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Thread: Appreciate any advice from you experienced analog guys..

  1. #1
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    Appreciate any advice from you experienced analog guys..

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    I recently bought a Fostex model 80 8-track open reel recorder that I'm looking to restore. It hasn't arrived yet mind you, but I'm trying to plan ahead for what procedures might have to happen to get it running tip-top.

    The guy I bought it from says it works fine, and probably just needs a good cleaning. I've bought a head cleaning kit, demagnetizer, and some rubber cleaner for the pinch rollers, etc. I plan to give it a good cleaning and demagnetize the heads, then move on to the difficult task of aligning the heads.

    Any advice fellas? This is my first venture into analog. I have a fair amount of understanding, but any tips on care, maintainance, and especially that hideous task of aligning the heads would be appreciated.

    And speaking of aligning the heads.. Can I run test tones to the machine from my computer and have it suffice?

    Appreciate any help in advance from you analog gurus.

    Thanks!

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    Sounds like you've done your research. Assuming all the mechanical parts are in tact, the capstan belt is in good shape, and the pinch roller still grips you should have a fine machine.

    Aligning it will cost you though. You will need a reference tape in order to set the amplifiers to the proper reproduce and EQ settings. Once you know the machine is calibrated properly for reproduction, you can use one of your own tapes to calibrate the recording level and EQ. Reference tapes are still being manufactured by Magnetic Reference Labs (MRL) but will run you around $100.

    This thread has a lot of great information.

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    Just to be clear, there are really two main parts of an "alignment", the mechanical alignment (which is in two distinct chunks: adjusting the tape path so the tape runs center on the heads and isn't pulled/kinked/bound anywhere and isn't rubbing on the tape reel flanges, and adjusting the wrap, height, zenith and azimuth of the heads), and the electronic alignment (which is sort of in three distinct chunks: adjusting input levels to the deck and tape, adjusting output levels from tape, and adjusting the bias).

    Mechanical alignment:

    • Unless you are really having a problem, don't mess with the heads, and if you are having a problem and you know it is a head adjustment issue and you aren't comfortable messing with them, take it to a pro. Bad stuff can happen if you don't know what you are doing, and, depending on how the heads mount to the headblock it is possible or likely that the height and zenith are fixed (i.e. be careful not to blame a factor if it isn't even adjustable) and you can only mess with the wrap and azimuth...furthermore, if the deck hasn't been messed with and the heads have an even wear pattern that is an extra "leave me alone" sign.
    • A properly adjusted tape path is pretty key to a lot of factors, so I'd take a look at that. Your manual (BTW if you don't have one, get one. It will be your best friend) should tell you how to do this and in what order, but generally I adjust the height of the tape guides first so that the tape is running center on the heads, then I adjust the tension arm heights so that the tape pulls evenly and smoothly through the capstan shaft and pinch roller as well as over the other rollers (if applicable...tach, idler(s), etc.), and then lastly I adjust the height of the reel tables so that the tape winds center on the reel hubs and doesn't rub on the flanges. A reading/magnifying glass helps with this along with a good bright LED flashlight.


    Electronic alignment:

    Again, refer to your manual. If you want to get into this you will need some way to confirm levels going into and coming out of your deck using a known calibrated level meter. Otherwise you will have no way of confirming what reference level to which you are calibrating. You can use a good digital multimeter for this, but you need to confirm that the meter can handle the frequency bandwidth of the levels and frequencies you are testing. Most run-of-the-mill DMM's can't handle a very wide frequency band...they aren't built for audio applications. You can use your PC as a test tone generator. I do this and it works well, bearing in mind that you will need to be able to boost/attenuate the tone and have some way to confirm the level (in this case that would be -10dBu for your Model 80). Once you have a tone at a known level it is a matter of adjusting your levels to tape and adjusting the meters. You will need, as Avieth mentioned, a test or calibration tape for setting the output levels. You can do bias without a cal tape...check...the...manual. Did I say "best friend"?

    Now, does this sound like a lot?? Maybe a little overwhelming?

    Take it from me, unless you have a sick passion for tweakering, and as long as the deck looks good when you get it and more importantly if it sounds "good", use it for awhile. Get to know it. Do the things you mentioned (clean it up, demag it) and then try it out...otherwise you may spend 2 years in your precious spare time tweakering for questionable gain...I'm speaking from experience. Unless, as I said above, you have a sick passion for tweakering and part of the fun is learning how it all works and getting it into as good a condition as possible (I would be describing myself here), then try it out...have fun with it and you'll learn what really needs attention and you can go from there.

    What brand/make of demag unit did you get?

    Another tip: as an alternative to cotton swabs for cleaning, try 100% cotton makeup remover pads, the kind that look quilty. They do a better job of cleaning the nooks and crannies of the tape path than the swabs IMO. Not my idea, like everything in my head it came from somebody else.

    I understand why you referred to aligning as a "hideous" task. I was in quite the same shoes as you 2 years ago when I picked up a Tascam 58 and a 48. I've learned a ton in the past couple years. Best advice I received regarding that process several times along the way was "Take your time...take it one step at a time. Have fun...you'll get it." I guess that is reall 4 bits but they go together seamlessly.

    Now...how else can we help?

    Congrats on the purchase BTW, and welcome!

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    Wow, fellas. I appreciate the helpful responses. You guys are really pretty cool cats around these parts.

    As far as the demag, I bought a unit that came as part of a "reel to reel maintenance kit " - It basically comes with fluid for the rubber parts, head cleaner, swabs, and a demagnetizer.

    Will post pics shortly of the machine I have coming.

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    So you think I should just basically do a head cleaning and demag, and steer away from the calibration, provided the machine is working well?

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    Also...

    Appreciate the tip on the makeup pad too - I like that one, and I'm sure the wife has some in her makeup kit in the bathroom lol.

    I'm using Digidesign Pro Tools also. I would imagine that the best method for transfering reels to the pc would be by using the Mbox 2. The Fostex machine has rca outputs and inputs, but I have snakes on the way with TRS plugs on one end and rca on the other.

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    This is the deck I have coming:


  8. #8
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    Looks very clean.

    Remote and footswitch to boot to huh?

    I'll be interested in seeing pics of the tape path, heads and such if you can put some up.

    So you think I should just basically do a head cleaning and demag, and steer away from the calibration, provided the machine is working well?
    I guess what I'm saying is let it be innocent until proven guilty. Yeah...clean it up, demag it, and roll tape and see how it does. I'd say, unless there are glaring problems that relate to the electronics being out of spec, the first step would e checking the tape path alignment.

    Is the manual coming with it?

    And then next stepping into the electronic calibration a piece at a time.

    Regarding tape: what do you have for tape (what kind, how old, etc.)

    Can you put up a pic of the demag unit? I ask because there are a lot of demagnetizers floating around these days that just aren't up to the job. I want to make certain you don't have one of 'em.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sweetbeats View Post
    Looks very clean.

    Remote and footswitch to boot to huh?

    I'll be interested in seeing pics of the tape path, heads and such if you can put some up.



    I guess what I'm saying is let it be innocent until proven guilty. Yeah...clean it up, demag it, and roll tape and see how it does. I'd say, unless there are glaring problems that relate to the electronics being out of spec, the first step would e checking the tape path alignment.

    Is the manual coming with it?

    And then next stepping into the electronic calibration a piece at a time.

    Regarding tape: what do you have for tape (what kind, how old, etc.)

    Can you put up a pic of the demag unit? I ask because there are a lot of demagnetizers floating around these days that just aren't up to the job. I want to make certain you don't have one of 'em.
    Right on, man.

    Yes, the manual comes with it, as well. The guy who sold it to me says he acquired the machine in the original box, too. So I have pretty good faith in the fact that it's been looked after pretty fairly.

    Here is the reel-to-reel maintenance kit I bought:



    It doesn't look like anything superb - I just hope it does the job ok. Bought it from www.vintage-electronics.cc

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    Sorry to be the bearer of a negative opinion, but that demag unit is not up to the task. It'll handle a cassette deck, but it won't do an adequate job on even a 1/4" open-reel deck. That's my opinion, but it is based on experience. I have the exact same demag unit and it was worthless.

    You need something like this. It'll set you back $60 ~ $80, but it is worth it. I love mine. Something like a Teac E-3 or similar works well too, though the probe is not covered.
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