When the deck arrives after being purchased, it is given a complete evaluation on the bench to determine what, if anything, may be wrong. This includes checking record and playback functions, fast-forward and rewind, meter action, lights, tape lifters, and heads, as well as noises and audio hum. If anything needs repair or replacement, parts are ordered and the major refurbishing can then be started. Parts are readily available from several very reputable suppliers.
The refurbishing process starts with a thorough cleaning of the entire deck. First, all covers and side panels are removed. With these out of the way, all dust, dirt, and cobwebs are vacuumed out and the inner-workings of the deck can be completely exposed. Circuit boards are then cleaned using very light compressed air as well as mild cleaning agents that are made for electronics. An extensive use of Q-tips are used to ensure that all dirt and grime are removed from not only the electrical parts, but also from all of the mechanical servos, levers, springs and various mounting devices. Whether it be a 'turbine' or a blade-style fan on the rear of the capstan motor, it is removed and scrubbed at this time, along with the oiling of all motors. It is also the time when brake ssemblies are dissassembled and cleaned.
Switches and controls (pots) are also cleaned at this time using a cleaner designed specifically for that purpose. Most front panels are removed to gain access to push buttons and it is at this time that all of the deck's control knobs are scrubbed clean with soap and brush. Meter faces are cleaned, as well as the polishing and aligning of tape guides and spinners. And as a final act in the process, cover screws, as well as all input/output jacks are given a coat of polish for a final touch.
The reel to reel manufacturers of several decades ago took great pride in the appearance of their decks. All five of the prime corporations, TEAC, AKAI, PIONEER, SANSUI and SONY put their heart and soul into the design and finish of the cabinets they buit for their machines. I, too, ensure that these beautiful wood cabinets on every deck I refurbish go out with the finest appearance possible.
A thorough inspection is given to all circuit boards for discolored resistors and leaking capacitors, which are then replaced. Once the defective mechanical and electrical components have been addressed, then work begins on restoring the deck to its original audio specifications. A variety of test equipment is employed in this process, as well as a systematic approach to the final goal of having it sound like new when it is finished.
Each deck's wooden cabinet is first cleaned then lightly gone over with steel wool. Continuing in the process, I may, if needed, re-stain all of the wood with the appropriate color of stain, and finally treat it with a high-grade preservative. This will ensure that it will give you lasting beauty and durability from the moment it arrives.
Some decks have only wooden sides, and after many years of use they are scuffed and scratched to the point that it makes pure aesthetic sense to replace them.
I have listed below the steps that the process entails as it is easier to understand in bullet form. I have also included a series of pictures from various decks that I've taken through the alignment steps.
- Playback head azimuth adjustment
- Specified output level setting (this is done to ensure that you record and playback a tape at the proper level according to industry standards)
- VU meter levels are set.
- Frequency response is checked.
- Phone jack output level is checked
- Minimum input level setting set
- Specified input level set
- Bias adjustment set
- Record head azimuth adjustment
- Record level set
- Overall frequency response
- Erase efficiency
- Several times in the process, wow and flutter, as well as drift is also checked
- Signal-to-noise ratio checked
- Finally, an extensive check of playback and record functions in different formats of various types of music.
As one can see, there are numerous things that must be done to ensure that the deck will perform well once it gets to the consumer. Just replacing a pinch-roller and a couple of belts, and setting some levels does not constitute a refurbished unit. It will help, no doubt, but since all of these are heavily interwoven, they all must be checked in a certain order to attain peak performance.
Pictures of some of the inner workings of the decks can be found on the following page.