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Beginners Guide to Tape Recorder Basics

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Welcome novices and perts alike.
The purpose of this thread is to disseminate basic information and knowledge to those individuals new to the tape recording format or those wishing to refresh their expertise from earlier encounters with the rtr format.
If you feel as though you don't quite know what you are doing, how to do what you need/want to do, or not quite sure what a term or phrase means then this is the thread for you.

Yes, this is Tape Recorders 101.
We are trying to establish a data resource contained in one thread so that all the information/questions novices are likely to need/ask will be easy to locate whether it has to do with how to add leader, demagnetizing, to what 'tails out' means let alone how to do it, prepping your latest used tape for its' first spin. In other words everything.

While we novices may have the questions, we need you experts to throw us a life perserver in the way of an answer or a link.  So if you know the ropes, please lend a hand as it can be very exasperating when you are just starting out.

To get things going, I would like to bring to your attention a nifty little book I recently purchased on Ebay entitled 'How to Make Good Tape Recordings'
The Author is C.J. Le Bel and the publisher is Audio Devise Inc. copyright 1958.
It is really a basic primer and would be a wonderful acquisition for your library especially if you are just starting out.
If I can figure out how to scan the pages without breaking the spine, I will be happy to make it available for posting here on the TP.
Do you have a resource that you know of or own which would be helpful to a TP novice?

In summation if you have a question, problem, curiosity about any aspect of 'taping', and do not know where to turn?
All those 'stupid' questions you were reluctant to ask are not only welcome, but expected here.
Aunty Em there really is no place like home!
This is your thread!

I found a copy of "How to Make Good Tape Recordings" by googling it. Anyone interested in a copy can find it here;
I've had great results finding out of print stuff over on Amazon too.
If any of the other members would like to jump in and write a bit about tape recorder basics, be my guest. Since we are trying to give new users their wings as soon a possible, please try and link to illustrations whenever possible. Remember, you can always edit your posts at a latter date. So if you're like me, and know that you've seen something that you really want to add, don't sweat it (you may have noticed that almost all my longer posts have been edited). And if any of you know that myself or others have made mistakes in our advice, please correct us. We want this stuff to be very accurate. If you feel weird about correcting someone publicly, PM them (I don't know about other members, but I use the Private Message feature all the time). There will be things that are peculiar to specific machines which no one without that machine will know about. That's important to include too.

This is the beginning of a great thread but could be missed by many if it remains under Tape Project Albums.  It deserves its own title, if not a dedicated section.  I, too, need all the help I can get.

I thought that I'd start this guide with a discussion of the heads since it's the interface between them and the tape that makes it all happen. It's also this interface that makes the difference between a poor performing machine and the very best. Almost every consumer or pro-sumer (machines that attempt to bridge the gap between consumer and professional machines) include recording and playback facilities. Most are 3 head machines and the usual order of the heads (in the direction of the tape during playback) is erase, record and playback. This order is done for a reason. When recording,  erase head clears or deletes any sound that's already on the tape so the record head can imprint the music that you want on the tape. The playback head is last in line so you can hear or monitor what's just been recorded on the tape.
For this post, we'll concentrate on the playback head only since it's the only one that's important for playing the Tape Project tapes.

Track configurations on heads

By ironbut at 2008-08-25 photo courtesy of Richard Hess 2001
Ignoring the embedded text regarding the 8 and 16 track machines( on another photo not included) we can see a good illustration of how the tracks on a four channel machine are spaced. The head in the middle is the record head and the one on the right is the playback head.
These are 4 channel heads as opposed to stereo which of course is 2 channel. This head assembly would record and playback in one direction only on the entire width of the tape. If we were to number the tracks(channels) 1-4 starting with the top and counting down keep an eye on tracks 1 and 3. Most of the older tapes that you buy on eBay that are labeled 4 track (1/4 track) stereo. If we were to superimpose a photo of the heads of a 1/4 track machine you'd see that the tracks on those heads would line up with tracks 1 and 3. The one that lines up with track 1 is always the left channel and the one that lines up with track 3 is aways the right channel (this is important to remember for chasing down pesky problems so just remember that the top track is always the left channel in 1/4 track stereo ( I usually refer to 4 track stereo as 1/4 track to keep it clear that I'm not talking about 4 channel). When you play a 1/4 track tape and finish side one, you flip the tape over. So when you play side two, you're playing what was tracks 2 and 4. That's why a 1/4 track head's track marks look a little offset toward the top with a big space between them. So, a 1/4 track stereo tape does indeed have 4 tracks, but the it's divided into 2 tracks in one direction and 2 in the other direction. A 1/4 track head only has 2 tracks and relies on you to turn the tape over to reveal the other two tracks. If the tape were to slip up or down (on a 1/4 track tape), the other two tracks would be audible which would be pretty obvious because their sound would be in reverse. Of course, if the heads were to shift up or down it would also start to playback the other two tracks in reverse. As you might guess, the adjustment of the head up and down is important. Strangely enough, this head adjustment is called "height".

Next 1/2 track heads

Where the rubber hits the road? Dude, maybe you need new pinch rollers...


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