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Tech Tip Of The Day: Proper Care & Storage Of Analog Tapes

I have some 2-inch master tapes I'd like to take care of... what's your advice?

By PSW Staff March 13, 2014

Provided by Sweetwater.

Q: I remember reading that the group Boston had major problems years ago with some tape that had gone bad due to not being stored properly. I have some 2-inch master tapes I’d like to take care of. Advice?

A: The best way to take care of those tapes is to keep them in a cool and dry place. Moisture is the worst thing for tape. It can absorb it, which further aggravates existing problems that cause the magnetic material to come off of the backing.

When this happens you’ll notice an excessive amount of oxide shedding from the tape as you play it. Quite often it will gum up the heads and rollers within minutes.

This is what happened to those infamous Boston tapes and many others over the years. There is a remedy that temporarily restores them to playability, but it gets worse and more difficult as time goes on.

There are places that, for a fee, will store tape in special atmospherically controlled rooms. Assuming you don’t want that expense, probably the most practical advice we can give you is to keep them where you’re comfortable they will be reasonably well off—no attics, basements, etc. They’re still going to break down, but it will take longer and the damage won’t be as bad.

Store them vertically. If you lay them down the edges can get bent and you’ll compromise the material on the outside tracks.

Also, store them “tails out.” That means the end of the tape is what’s hanging off the reel, not the beginning. Tape suffers from a phenomenon called “print through.”

While it’s wound up on a reel with itself, highly energized (magnetized) parts will cause the less energized parts in close contact with them to become somewhat magnetized, which results in audio occurring in places on the tape where it shouldn’t.

Have you ever listened to a recording and been able to hear a very faint echo of the material before it actually starts? That’s from print through. Print through is worse in the outward direction of a tape pack so if you store the tape tails out the worst part of the print through happens after the song (or section) starts, instead of before.

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