Bringing old cassettes back from the dead

Reader Craig Smith sent me an email about this recent little fix he discovered for time-worn cassettes:

I was in my basement shop when I found a box of cassette tapes that were the soundtrack to my youth. Since the seldom-used tape deck was removed from the upstairs entertainment center, I set it up in my workshop system. But something was wrong. So many of the tapes sounded flat and warbled. Turns out that many of the felt pads that keep the tape tight against the playback head had fallen off and were missing.

The solution: I rummaged around until I found some thick stick-on felt pads that often come with ready to assemble furniture. After some trial and error, I cut a rectangle about 3mm by 4mm. Peeling off the adhesive backing paper, I put it in place with a pair of tweezers. Since my tweezers are somehow magnetized, I did it with the clear plastic leader pulled away at the end of the tape. The sound is as good as I remember. Time will tell if the adhesive surface will hold, or if a dab of glue is required. VIVA LA 1980s!


7 thoughts on “Bringing old cassettes back from the dead

  1. I do some audio restoration as a hobby, what I have been doing if the cassette itself is in rough shape is buy a blank tdk tape and swap the actual tapes
    but i think the felt swap looks like a good temp solution!!
    thanks for sharing

  2. I’ve been doing this kind of repair on some of my 8-track tapes for a while now. There are two types of 8-track though. Some use the metal tab with felt, and others use a piece of foam to press the tape against the head. This foam deteriorates and must be completely replaced with foam weatherstripping of a comparable size. Once I do these repairs, I get many more years of use out of a tape that was otherwise unplayable.

  3. Thanks for sharing this! So many of the best Chicago house mixes only came on cassette, so my collection is vast (and needs to be digitized), but this trick will no doubt come in handy. Reading this post made me relive hours of taking out those little cassette screws and putting ripped cassette tape back together using scotch tape :) Too bad you can’t really do “repairs” on MP3s!

  4. I just ran across the same problem. I had some cassettes from the early 70s, Fortunately I had 1000s of cassettes, so I just used some duds, removed the pads and used contact cement to replace to the cassette I wanted to fix. Worked great! Of course I just threw the old cassette in the trash. Luckily I probably have 50 or so I don’t care about saving anyway, but I’m glad I did.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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