MOISTURIZING ACETATE BACKED TAPE
Encountering an acetate backed tape that has been stored for several years will
almost guarantee problems. As noted in my article “ANALOG TAPE”, cupping is a
common problem with acetate tapes that have been stored for a long time.
Winding problems are also common. Both problems are caused by the tape
losing moisture over time. Here are some remedies that have worked.
Place some moistened (damp, not wet) cotton balls in the corners of the box with
the tape. I use distilled water for moistening the cotton. Make sure that the
moistened cotton does not touch the tape and leave it overnight. Upon checking
the tape, look for how much has been absorbed by from the cotton. Check a
couple of layers of tape if you think it is warranted. If progress is being made,
repeat as many as two or three times. If not, try Method #2.
This involves building a closed system whereby the tape is suspended over water.
I used a portable BBQ (Tailgate type) that was cheap and it included a lid that fit
well. I simply placed the tapes on the grille and filled the area where the coals
normally go with distilled water (after sealing the pan area). You can leave the
tape(s) in this environment for weeks or months if necessary so be sure that all of
the water doesn’t evaporate. In my situation, the process took about 3 to 4 weeks
as I recall. It was long enough that the barbecue pan began to rust and I threw the
whole thing out when done. The tapes however, were playable.
I’ve heard from people that have used plastic storage containers or large kitchen
cookware steamers for hydrating acetate tapes. In fact, I’ve been keeping an eye
out for just such a large steamer at the local thrift stores so that I can add it to my
stash of “I will need this someday” items.
Wind the tape inside out (B wind). To do this, simply put a twist in the tape while
winding from one reel to another. The result will be oxide out. Use a slotless hub
reel if you have one. Otherwise, attach some leader to the end of the tape so that
the leader acts as a buffer against a slotted hub. While you are at it, attach some
leader to the head end of the tape so that it protects the outer wraps. Avoid the
(stationary) lifters on your tape deck and wind the tape directly from one reel to
the other. Use your hand to control the winding speed and tape tension.
Protecting the “speed and tension control” hand with some cloth or a cotton glove
is necessary when winding directly from one reel to another. A “B” wind can
neutralize some of the deformity that is encountered with acetate tape that has
been stored for a long time. Be mindful of the oxide at all times. This method will
put more stress on the oxide layer so if the “cupping” is severe, this method could
loosen the oxide and cause flaking. If that happens, it’s game over. This method
takes time, three months or longer and, can be used by itself or combined with
methods 1 or 2 if you wish. It took a long time for the tape to become deformed in
the first place, so it will take some time to reverse the situation. Sometimes this
method will work better than humidification. It all depends on the condition of the
I have only used method #3 once because customers usually don’t want to wait
for the time it can take. As such, I usually have to warn them that the returned
tape will not be wound as smoothly as when it was delivered.
TRANSFERRING WARPED TAPE
Head contact is a real problem with warped tapes so I will add some extra
pressure to the play head to help the situation (yes, this will increase head wear).
I use an artist paint brush for this process. I also use “Helping Hands” alligator
clips to keep a constant pressure (Figs. 1 & 2 below) so that I don’t have to hold
the brush for the duration.
Fig. 1 “Helping Hands”
Fig. 2 Positioning of “Tension” brush
© Corey Bailey
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