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OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes #2997206 07/04/19 04:11 AM
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Moonglow Offline OP
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I was digging in my momís basement and ran across some reel-to-reel tapes that contain recordings my dad made of his wedding/dance band back in the early-mid 1960ís. So I fired up the old Wollensak he used to make the recordings (located in same basement, which to my surprise still worked) and listened to the tapes. While I had to fully crank the volume...and even then it wasnít nearly loud enough...I came away from the project feeling the recordings were somehow salvageable.

My next step is exploring what is needed to convert the recordings to alternate media, and how to go about doing that. Has anyone undertaken such a project? Should I go at this myself or leave it to the professionals? Iím not opposed to purchasing some equipment, if itís not crazy expensive...Iím thinking once the recordings are converted Iíll have little use for it...not sure. You see I donít know what I donít know. Thanks in advance for any guidance!


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Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997213 07/04/19 04:59 AM
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mate stubb Offline
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One thing to consider is to stabilize the oxide on the tapes by sending them away to have them professionally baked. Otherwise they may play once and disintegrate.


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Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: mate stubb] #2997217 07/04/19 05:38 AM
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Originally Posted by mate stubb
One thing to consider is to stabilize the oxide on the tapes by sending them away to have them professionally baked. Otherwise they may play once and disintegrate.


This if they are a particular brand that is prone to shedding. Check the brand of tapes you have against the list of likely brands that would exhibit this problem:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sticky-shed_syndrome

Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997226 07/04/19 07:47 AM
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There's plenty of experienced folks on this forum that could answer your question in detail. I suggest you take pictures of this projector, including nameplate with serial and model #/name, as well as any audio outputs, which I would guess would be RCAs. And the exact specifications of the tape, as it's probably written on the box.

It depends too on how many of these tapes there are. If there's just a few, then taking it to pros with the right equipment could be expedient and cost effective. But, if you have quite a few tapes you're interested in, you might be able to rent some equipment. And keep in mind that oftentimes equipment like this has no use for hardly anybody, like owning a typewriter, so you may be able to find something you could do this on for very little money.

The thing about reel-to-reel machines is that they can be in need of calibration, and at the very least, for the heads to be clean. But the beauty of it is that once you digitize, you've got many long term storage options that won't deteriorate like tape does. And once its digitized you can put it thru any number of programs to de-hiss/noise and otherwise 'master' the recording. But in my experience it's an uphill battle even with those tools, so you're best off trying to capture as much quality sound from the original instead of automatically thinking you can 'fix it in the mix'.


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Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997253 07/04/19 02:13 PM
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Moonglow Offline OP
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Thanks for the replies!

It's a Wollensak Model # T-1515 (Serial # 52070). It appears to be a model before the 3M company took over. It's advertised as a "twin track recorder" and indeed, I discovered an A-B dial near the tape head that allowed me to select between two tracks that were recorded on a single tape. It features 3 3/4 and 7 1/2 tape speeds. The back panel has Input Microphone, Pre-Amp Output, External Speaker, and Stereo Pre-Amp jacks. All of the jacks are 1/4" except for the Stereo Pre-Amp jack which is 1/8". Below are a couple of pics. They are not of my dad's machine, but appear to be the identical make/model.

[Linked Image]

[Linked Image]

The tape is "Stotch Magnetic Tape 141 Tartan Series."

[Linked Image]

I'm already starting to feel I should hand this off to the pros...


"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
- George Bernard Shaw
Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997254 07/04/19 02:19 PM
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About 10 years ago I digitized several hours of recordings my father had made in the 60s. He died in '66. He liked to record himself singing traditional songs and playing his J-45. He used a Wollensak T-524. It was a budget machine that came with a pretty crappy hand-held microphone which he would lay on the table or bed.

If you are intent on doing this yourself, do not use the Wollensak. Your recordings will be altered by the defects it has accumulated over the years. Rather, see if you can borrow a high quality machine with adjustable heads. The playback head can be tweaked to get the best audio. Another option might be to try a local college with an audio production program, or a college radio station. They might be willing to do the transfer for you.

I don't recall what I used to digitize the audio. It might have been a Focusrite Scarlett or maybe even a PC sound card. In my case, the recordings were so full of hum, buzz and other artifacts that it hardly mattered.

Edit: I used an Edirol R-09.

At time I used a software called Cool Edit Pro to clean it up and apply some EQ, but primarily it was to get rid of huge amounts of 60 cycle hum and its harmonics. Today, I would load the wav files into Reaper or some other DAW to do the cleanup. There are many more processing tools available then I had then. In fact, I still have the digitized masters and may do just that. twothumbs

BTW, it was this one:
[Linked Image]



Last edited by elseif; 07/04/19 02:48 PM.
Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997255 07/04/19 02:21 PM
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harmonizer Offline
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If it was recorded in "stereo" (two separate tracks), even it was really a mono capture of the band, you might have cases where there is a "fallout" that only impacts one channel. Copying the sound from one track to the other for that short time interval might produce a more listenable result.

The final result will sound better with some mastering.

But these two points above are things that can be done once you have moved this audio into a digital format. And in the case of the fixing single-track fallouts, this can take a lot of patience.

Then there is the question of how to convert these tapes to digital. If you are convinced the Wollensak is in primo shape, and there were no issues with the tapes possibly falling apart, you could just do the capture to digital by taking a line out (1 or 2 lines?) into a multitrack recorder, or into a decent A/D converter (which can be found in many of the decent standalone preamps - you might already own one), and then into your computer, and use a program like Audacity (or a pro mixing tool software, or you have such an app). For the capture to digital,the fidelity achieved will depend on how well the original recording was done, what shape your tape deck is in now for the playback, and (much less, in my opinion) the quality of the A/D converter you use to get this into your computer. Whether you use Audacity or a pro mixing app to enable to initial conversion/capture to digital will have almost no bearing on the fidelity of your initial digital capture..

But when was the last time the head on the Wollensak was demagnetized? In what condition is the rubber wheel which pinches the tape against the metal capstan, to insure the tape is pulled at a consistent speed so you do not get wow and flutter? You can clean the rubber wheel and capstan and the tape head with a q-tip and rubbing alcohol, if you know what you are doing, but if the rubber wheel has hardened, cleaning it will not remedy that.

Full disclosure: I have zero experience with decades-old reel-to-reel tapes, and how they hold up.

Last edited by harmonizer; 07/04/19 02:22 PM.
Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997271 07/04/19 03:58 PM
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Shouldn't he just use a tape emulation plug-in? idk


wink


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Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997286 07/04/19 06:43 PM
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Check in your area there might be a studio the offers a transfer service and get the old tapes transferred to digital. Tape goes bad with time, but once in a digital format it will be a lot easier to save copies in a format you will be able to play much easier. Once in a digital format will be easy to process to clean up the recording.

Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997391 07/05/19 08:32 PM
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Moonglow Offline OP
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Update:

Just called five local recording studios and not one had a reel-to-reel tape machine. A couple of them said if I brought in a machine they could do it, but other than the Wollensak (which I'm hesitant to use) I have none. So my next step is to ask some friends if they have one, or try to purchase a used one. Any suggested brands and/or technical specifications (e.g., tape speed selection) needed for this project? Thanks again!


"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
- George Bernard Shaw
Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997434 07/06/19 03:19 AM
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Ampex 600 or 601 was a two track (some were one full width track broadcast quality tape recorder, no speaker, just line out. Since they are 50's and early 60's vintage, don't know if you will find a used one. They continued for quite a while and most of their products would likely be good quality. There was a similar model that had two preamps and could do stereo, but I don't remember the exact model number.

A company named Magnecorder also built a lot of the earlier radio/tv studio recorders.

Later, Tascam built some pretty decent equipment. Also Fostex and Tandberg. Check EBay, although you probably would want to actually look at a purchase to check condition..


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Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997435 07/06/19 03:58 AM
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hey Chris -
I have a Studer A807 in my museum.
https://therecorderman.com/en/registratori/A807-VU.php
I'll be happy to help if we can work out the logistics.
Send me a PM


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Re: OT: Salvaging Old Reel-To-Reel Tapes [Re: Moonglow] #2997444 07/06/19 05:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Moonglow
Update:

Just called five local recording studios and not one had a reel-to-reel tape machine. A couple of them said if I brought in a machine they could do it, but other than the Wollensak (which I'm hesitant to use) I have none. So my next step is to ask some friends if they have one, or try to purchase a used one. Any suggested brands and/or technical specifications (e.g., tape speed selection) needed for this project? Thanks again!


You are more likely to find what you need (a well maintained analog two track tape machine) at a mastering studio, not necessarily a recording studio. A good mastering engineer sees analog tapes far more than a typical modern recording studio. They often will also have the convection oven needed for baking if the need arises, or at the very least know where to send the tapes to do that work.

Not sure where in Indiana you are, but this chap in Bloomington looks to have a machine, and has experience working with analog. There might be more, but he came up on a quick google search: http://mahernaudio.com

Last edited by zxcvbnm098; 07/06/19 06:00 AM.

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