recorders from the ClydeSight collection.
These units are NOT for sale
Wollensak 1288 reel to reel tape recorder from 1965 - with hybrid tube/transistor
amplifier. 3-watt/channel. Stereo 4-track, 2 speeds 7-1/2 and 3-3/4
ips, 1 combo erase/rec/play head,
capacity. 1-motor, double idler drive.
Power assist controls, walnut woodgrain cabinet. External speakers. Moderately
heavy 28 lbs
here to see videos of this tape recorder restoration!
TEAC 4010-SL reel to reel tape "deck" (no amplifier or speakers),
Stereo 4-track, 2 speeds 7-1/2 and 3-3/4 ips, 3 heads, bi-directional
playback, 7-1/2" reel
capacity. 3-motors, belt drive.
Polished reflective metal face plate, woodgrain cabinet.
Extremely heavy - 50 lbs
here to watch YouTube video of this machine!
Lloyd's portable cassette recorder in leather outer case, circa 1967.
2-track, 1 speed 1-7/8 ips, 2 heads, unidirectional, standard compact
cassette. 1 motor, belt drive. Battery and AC power.
Light weight, 3 lbs with batteries.
here to watch YouTube video of this machine!
early Webcor home reel to reel vintage tape recorder, circa 1952.
Mono, 2-track, 2 speeds
7-1/2 and 3-3/4 ips, 4 heads, bi-directional record and playback, 7-1/2" reel
capacity. 2 motors, idler drive, tube
heavy, 45 lbs.
portable RCA reel to reel vintage tape recorder circa 1970.
Mono, 2-track, 2 speeds
3-3/4 and 1-7/8 ips (capstan sleeve change), 2 heads, unidirectional, 3-1/4" reel
capacity. 1 motor, belt drive.
Battery and AC power.
Moderately heavy 5 lbs with batteries.
portable Granada reel to reel vintage tape recorder circa 1967.
2-track, 2 speeds 3-3/4 and 1-7/8 ips (capstan sleeve change), 2 heads, unidirectional,
" reel capacity (3-1/4" reels shown here). 1 motor, idler drive.
Battery and AC powered. Polished "chrome" face
plate, all wood cabinet,
Moderately heavy 8 lbs with batteries.
here to watch YouTube video of this machine!
reel to reel tape recorder is a piece of audio equipment that records and
plays back sound via a spool of magnetic tape. The full spool is loaded onto
the machine (usually on the left side) and the tape is "threaded" past
a recording and playback head assembly (which records or reads the magnetic
patterns on the tape) and capstan/pinch roller assembly (a steel shaft that
ensures constant tape motion) to an empty "take
up" reel which collects the tape and winds it. The magnetic tape, usually
made of extremely thin plastic (polyester, acetate or mylar) has a magnetic
oxide coating. During recording, as the tape passes over the record head,
electromagnetic alterations rearrange the magnetic orientation of the oxide
particles on the tape, forming a pattern. During playback, a read head (often
the same as the recording head) electromagnetically senses the variations
in the magnetic particles on the tape and passes the alterations to an amplifier
circuit, and the result is sound.
has a good basic
article on the reel to reel tape recorder, and the Web site "How
Stuff Works" has a detailed explanation
of this sound recording process, focusing
on the cassette format which, due
to greater convenience and smaller size, replaced the reel to reel format
in the home recording arena starting in the late 1960's.
1950, the reel to reel tape recorder market was big business. These machines
still exist today and are popular in the vintage audio equipment market,
although their home use popularity has waned in favor of digital devices.
They still have an important
use and function in sound recording which has not been eclipsed by digital
tape recorder was developed
for multiple uses; recording studios, radio stations, TV stations, electronic
music production, home audio, language and speech training in schools, business
presentations, police and medical records --anything where audio information
would need to be recorded and shared as entertainment or information. Many
sound studios, radio and TV stations still use reel to reel magnetic tape
recorders, as do many doctors offices and police stations.
1950's through the 1980's, the "home" reel to reel
tape recorder market was huge, and many companies were players in the field.
Machines were made in Germany, Holland, England, the U.S. and Japan among
other places. Names such as: Webcor, SONY SuperScope, National Panasonic,
Ampex, Roberts, AIWA, Grundig, Telefunken, Wollensak, Craig, TEAC, Uher,
and many others dominated the market.
Reel to reel
tape recorder advertising
was a very big business, and the machines were a profitable
tape recorder ads can be found for purchase on E-Bay, and
looking at the offerings will give you a feel for how important this market
was. You will find several ads for Wollensak reel to reel tape recorders
among those available.
a reel to reel tape recorder (in 1960's dollars) ranged from $15 for a cheap,
portable, and almost useless battery powered "rim drive" mono machine
that used small reels (3" most
commonly) to $500 and more for a high end AC powered stereo tape recorder
with powerful capabilities making it high end audio equipment. Oddly, as
impractical as the cheaper battery powered tape recorder was, even with its
poor quality - hardly even qualifying it as legitimate audio equipment -such
reel to reel tape recorders are considered highly collectible and can
be found on E-Bay, many are listed as a vintage tape recorder - sometimes
going for very high bids.
In the beginning
of the reel to reel tape recorder era, monophonic sound, 2-track tape recorders
were the only available machines. Then came mono Hi-Fi recorders
which had a broader frequency response (usually 40 to 18,000 Hz) for better
audio quality (the Wollensak model T-1500 is a fine example of such a machine),
and finally stereo (some of the Wollensak T-1500 machines were equipped for
optional stereo, but required a separate audio amplifier) and even surround
sound 4-track reel to reel tape recorders appeared, at ever increasing prices.
Some of these prices are still quoted in the vintage audio equipment market,
depending on the machine, especially if it was designed for professional
The reel to
reel tape recorder market was eclipsed by the compact cassette market. These
machines and tapes are still widely available. A cassette tape recorder is
simpler, smaller, and lighter than a reel to reel tape recorder, and many
have excellent audio characteristics. Indeed, stereo cassette decks have
replaced reel to reel tape recorders as high end audio equipment. The mechanics
of their transport mechanisms are almost identical in principle to those
used by reel to reel tape recorder. In fact a cassette tape recorder is simply
a reduced size version of the reel to reel tape recorder - with
the convenience of the reels being encapsulated inside the cassette shell.
Of course, Wollensak had machines in this market as well, based on the Philips-Norelco
(North American Philips Company based in Holland) design.
Reel to Reel
It is hard
for many people today to imagine using a reel to reel tape recorder for a
home application, except perhaps as vintage audio equipment, but at the time
these machines were popular, they were the "electronic
fad" of their day. Hobbyists had them as a staple of their audio equipment
(along with amplifiers, tuners and turntables) collections. The reason was
At the time,
there was no such thing as video recording for the general
consumer, and digital recording was a long way off. Everything was audio
and analog based. By comparison, today one can as easily record music onto
a video cassette as one can record a video program. Similarly, one can record
audio and video or either onto a hard drive, such as a TIVO unit or a DVD
In the heyday
of the reel to reel tape recorder,
one could hear music from four or five sources, the radio (AM and FM), vinyl
records (from 78 to 33 1/3 rpm (rotations per minute) LP (long play) records),
TV broadcasts, and a "live
event" - as well as other tape recorders.
of speeds - from 1-7/8 through 7-1/2 ips (inches per second) for a home unit
made machines and tapes of various styles and sizes compatible -- although
most home units only had 2 speeds, 3-3/4 and 7-1/2 ips (inches per second).
The 3M company produced a line of small 3-1/4" reels of magnetic tape
under the "Scotch®"
brand called "Living Letters". The idea was to use a portable reel
to reel tape recorder to dictate letters instead of writing them. One could
then send the tape to a friend or loved one and they could hear the person's
voice. Since many portable battery machines had the slow speed of 1-7/8 ips
available (this allowed more content to be recorded on the tape), some
large home reel to reel tape recorders included this very slow speed to improve
But the 2-track
and 4-track arrangements (which arose with the development of stereo machines)
that differentiated mono and stereo reproduction created incompatibility
problems because of the way the tracks are laid down on the tape. While a
stereo machine could play back a mono tape, a mono machine could not play
back a stereo tape (one of the tracks would always play in
reverse at the same time as the forward track.)
here for a detail sheet on reel to reel track arrangements (556KB PDF document).
cassette design ensured compatibility among all cassettes - mono and stereo
- by requiring a different arrangement of tracks on a cassette tape. A manufacturer
could not license the rights to produce a cassette recorder without following
the compatibility rules. In the early days, many cassette recorders did not
have the fidelity or transport stabilization to match most home reel to reel
machines. Eventually this was improved.
made their own reel to reel recordings from radio or TV and so on. If one
was watching a variety show featuring a favorite singer, the only way
to preserve the performance at home was with a reel to reel tape recorder.
there is a legal question about recording copyrighted material from an external
source, although in general, the copyright laws allow one to make a recording
for personal archival use. So people bought reel to reel tape recorders to
record music as archives from the radio or TV, and from the phonograph, as
well as to make "sound
movies" of special events (such as a birthday party) at
home for their own personal use.
At the time,
TV programs and movies were not available as DVDs, so the only
way to record the audio portion of a program was with a tape recorder. And
although record producers did not like it, people often recorded songs from
the radio. Radio stations countered by injecting announcements (name of song,
artist and so on) at the beginning or end, not only advertising the song,
but making it impossible for a recording to be used for any but personal
use. Many people would listen to a song on their tape machines, and then
buy the recording, since they often didn't make very good recordings by themselves.
In the case
of the phonograph, tape recording was almost essential. Vinyl records can
wear out quite easily because phonographs use a needle mounted in a tone
arm to physically track within the record "groove". The "groove" is
like a bumpy road with hills and valleys. If the tone arm is too light weight,
a complex musical passage groove would be so "bumpy" it could
cause the tone arm to "jump" out of the groove -- called skipping.
phonographs of the 1960's had a high tone arm tracking weight to prevent "skipping",
and every time a record was played, the diamond needle would carve away microscopic
bits of the record groove. Thus the first playing of a record was the best
quality, and the sound deteriorated on subsequent playings, affecting mostly
the "high end" of the sound. If one wanted to preserve the best
quality (the first playing) of a vinyl record, a tape recorder was the only
solution. One could play a record and record it at the same time, then put
the record away and listen only to the tape recording.
all digital world with non-contact laser pick-ups (as in a CD or DVD) or
all digital reproduction (as in computer data -- MP3 files and so on), the
problem has been solved, and thanks to computer memory and digital storage,
the idea of a reel to reel tape recorder for the home can seem ludicrous
and awkward. One can easily store Gigabytes of sound on a single MP3 player
which fits in a shirt pocket. By comparison, the same storage on magnetic
reel tapes could fill a room!
of the home tape recorder market was recording of family events, school lectures
and so on. The reel to reel tape recorder was perfect for this application.
In the modern world, the cassette recorder fills this personal need, being
cheaper, more portable and much more convenient than a reel to reel tape
recorder. However, professional recording studios, police stations and others
still use the reel to reel tape recorder (i.e. 911 calls are always recorded,
often on large 10-1/2" reels of recording tape). Some electronic musicians
find great appeal in reel to reel tape recorders as vintage audio equipment
for the quality of the sound they produce and for special effects (sound-on-sound,
sound-with-sound, reverb effects and more).
Reel to reel
tape recorders can do one thing that modern digital recording lacks by design.
They visually display their operation. One can easily see the reels going
round and round during record and playback. For some, this has a visual appeal.
But of course we are ever moving into the video world where we see action
or a story and sound is an accompaniment to it, so we would not spend time
looking at a machine working, we would look at the story the machine is telling.
And if that
story is historical, in
videos or films, the appearance of a reel to reel tape recorder in use adds
a sense of reality. The film, "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever",
starring Barbara Streisand, showed an AMPEX reel to reel tape recorder being
used by a psychiatrist to record sessions with a patient. Of course, the
popular TV show, "Mission
always had a small self destructing reel to reel tape recorder! (Please note
that actual reel to reel tape recorders did not self destruct or explode
like they did on the show.) These were made when reel to reel tape recorders
were a common part of daily life. In the movie, "Sleeper" starring Woody
Allen and Diane Keaton, Woody's character is given a job threading a gigantic
reel to reel tape recorder. Of course, he cannot do it, and gets tangled
up in the tape. In another scene, he tries to escape the building by being
lowered out the window suspended by the tape. Diane makes the mistake of
hitting the Fast Forward button, and Woody's character goes flying! It's
very funny, but is fast becoming an "in-joke" with audiophiles as reel to
reel tape recorders become scarce.
A film about
the 1960's would need a facsimile of a reel to reel tape recorder,
if not a vintage one itself, if such a machine was being used as part of
be argued that a reel to reel tape recorder has a certain pleasing aesthetic
shape and look. In the
late 1960's, a battery powered reel to reel tape recorder that used 3-inch reels
made by Mayfair of Japan (also branded under the name "Juliette") received
a design award from the Museum of Modern Art in New York! It looked great, but
was a "rim
drive" tape recorder (no capstan for constant speed), and had poor audio
quality. It was the aesthetic appeal of the design that got the award. It had
a wide aspect ratio (like a plasma TV), in-line reels, with two control knobs
located on the far right side. The color contributed to the appeal - it was an
avocado green color with tan accents, and the reel tables were shiny chrome.
The speaker was mounted underneath, so it did not show. You can sometimes
find these machines on E-Bay.
to reel vintage tape recorder circa 1967. Mono, 2-track, 2 heads, unidirectional,
3 " reel capacity. 1 motor, rim
drive. Battery powered. Winner of Museum of Modern Art Industrial Design Award.
Also sold under name: "Juliette"
Click here to watch YouTube video of this machine!
is some appeal and use for a reel to reel tape recorder, and they are collector's
items for fans of vintage audio equipment, much like vintage automobiles
and other collectibles are popular for nostalgic and collectable reasons.
E-Bay is, of course a prime source for such audio equipment.
sellers on E-Bay haven't got a clue about these machines, and some make impossible
claims for a vintage reel to reel tape recorder, usually quoting the specs
found in the manual (if they have one), specs that after years of aging are
hardly valid without some repair and restoration.
some buyers, the appeal of the vintage reel to reel tape recorder lies in
nostalgia; for others, it is the appeal of the collectable. Of course
anyone making a movie centered in the 1960's time period would need a tape
recorder from that same period to add "authenticity" to
the look of the film - as a "prop". One vintage reel to reel tape
recorder being sold on E-Bay had been used as a prop in a play!
and search for "tape
recorder" and look at the offerings and activity - it's rather surprising
how many people have an interest in these machines!
to reel tape recorders have many bidders, and there are plenty of sellers.
Most sellers have no idea what the machine they are selling does, or how
to use it, and they don't test the machine other than to power it up,
so buyer beware.
You can also
find tapes for these machines, both
blank and pre-recorded on E-Bay.
you are interested in the machines or tapes you find on E-Bay, be careful
when making a purchase. These machines are old and often not cared for. The
majority of them will not work properly. Sellers will often claim that they
"work" because they can turn them on. There is a lot more to it
than that. There can be problems with the mechanical transport, the amplifier
and so on.
the case of tapes, many are used and worn, and depending on storage, some
are quite brittle and can break in use. Look for signs of water damage
on all these items, many have been stored in basements!
you have questions, contact the seller and judge the quality by the seller's
response. Beware of comments such as "looks like it should work" and "the
previous owner told me it worked perfectly."
This means nothing. Some sellers are amazingly lazy. If you see a listing
for a cassette machine and the seller says "I could not test this because
I don't have any tape", beware! There is no excuse, given the availability
of cassette tapes, for such a statement.
prepared to do some repair work if you want to actually use a machine you
purchase on E-Bay.
In spite of
the "march of technology", reel to reel tape recorders still exist
and have use in the modern world, although they are becoming quite rare.
Blank tape is particularly hard to find, and often is outrageously priced.
The cassette recorder still proliferates, and it is a logical development
of the reel to reel machine (basically, it IS a reel to reel machine, the
reels are contained within the cassette). The cassette offers greater convenience
(threading a reel to reel tape recorder can be an annoying challenge) at
a smaller size with better performance.
digital recording will eventually replace these formats and the incredible
convenience of CDs and DVDs is beyond question. MP3 players, with literally
no moving parts, take audio equipment technology to an even higher level
of convenience and tiny size. Where this will all end is anyone's guess,
but of course one thing is certain -- the march of progress will continue
as long as technology continues, and potentially, we all will benefit, as
we have in the past.
We live in
a world of sound. Reel to reel tape recorders were and continue to be one
way of preserving that sound for posterity or just a "trip down memory
lane." A vintage tape recorder can bring hours of pleasure and
memories to many.
But as time
passes and people who either owned or grew up with a reel to reel tape recorder
pass away, so too might the appeal of these machines. As a one time significant
product and valuable audio equipment, the vintage tape recorder should
be preserved and remembered, even if only personally. These machines are
a part of our technological history and as such deserve recognition. This
is, in part, the spirit behind the restoration/rebuild of the Wollensak 5750
E-Bay is helping in this area by "recycling" these
machines for many. Nostalgia has some degree of influence over our lives,
and these machines can stir great nostalgia for many. Often in the
listings one will read "My dad had this machine", or "I grew
up using this machine", or "It has been a part of my audio system
for years." Reel to reel
tape recorders had an impact on many lives, and perhaps, will continue to
do so in a very different way in the future, possibly looked upon as
icons from the past and valued as such. As vintage audio equipment, they
are still in demand. Technically, their mechanics are amazing for their time,
electronically they brought beautiful sound to many. We should never forget
that, for when we look at or listen to a tiny MP3 player and see a reel to
reel tape recorder, we can say, "This is where it came from, this is our
And some of
them had a beautiful appearance as well. The Wollensak 5750 is one such machine.
Which is why the author bought one for restoration, for the sheer beauty
of the thing.
DO NOT ASK US how to sell your old machine or tapes or records. We will
NOT respond to selling or value estimate inquiries.
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Web site copyright ©ClydeSight
Productions - 2007