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 base tapes that have been stored for a long time.
As a result, winding problems can occur. The 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 that it is warranted. If progress is being made,
repeat as many as two or three times. If not, try Method #2 or #3.
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. After sealing the pan area, I simply placed the tapes on the grille and put
some distilled water in the sealed area where the coals normally go. 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 base 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.
If the tape is not badly cupped, 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 one 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. While 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 and should not be
used. 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 and sometimes this method works best in conjunction with process
1 or 2. It all depends on the condition of the tape.
I have only used method #3 a few times because customers usually don’t want to
wait for the time it can take. As such, I usually had to warn them that the returned
tape may not be wound as smoothly as when it was delivered.
TRANSFERRING WARPED TAPE
Head contact is a real problem with warped or cupped 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) and 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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