How To Fix A Broken 8-Track Tape

How An 8-Track Works

To fix some 8-track problems, it is very helpful to understand exactly how the 8-track system works. It's quite simple.
The 8-track player has a thin metal rod that spins around very fast. It is pressed against the pinch roller in the cartridge, and this moves the tape along at 3 3/4 inches per second. The tape passes over the pinch roller and into the cart shell, where it wraps around a single wheel. The tape is pulled from the inner most circle, closest to the hub of the wheel. It travels out of the left side of the top of the cartridge, where a foam pad or metal spring with foam on it keeps it snug against the play head of the tape player. It is a continuous loop; there is no stopping or end. The songs are divided into 4 sections ('programs'), each with a left and right channel; four programs x two channels = eight. On a stereo 8-track player, there are two thin strips on the play head which read the proper two tracks (the tape head actually moves up and down to get to the different programs).
The two ends of the "continuous loop" of tape are spliced together with a short (a little less than an inch) piece of metallic tape. When this point is reached, the metal in the splice completes an electrical circuit inside the machine which cause it to "change tracks," or move the play head for the next program of songs


How To Open The 8-Track Cartridge

There are but a few cartridge styles. No 8-track is impossible to open, though it can sometimes seem like it. This can cause a bit of cosmetic damage to the shell, but it won't affect play. If you're a collector whose main concern is preserving the condition of the cartridge, it would probably be best not to try to open it. Then again, if you're buying 8-tracks as kitschy collector's items with no intention of playing them, you shouldn't be buying them in the first place. The rest of us like to listen to them!
But enough editorializing. The main thing to remember when opening an 8-track is to do it right-side up. Do not open it upside down, because the tape will spill out everywhere, and you'll be spending an hour or two winding it all back and untangling it.

Fig. 2.1 Prying an interlocking tab

Perhaps the easiest carts to open are the Columbia TC8's. There are three tabs on the front of these that can be bent back with a screwdriver (Fig. 2.1); the top then lifts right off. Sometimes one (or more) of the tabs can break. Don't worry; with practice this gets easier, and if the top won't stay on because of some broken tabs, you can just tape the cart together after you're done inside.

Fig. 2.2 Unscrewing an 8-track case

Another easy type to open are the ones with a screw (sometimes 2) on the top of the 8-track. The biggest problem, of course, is that you generally have to poke a hole in the label to do this (which, again, doesn't affect play) (Fig. 2.2).

Fig. 2.3 Underside tab  Fig. 2.4 Prying a tab

A very common style of 8-track has tabs underneath the cart (usually 5) (Fig. 2.3). I use a small screwdriver to push one of the corner tabs back (Fig. 2.4), then do the others. Often it is just about impossible to get a tab pushed back enough; I usually pry the top off near the tab. Sometimes the tab breaks, sometimes it doesn't. With 5 places to secure the top to the bottom, though, a couple tabs won't make a difference.
Some 8-tracks, such as Capitol issues, have two flat tabs about a half an inch long, both usually on the underside of the cart. I often wind up breaking the case on these because the tabs frustrate me, but with patience it can be done right. Looking at the underside of the cart, with the end label pointed toward you, put a flat screwdriver into the slot near the far end. Push the screwdriver away from you; the tab is actually connected to the top of the cart, and you need to bend it toward you. The near-end tab is the one that gives me trouble. Sometimes you can make all your repairs without doing this one at all--by bending the cart open justenough. Remember to put the cart front-label up before taking it apart. When putting a cart with tabs back together, the tabs should simply snap back into place.
Sometimes an 8-track is simply held together by glue, around all the edges and/or on interlocking parts. These have to be pried apart, and, almost every time, taped back together (I suppose if you're confident enough in your repairs, you could reglue it).


Fig. 2.5 Underside of RCA 8-track        Fig. 2.6 RCA cart forced open

RCA carts are among the toughest to get in to. Either you rip half the case off (Fig. 2.6) or you drill out the screw thingy on the underside (Fig. 2.5) (the preferred method by far). Get a small drill bit, and carefully drill straight down into the screw. Eventually you will be able to easily take the top of the cart off and make your repairs. It will need to be taped back together. Fortunately, RCA tapes are well made, and many don't need any repairs.

In short, it's pretty easy to open an 8-track cartridge. It's generally some combination of poking, prying and mashing your fingers, but it gets to be second nature after a while. There are only a finite number of cartridge styles, and they really don't differ too much


The Foam Pad



Fig. 3.1 Two seemingly usable pads Fig. 3.2 Simulating what a player does Fig. 3.3 Squashed pad is no good

The foam must still be as resilient as it was the day it was made. If you push on it and it stays pushed down (Fig. 3.1-3.3), even a little, replace it. The foam presses the tape up against the play head in your player, and if it isn't doing its job, the sound can be muffled, go in and out, or slip to other tracks.


Fig. 3.4 Scrape off old pad         Fig. 3.5 Place new pads on stick



Fig. 3.6 Scotch tape for smooth passage         Fig. 3.7 Replace piece in cartridge

Sequence Fig. 3.4-3.7 shows how to replace a foam pad. Open the cart, take out the decayed foam pad, which is stuck to a thin white (usually) piece of plastic. Scrape the old foam off the plastic piece.

Fig. 3.8 Weatherstripping -- a lot for less than $2

Cut two small sections of weatherstripping (Fig. 3.8) and stick them to the back of the plastic piece. (I use the back, since the weatherstripping may stick better, and the old gunky foam on the other side can help stick the whole piece back into place.) Be sure to leave a space in the middle and on either end of the plastic part (this doesn't matter on all 8-tracks, but it does on most, and it's good to get in the habit). Some trackers recommend peeling off the paper layer from the foam, and cutting clear scotch tape to fit for smoother passage (Fig. 3.6). Clean out any leftover foam decay from the cart and place the piece back in, making sure that it goes into the grooves (if any).

Fig. 3.9 Foam mounted on metal springs

Some 8-tracks have their foam mounted on metal springs. This foam--actually a sort of felt pad--usually doesn't decompose, but it does tend to come unglued and get lost. To replace one, just glue it back on with a drop of superglue, or, if the pad is long gone, get a roll of weatherstripping about half the thickness of the stuff pictured above, and cut a small square and stick it right on the metal plate (Fig. 3.9). Put the metal piece back in place, and there you are.


The Splice


Fig. 4.1 One of the most common problems--and easiest to fix

The splice holds together the ends of the tape, making the 8-track's "continous" loop. It is a piece of metal foil with adhesive backing, and this adhesive, over time, can come undone and fall off, interrupting the loop (Fig. 4.1). This is generally what has happened when someone complains that their 8-track tape "broke." It's the most common and most simple repair.


Fig. 4.2 Discard this old splice, if it's still in the cartridge

Once you've located the place where the splice goes (which, if the tape has come undone while you were playing it, is right there already), discard the old splice (Fig. 4.2) and cut a new piece. Be sure not to cut it too long, as that will cause the 8-track to change two or more programs at once. Then join the two ends of the tape and making the loop continuous again.


Fig. 4.3 A splicing block aids in straigher joins          Fig. 4.4 A good splice is barely noticeable on the underside

To make sure it's lined up just right, you can use a splicing block, available from Radio Shack (Fig. 4.3), but it's not necessary. Press hard so it sticks good! The most important thing when replacing the splice is that the metal foil faces outward, visible when the tape case is closed (it has to face the player during play). Some trackers suggest also putting a piece of foil on the back of the connection, to make the splice stronger. Wind the tape back on the reel if necessary (by pulling from the inner part of the wheel) (Fig. 4.5) and you've replaced the splice.

Fig. 4.5 Pull the tape (red arrow) and it will wind itself back on (blue)

Tightly Wound Tape

Some 8-tracks won't turn, because the tape seems to be wound too tightly on the hub. This problem seems insurmountable but it's actually easy to remedy.
Open the cart and snip the tape near the inner hub, leaving a small piece sticking out. Unwind the tape from the outside of the wheel. About 2 feet should do it--it depends on how tight it is. Reattach the tape on the back (not on the music side!), making sure that the tape hasn't become twisted like a Moebius strip. Then pull the tape from the inner hub. It may be a little tight at first, so be gentle but firm. As you pull, make sure the tape is being wound correctly (i.e., straight and flat) onto the outer edge. Since the "takeup" outer edge is bigger than the inner edge you're pulling from, the tape will eventually be wound back and the two feet you pulled out will be back in place
This should do the trick; if not, repeat the process as necessary. Make sure it moves okay for a little ways, then put the case back together. Also, if the tape becomes tight again after a few plays, repeat this process. Eventually, even the tightest tapes will become obedient to your caring, gentle and knowing 8-track hands.

Accordioned And Curled Tape


Fig. 6.1 Creased, mangled tape     Fig. 6.2 Curled tape 


"Accordioned" tape (Fig. 6.1) is just what it sounds like--tape that has backed up while in a player and bent and creased, seemingly to death. Not so! Accordioned tape, as well as "curled" tape (Fig. 6.2) can be restored to showroom condition very easily.

For this repair you will need a clothing iron. Set the iron on a low setting. To iron tape, it is necessary to cut the tape and unwind it from the wheel as far as the mangled part of the tape goes. Slowly (but not too slowly) and steadily pull the tape across the edge of the iron. The tape will be flat, and good as new. If there are still some creases, repeat the process. Obviously, the most important thing to remember when making this repair is to not burn the tape. As long as you don't let one section of the tape sit too long on the iron this shouldn't be a problem.

To replace the long string of (flat) tape, just wind the wheel clockwise, and make sure the loose tape goes along the outer edge properly. When you get to the end, put a small section of splicing tape on the back to repair the cut you made. Do not use normal scotch tape to repair a splice, because it can gum up over time and cause more problems. Put back together and enjoy!


Gooey Pinched Rollers


Fig. 7.1 Unusable, dangerous gooey pinch roller            Fig. 7.2 The offending muck. It ruins players

The pinch roller is the rubber or plastic wheel, a little less than an inch in diameter, inside the 8-track tape. Over time, the rubber ones sometimes decompose into a delicate, sticky mess (Fig. 7.1). If you put an 8-track with a gooey pinch roller in your player, the stuff (Fig. 7.2) will get everywhere, all on the insides of the player, and cleanup will be a very long process. In short, it is crucial that you replace decomposed pinch rollers before inserting a tape!

Fig. 7.3 Visual inspection for sliminess

To see if the roller is bad, sometimes you need only look at it. If it looks wet or gooey, it is (Fig. 7.3). After opening the cart up, carefully lift it off of its spindle and throw it away. Try not to touch it too much with your fingers, or let it touch the tape. Now clean every bit of the stuff off of the 8-track case; I use Q-tips and an alcohol/water solution (Fig. 7.4) (plain water would probably also do the trick). Don't be afraid to go through dozens of Q-tips getting the stuff off; it's worth it. You even need to clean the tape itself off, which more than likely touched the goo. Be sure everything is dry, then get a pinch roller from an unused cart (it doesn't have to be rubber. There is a debate over rubber and plastic wheels, so use your own judgement. I prefer rubber since plastic ones tend to slip during play). Make sure it's the same size (inner circumference, outer circumference, diameter and thickness) within reason, and drop it onto the spindle. Make sure the roller spins okay.

Fig. 7.4 Get ALL the goo off


Back To Totally 70's

Back To 8-Track FlashBack