Do not do this in a domestic kitchen oven! The temperature control is nowhere near good enough.

Tape baking is a 'fun' task best done with either a commercial incubator [very expensive] or an American Harvest food dehydrator.
I kid you not.
They are the perfect shape for 10" reels & even have a post in the middle that the NAB centres fit round. You can get 4 ¼" tapes at a time in the regular model - double in the 'deluxe' - or by removing some of the internal shelves 2 ½" or even a 1" or 2".
All you need is the cheapest old one you can find on eBay, so long as it has a variable thermostat. You don't need any of the fancy gubbins they put in the lid of the modern ones.

I did my entire 80's Ampex collection with one, irreplaceable master tapes - took weeks, but I rescued every one. A friend of mine borrowed it a couple of years ago to rescue his, with similar success.

I did find this - Wikipedia - Sticky-Shed Syndrome whilst I was trying to remember the temperature range - 130 °F to 140 °F (54 to 60 °C) for 1 to 8 hours.
Practically, though, you should leave them a good while to warm, then another while to cool & settle before swapping batches. It's probably over-kill, but it's safe. I used to set up a batch in the evening, switch off in the morning, leaving it to cool & set a new batch the next evening.

BTW, this shouldn't wreck any edits/splices in itself, but depending on the quality of your splicing tape, it may have already degraded. Mine was absolutely fine, before & after, fortunately; including some heavily-edited 12" mixes.

Late edit - Reading the Wikipedia article [which I hadn't done previously] it says that baking drives off moisture - that is presumably why a dedicated dehydrator turns out to be the perfect machine for the task, aside from the fact it looks like it was made to put tapes in anyway ;) It has constant controlled heat & a fan system which pulls air through the device all the time you are 'baking', evaporating & extracting the moist air.

Note:
You only get one go at this.
Bake, rescue to digital in one pass. That's it. A second pass will start to degrade & a few weeks later the tapes will have reverted to sticky-shed.
[There's a little more leeway than that sometimes, but it's best to play safe.]

You can get plugins/apps these days that can correct for azimuth, wow & flutter, so if it's 'close enough for jazz' without doing a proper line-up, just go for it & 'fix it in the mix'. If you have line-up tones, transfer them too.

| improve this answer | |
  • I wonder if you could bake effectively in a home sous-vide. – kojiro Jul 23 at 10:40
  • 1
    Even assuming you get no water in the bag at all, you also wouldn't be releasing any other gases - & I honestly don't know what 'boils off' in this process, but something must. – Tetsujin Jul 23 at 11:14
  • 1
    @Tetsujin Thorough and comprehensive answer, thanks. Everything I need to know. – peterG Jul 25 at 11:22
  • @kojiro - reading the Wikipedia article [which I hadn't done previously] it says that baking drives off moisture - that is presumably why a dedicated dehydrator turns out to be the perfect machine for the task. It has constant controlled heat & a fan system which pulls air through the device all the time you are 'baking'. – Tetsujin Jul 26 at 11:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.