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Author Topic: A weekend of tweaking  (Read 12850 times)

Offline ironbut

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A weekend of tweaking
« on: November 06, 2007, 10:37:09 PM »
I can only put things off so long and when my new spring scales arrived, I decided to do as much of the tweaking and maintenance in one whack. One thing that I'd recommend for this sort of activity is a blank tape dedicated for this. My Technics RS1500 is currently biased to RMGI 911. I bought a 10.5" reel of RMGI LPR35 which uses the same bias but is thinner tape. The reason for choosing this tape is that I don't have a lot of test gear so I have to rely on my ears to check most of my work. Thinner tape will never sound quite as good (think 180 gm lp's) and since most of my work is to improve tape handling, it's higher tendency to stretch presents the worst case. Another reason I like using this tape is that a full reel is heavier.  I have an easier time hearing frequency aberrations with piano and single chords in particular. Thankfully, a couple of guys that called themselves the Beatles ended a song called " A Day in the Life" with a looooong major chord, reportedly on three 9 foot grands. I used an editing program I have to loop the chord so the test tape has 1 minute sections with that chord with a 15kHz,1kHz and 90 Hz sine wave after. Before I do anything, I clean all the contacts, warm up any of the gear used for listening and shut off my computer/modem and anything else that might contaminate the AC ( except when there's a good game on,.. Patriots/Colts wow, that was a good one!)
One of the things I worked on this weekend was the mechanical brakes. The Technics has dynamic and mechanical braking. You guys with Revox and Teacs ( maybe others too) are lucky. Your mechanical braking is done with a metal band that tightens around the rotor ( usually the back of the reel tables) which has cotton glued to the rotor surface. On Sony and Technics, it's the other way around. The rotor is smooth and a caliper with a brake shoe pushes against it. The shoes are about 3/4" long and 1/4" wide. As you can see, the wearable surface is way smaller and braking decreases in a few years. Well, I won't go into particulars on the work that I did, but this is where the spring scales come in. You test the braking by attaching a scale to the tape of a partial reel of tape ( refer to a service manual for how much tape should be on the reel for this test). When your machine is stopped, the brakes are engaged so you can easily do this alone. The brakes apply a different amount of drag depending on whether it's the supply side ( who was that economist that used to talk about that?) or the take-up side and which direction the reel is turned. These setting will also be in a service manual ( usually in grams ). Doc had suggested some swiss spring scales. Pricey and hard to find. The one that one of the r2r sites had was 0-1000 gm. That should cover all the measurements that I need to make, but for the brakes, I'm looking for 140 gm and 450 gm. If you've ever tried to move a scale, attached to a reel of tape, trying to pull at a constant rate, and read the hash marks +or- 25 or 50 gms way down on the bottom of the scales limit,.. the words " close enough" have a habit of popping out of your mouth. That and the fact that spring scales are the most inaccurate the lower you go made me take another tact. Instead of getting one, expensive (around $90) spring scale, I looked at the readings I need to get for brakes, tape tension and pinch roller pressure and bought a cheap scale for each of those ranges where the range is in the sweet spot of the scale ( at least a 1/4 from the bottom and top ). So I bought 4 scales for less than $30 total. They may not be as accurate, but I can read exactly where the force is steady.
Another thing that I worked on was "Play". When you hit that play button, a bunch of things happen. The reel motors are engaged, the pinch roller pushes the tape against the capstan, the tape lifters un-lift(?) and the brakes disengage. Ideally, all of these things would happen instantaneously. If this was the way machines were designed, they'd constantly be going out of adjustment. Luckily, they don't have to. The reel motors and the brakes can happen first, and the lifters and the pinch roller can happen a micro second latter. So in most decks, the pairing of those have a common linkage. Most machines have an adjustment that keeps that micro second micro. If there's too much time between these two events, there will be too much slack in the tape path. That's where the tension arm or, on my 1500, tension rollers come in. It isn't just to stop when the tape runs out ( but it's a nice dual purpose ). The spring loading maintains the tape tension during that split in time. When you hit play, does this arm/s/roller/s bounce up and down to it's limit? Do you hear the tape start up slow to normal? Your tension " Thang " ( as we shall refer to it ) should bounce just a bit ( more @ 15ips than 7 1/2 ips) and you shouldn't hear any slipping on the playback. It wouldn't be that big a deal except, any time you see that tension Thang bouncing a lot and going to the limits of it's range, you could be getting tape stretch. That's permanent. Bounce BAD! The factory usually has this adjusted perfectly but on my deck, the adjustment has a rubber stopper as a limiter. Time and rubber don't get along so good. So I did need to adjust this but I would imagine some other machines won't. Just remember to keep an eye on that Thang and if it starts acting weird. Something's wrong.
Ok, here's a real tweak that's bound to stir things up. The Last Factory who makes Stylast and record preservative also still makes tape products. Tape Head Treatment and Tape Preservative. I'll start with the head treatment. Right up front I'll tell you that both products are expensive. For .25 oz of head and 2 oz of tape preservative it was $100. I've just started testing each so I have no idea how long each will last. The head treatment comes in a tiny bottle with a brush built into the top. It also comes with 4 pretty nifty foam applicators that are smaller than a Q tip so you can really get into the corners of tape guides. If nothing else, these things are worth getting for head cleaning and since you can get several different sizes and they're cheap. They're made by Texwipe and can be had here;     http://www.ccrwebstore.com/shop/ 
Before I applied it to my heads and guides, I put a drop on my bathroom mirror. It dried instantly. It and the tape treatment reminded me of a product called Sound Guard by Ball Ind.that I used to use on records. It was an aerospace lubricant that worked really well to reduce wear and reduce static. It seems like the medium that the Last products use and Sound Guard are at least related. I was able to see a slight haze on the mirror but when I rubbed it with a finger, it was much more slick than the surrounding glass. I then listened to one of my best sounding 2 track tapes, rewound it and applied the Last to every stationary surface that the tape rides across. Then I listened to the same tape again. Wow! Much more open, a super low level fuzz was gone ( didn't know it was there until it was absent), more treble extension and just top to bottom better. After the initial shock, I thought about it and the last month or so, my tapes had seemed a little veiled. I didn't really look into it  and thought it might just be that contacts were dirty or something like that. But the Last had addressed this veil and more. I remembered that somewhere around that time I'd started using a different head cleaning solution. So I took some of that stuff and,.. on the mirror it went. Sure enough, although it was invisible, I could feel higher friction on that spot than the surrounding glass. I'm not saying that neutralizing the effects of the cleaning fluid is the only benefit, but the cleaner does a great job of cleaning (better than what I was using) so I'd like to continue using it. The only question for me is how long a treatment will last. I'm planning on using it only after cleaning ( about every 10 7" tapes). They say to use it before every tape, but that ain't gonna happen.
I have to say that I was happy to find that Last still makes products for tape and have searched every tape forum I could think of to find first hand account of their effects. All I found was  the same question with zero replies. There's one here too (Tommytunes). So, who the heck is using this stuff enough for them to keep it in production? Well, as far as this one's concerned, I'm sold. I'm still going to have Doc do the teflon thing to my deck, but I'll still use this on the heads I think. If your wondering why this and Docs tape path mods work, here's a great site that goes into scrape flutter.     http://www.manquen.net/audio/   The page called the flutter storybook is excellent. The rest of the site ain't shabby either.
Well, that's enough for today. More from my tweakfest latter.
BTW that economist was Stockman or Stockton or ,..
« Last Edit: October 06, 2008, 11:57:17 PM by ironbut »
steve koto
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Offline Chuck

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2007, 11:02:13 PM »
Thanks Steve. I for one will follow your tweaker installments with great glee. Thanks for making the effort.

Best regards, Chuck
Linn LP-12, SME w/ Clearaudio Arum Beta S, Seduction phono stage, Foreplay III preamp to 300B Monoblocks (Parabee) and homebrew 3 way speakers. Current projects: Straight 8 line array speakers w/ ribbon tweeters and RS-1500 resurrection.

Offline docb

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2007, 12:06:31 AM »
The advantage of the fancy tension gauges is that they have a tell tail that holds the maximum deflection reading so you don't have to rely on your eyes to see where the pointer maxxed out. As long as you don't jerk the tape (which should be on a dedicated, half full reel) as you start to pull, the readings are very consistent. The pressure applied by the various brake pad materials I have experimented with so far have yielded improvements over stock, but they are still not as durable as I would like (meaning I want the brake tension to stay the same forever). I am continuing to experiment with different materials.

As for tape tension, I have tried to use the voltage reference test point on the servo control board as detailed in the service manual. There is an inconsistency from machine to machine with this method, and I don't recommend it. A tentelometer is a much better approach as long as it is properly calibrated and you understand how to implement it to get a useful reading and accurate adjustment.

Tension roller arm springs can get tweaked too if anyone has been inside the machine to do a brake pad replacement. I replace the original springs on any machine in which they look stretched more than normal.

The friction reducing treatment on the heads makes total sense to me. Paul has been "Tefloning" our ATRs and it makes quite a difference, particularly with less than perfect tapes. "Paste wax your repro head sir?"
Dan "Doc B." Schmalle
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Offline rbwtapeinterlink-Bob

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2007, 01:42:52 PM »
Thanks much Doc B. this is great stuff. Wonderful Wonderful.

Bob W.
Bob W. (African American) VPI, Ref Standard Grado, Denon 103r, Threshold, DecWare tube pre and Classe pre amp, Jolida tube phono pre amp, (Peter Gunn) modified Magnapan 1.6, Tascam 32-2B & 42B tape decks, Parasound belt drive CD transport, Pacific Valve tube DAC, VPI  TT, various upscale cables.

Offline rbwtapeinterlink-Bob

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2007, 01:45:19 PM »
Steve, you really know the way to my heart. This is info that can assist me in my feeble attempts at "tweeking and testing". This must have been a monumental task for you. Thanks much for sharing your experience.

Bob W.
Bob W. (African American) VPI, Ref Standard Grado, Denon 103r, Threshold, DecWare tube pre and Classe pre amp, Jolida tube phono pre amp, (Peter Gunn) modified Magnapan 1.6, Tascam 32-2B & 42B tape decks, Parasound belt drive CD transport, Pacific Valve tube DAC, VPI  TT, various upscale cables.

Offline ironbut

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2007, 06:44:21 PM »
Hey, don't get the idea that I'm some kinda electrical tech doing this in my spare time. I'm really not that far ahead of you guys when it comes right down to it. Before the Tape Project, I've owned several machines that all needed some serious servicing. I'm a very hands on learner so I've had a history of jumping in the deep end. I picked up service manuals for each one and off I went. I think that it was good to have worked on decks that have a large range of complexity and sophistication. I have an old Ampex tube type deck ( F44) with a single motor. When you open that guy up, it looks like a Rube Goldberg device with all the levers and belts. It's a real education to work on one of these and a testament to the engineers that got it all working reliably. If you enjoy playing with r2r's, they're easy to find and musical in a non-audiophile way (not much freq extension high or low, poor S/N, clunky operation). You can usually pick up a nice one for $40-60. And there's almost always $150 worth of tubes (12ax7 and 12au7) in them.
But, messing with these things is my idea of having fun ( especially when things work out right). And I'm happy to post it here in the hopes that the more knowledgeable will poke holes in my logic and help me to learn more too.
steve koto
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Offline ironbut

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Re: A weekend of tweaking ll
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2007, 12:23:39 AM »
Here's the other half of my evaluation of the Last tape products.
Last makes a product called Tape Preservative. It comes in a 2 oz bottle or a larger supply. It comes with 4 foam applicators. a dropper, and 16 stickers for marking which tapes are treated. This fluid is supposed to increase the life of  pre recorded tapes, reduce scrape flutter, lower distortion, reduce drop-outs, increase freq. response and extend the life of heads. Well, that's a pretty tall order. You apply it by saturating the swabs with the dropper and gently place the swab against the oxide side of the tape while the deck is at rewind or ff. You can reuse the swabs after cleaning any deposits off with alcohol and letting it dry completely.
Once again, I searched the Web thoroughly to find any opinion on this product but found no first hand accounts. There were some mention here and there which always included concerns about the products effects on the binders of the tape. If you're unfamiliar with problems with these binders and the so called, sticky shed syndrome, there is plenty of info here;
http://richardhess.com/notes/2007/03/21/soft-binder-syndrome-and-sticky-shed-syndrome/ There are many other interesting pages regarding tape restoration and archiving there. To test if the Last would damage the binders of the tapes in my collection I ran the following tests.
The tape treatment is in the same or similar medium as the head treatment. I actually spilled some on my hand and before I could look at the spot it landed on, it had evaporated. Because of this, I put a little at the bottom of a short bottle with a small mouth and a tight lid. I then went sifting though my collection to try and get a good sampling of tape formulas and backing types. I cut a short piece off of each of these and attached a scotch tape "handle" that could hang out of the top of the bottle and I could label it. So, one by one the tape samples spent a few minutes soaking. After pulling it out, I used a clean sheet of tp and did my best to rub some oxide off. Here's the tape types ( or mostly, the labels and catalog# of the recording)
RMGI 911
Quantagy 456
3M 226
Barclay-Crocker Ampex 642
Deutsche Gram. DGA 8803 Ampex-?
Angel Y2S-36300-cream colored reel
RCA FTC-2092 box states RCA red seal magnetic tape
Command Classics CC4T 11003 states MFD Grans Award Record Co.
Capital ZF-49 Scotch/3M ?
Vanguard VTC 1620  Ampex ?
Columbia MQ 877
Mercury MBS5-19
Many of these tapes are very old. But I did make an effort to get a good span of Ampex since it is the most frequently used on the prerecorded tapes you'll find. I'm sure a missed a few and if any of you can direct me to examples (labels and eras) I'll be happy to test them too. But, I think the results will be the same. Nothing. I looked at each example with a 10X magnifier before and after and could detect no change that would indicate any damage. So, it looks like Last did their research as far as binder solubility. But there's still that laundry list of claims.
I started treating tapes that are in my rejects stack. I'm crazy about the Berlioz Symphony Fantastique. I grew up with the Solti CSO recording and just like my moms potato salad, that's the way I like it. I've bought several copies and now have a pretty good one, but I still have one of the rejects that has dropouts and overall, just didn't sound as alive. So I treated the reject ( what could I loose?). I'd like to say that when applying the Last, it dries so fast that by the time it is going on the take-up reel, it's dry. Even though, after treating the whole tape, I wound it in the other direction just in case. The swab showed visible oxide residue which hardly surprised me but on closer inspection, there were fibers, and dirt. On playing the tape, the dropouts were almost all gone. A couple of spots that I thought were dropouts turned out to be damage to the tape. I could hear that now because, just like the head treatment, the noise floor had been lowered and revealed the details. The highs went a touch higher and were definitely clearer. The effects were overall similar to the improvements with the head treatment but much more subtle. I'd say maybe 1/4 >1/8 of what the head treatment did. When it comes right down to it, if this stuff hadn't done any improvement to the sound but extended the life of the tape 6-8X like the literature says, I'd be all for it. There is a hidden benefit too. I've tried using a lint free cloth to try and clean dropout causing dust and tape mites ( there must be some, they seem to be everywhere else after all) with inconsistent results. I've always thought that much of the dropout causing offenders are stuck to the tape by the pressure exerted on it from the tape wound above it. And just like a dirty window, a single swipe with a dry cloth never cleans as much as with a wet one. You can't use water ( that's what causes sticky tape shed) and alcohol will clean the oxide right off the tape. And the chemicals that used to be used are no longer off the shelf items (folks nowdays have a thing against cancer and brain damage,.. wimps!). So far, aside from the cost, this seems like a winner. I've treated 5 tapes and everything seems great,.. nothing "Wow" about this stuff, but like I said, if it does extend the tape life who cares.
Now I need to rig up some kind of delivery system that doesn't require you to stand there with the swab at just the right angle and " don't push that hard,.. that's not hard enough,.. oops now the angles wrong..."
At this point, I don't think I would use it on something as important as one of the Tape Project releases, but I've just started using it and in a few months, I just might.
An added note to the head treatment. Just like the Sound Guard that I used to use on my lp's, the head treatment makes cleaning the tape path much easier. For the most part, I can remove deposits with a dry Q tip.
steve koto
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Offline beefman

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #7 on: November 27, 2007, 04:48:05 PM »
I'd love to do this to a 'donor deck'. What a killer way to clean a tape! I realize they're using it for playing LoL squealing tapes but it'd work great for cleaning off dirt and dust and other liquids could be used.
Jeff Kane
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Offline ironbut

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #8 on: December 27, 2007, 11:54:14 PM »
Here's a couple of tips for working on any deck that I should have included in the original posts. The first one is to get yourself some "new" screwdrivers. I know this sounds simple but, I'm kind of a cheap skate. I have some tools that my dad gave me when I was a kid working on my bike. Don't use old worn out phillips head screwdrivers on you prized r2r. You'll find that some of the parts you need to get to are deep in the chassis. The first time you encounter this, go to the hardware store and get a new screwdriver that's long enough to reach across the chassis so you can put even pressure on the screw. Get a #2 tip size. Even if the screw head is  small, it's almost always a #2. You can tell it's the right size because the tip will almost "stick" in the screw head. This will minimize the chances of your stripping the head and you don't want to have to drill out a screw with layer after layer of pc boards below it. The couple of bucks will help retain your sanity.
The next tip is to make a custom cushion for the front of your machine. This will allow you to put your deck on it's face without harming anything. If you go to a packing/shipping store they have all kinds of foam for packing. Get a piece of the white, stiff foam. The stuff I got looks like it's made from layers of 1/4" foam sheets and it's 1.5" thick. Take a sheet of newspaper or any other handy thin paper and push it over the reel holders. Take a marker and mark the paper where any part on the front of your deck (controls, tension arms, head nest, buttons) sticks out above the deckplate . Make sure and mark the controls to operate the basic transport controls. After you cut holes for these test the fit and adjust the holes on another piece of paper. Test the fit again and repeat this until your satisfied that the " template" will not contact anything that you don't want to put undue pressure on. Your going to tape this cushion on the front of your deck so make sure you can operate the transport/cue lever and get at the heads and tension lifter/rollers without taking it off. After your satisfied with your template, you can mark the foam and cut it. Get yourself some 1.5" blue painters tape. It's low tack so it won't pull the finish off you side panels. Yeah, I know it's expensive for tape but it works. Just hide it when your done. It's also good to mask your machine against scratches. When I removed the capstan motor, the capstan itself has to come out too. The hole it fits through only has about 1/8" clearance around it so to keep from damaging it I put a piece of tape around it before pulling it through. Also, the tension meter I use is pointy. The points face the deckplate so a little bad movement will scratch the plate. I put 2 pieces of the tape where the points will make contact so I have a 3" wide "safe" zone that the points can make contact with no problem.
Well, that's it for now.
steve koto
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Offline rbwtapeinterlink-Bob

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2007, 05:47:46 AM »
Steve,
This is such great information. You and others are the reason this particular forum has turned out to be such a success. Just being a part of this has been a totally positive experience for me. I came to this forum not know anything but that a reel to reel recorder turned, recorded and played tapes. I am learning a great deal more and there is so much more to learn. You and others on this forum make it easy and a joy to get and use the information to move our love for reel to reel experience forward. Thanks much.

Bob W.
Bob W. (African American) VPI, Ref Standard Grado, Denon 103r, Threshold, DecWare tube pre and Classe pre amp, Jolida tube phono pre amp, (Peter Gunn) modified Magnapan 1.6, Tascam 32-2B & 42B tape decks, Parasound belt drive CD transport, Pacific Valve tube DAC, VPI  TT, various upscale cables.

Offline heideana

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #10 on: January 14, 2008, 01:58:41 AM »
Steve thanks for the info, especially the tape head and tape preservatives...it seems to me that there's something better then lighter fluid or alcohol to clean heads that folks have talked about.  Can someone help me remember what it is?  Best and thanks...Hop
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Offline ironbut

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #11 on: January 14, 2008, 09:38:52 PM »
I remember Doc saying that he uses naptha. I use some stuff I bought from US Recording Media and it smells like it contains naptha. The only thing I don't like about it is that it doesn't dry as quickly as alcohol based cleaners. I follow up with a dry Q tip to get any excess off, but I have made the mistake of threading a tape when it was still wet. Man, that was a quick death for that tape. If you think that it cleans oxide residue off of metal parts, you should see what it will do to oxide on mylar! Not a pretty sight.  It really can clean some stubborn crud off the tape path though. I think that all of these cleaners leave some residue that contributes to scrap flutter. The reduction of flutter really clears up the signal. The sounds/instruments that are far in the background are revealed with definition and texture as the fuzz that obscures them is lowered. I think that Doc's mods on the tape path and the use of the Last treatments do a lot to eliminate this problem. I'm not sure if I'd notice all these improvements with the stock playback electronics though.
steve koto
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Offline docb

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2008, 09:32:47 AM »
Naptha is of course the main ingredient of lighter fluid. It works well on heavy oxide and binder buildup, does take some time to evaporate and ABSOLUTELY MUST NOT BE USED ON RUBBER PARTS LIKE PINCH WHEELS. It is a solvent to rubber. For pinch wheels I like 409, followed by a wipe with clean water.

For daily maintenance 90% or higher isopropyl alcohol works well, but is possibly not too good for rubber in the long term.
Dan "Doc B." Schmalle
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Managing Director - retired, The Tape Project

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2008, 03:16:45 PM »
If there is enough interest in the Last products and or services; (did you know they have a service which will dry and treat your tapes?) would it be worth the effort for a person of authority from TTP to approach LAST for the purpose of group rates/discounts on their tape/record products for Project members?
The large economy size of the tape treatment is $300 a bottle if I read the price list correctly. Zounds
Could prove to be another nice benefit of joining the Project; good clean sound forever!
As for an application apparatus, an rtr w/o a head block to get in the way and just tensioned arms and capstans/tape guides running at 3 3/4 would be ideal yes?
I seem to remember seeing photos of older film editing gear which was manually operated. Might be worth looking into for ideas keeping in mind carpal tunnel syndrome for the hand doing the cranking.
Just a thought or two.
I have no financial interest in LAST.
cv
 
« Last Edit: January 15, 2008, 05:55:03 PM by ceved »

Offline ironbut

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Re: A weekend of tweaking
« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2008, 06:25:49 PM »
I exchanged emails with Walter Davies, director of Research at last, and I don't believe they're still doing any sort of in house tape restoration. As far as a delivery system goes, I'm thinking more in the lines of a device that could be attached via suction cups to the just outside of the normal tape path that would divert the tape across a permeable membrane "head" with a capillary tube so some sort (maybe even just an eyedropper) that would contact the back of the membrane and keep it saturated. The tape preservative drys fast (if you wipe it on a piece of tape, you have to look pretty close to see a wet area about 1/8" behind the wipe) so the problem is keeping the applicator wet during the length of a tape. The foam tipped applicators included will hold enough for a 1800' 1/4" tape according to the instructions. Maybe it does. But it seems pretty bone dry by the end. So, being naturally skeptical of manufacturer's claims, what I do is to saturate the foam tip, place it as evenly as I can on the leader, and let 'er rip. I always have to adjust the angle of the foam and the amount that I let the applicator deflect the tape till I think I'm getting good contact with the full width of the tape. When it get about half way, I stop the tape and put more preservative on the foam tip. Before I restart the tape, I roll it back a couple of turns and once again hit rewind. This is followed by my "best guess" readjusting of the applicator again. As you can see, I might as well be measuring the stuff with a post hole digger and applying it with Anna Nichole's tampon (not too scientific if you get my drift). So, when I get some time, it can't be too tough to improve on that. The main bug I ran into the first time was finding some suction cups that are shallow enough to not raise the tape path too much.
BTW the reason for the suction cups is I want it to be adaptable to just about any machine.
steve koto
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