How to Clean and Fine-Tune a Tape Deck
By Gabriel Torres on June 19, 2012
Before we can teach you how to connect a tape deck to your PC in order for you to convert your old cassette tapes into MP3 files or CDs, we need to teach you how to clean and fine-tune it, so you will get the best audio quality. Let’s get down to it.
The tools you will need are a few cotton swabs (“Q-tips”), alcohol (isopropyl is the recommended kind), and a small (i.e., number one) Philips screwdriver for the azimuth adjustment.
In Figure 1, you can see the tape deck we are going to use in this tutorial. If your equipment has two decks like ours, you have to decide if you want to clean both decks or only the one you are going to actually use to play the tapes. In our case, we decided to clean only the right-side deck, so the pictures will reflect this choice.
The first step is to open the deck you want to clean by pressing the corresponding “eject” button.
On virtually all tape decks, you can remove the front plastic lid to help with the cleaning process; we recommend that you remove this lid. In order to do that, simply hold the lid and lift it up, as shown in Figure 3.
Looking inside the tape compartment, you will see one or two heads and one or two rollers, depending on your tape deck model. On our tape deck, there were two rollers and only one head, as shown in Figure 4.
You will need to make the tape deck lift the head(s) and roller(s) so that you can clean them. On most tape decks, you will need to press a mechanical sensor located at the upper left corner and press the “rec” button. However, on old tape decks where the buttons are mechanically connected to the head assembly, the “rec” and the “play” buttons must be pressed simultaneously. See Figure 4. This should be done with the tape deck turned on so that its motor spins during the process. On some tape decks, you won’t be able to remove your finger from the sensor, because when you do, the tape deck “thinks” there is no tape inside the deck and automatically stops the motor.
The next step is to get a cotton swab (“Q-tip”) wet in alcohol and clean the head(s) by rubbing the cotton swab against it/them. After cleaning the head(s), get a new wet cotton swab and clean the roller that will be spinning. This should be done by touching the roller away from the existing metallic rod; otherwise, the roller will “eat” the cotton swab. As you can see in Figure 4, this means that you will be touching the roller on its right-hand side. Keep cleaning the roller until you don’t get any black stuff coming out of the roller. You may need to use a few cotton swabs wet in alcohol until the roller is completely clean.On tape decks with two rollers, you will notice that only one of the rollers will be spinning, and that the right-side roller will be dirtier than the left-side one, as it is used more often. To clean the other roller, you must press the “reverse side” button of the deck. (On some tape decks, this button has the same icon as the “play” button, but poiting to the left instead of to the right.) If such a button is not available, don’t worry. As long as you clean the right-side roller, you are good to go.
One adjustment that can be optionally done to improve audio quality is called azimuth, which is the adjustment of the angle between the read/write head and the tape. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the procedure described below, don’t be concerned. It is not absolutely necessary, but you may want to try it.
For this adjustment, you will need to play the tape you want to convert to the digital format, and the tape deck must be connected to an amplifier (a.k.a. “receiver”) still with the front lid removed from the cassette compartment.
Looking closely at the front of the tape deck, you will notice one or two screws below where the read/write head is located. See Figure 5.
The adjustment consists of playing the tape and listening to it while you move the screw slightly to the left or to the right with a Philips screwdriver until you get the best sound quality out of your tape. It is important to memorize the screw’s original position, just in case you want to return it to that position.
After finding the best adjustment for your tape, press the “stop” button and place the compartment lid back into place.
You may repeat the cleaning and azimuth adjustment for the second deck if you have a dual-deck model.
Your tape deck is now clean and adjusted, and you are ready to connect it to your computer to convert your tapes to the digital format, which is the subject of our next tutorial.