How to Salvage a Damaged Audio Cassette.

audio tape brokenThis article was inspired by a personal history colleague of mine  in Victoria.  She wondered if I knew anyone who could fix an audio cassette that no longer seemed to work in her recorder. I confessed that I didn’t have any recommendations. So I got to thinking, “How difficult is it to repair an audio cassette?” I did some research.  Then I took apart a cassette  and amazingly put it back together again!  It requires patience and a steady hand but it’s not an impossible job. A word of caution. Tapes that have melded from prolonged exposure to heat and humidity are not something you’re likely to fix on your own. This will require a professional conservator and be a costly undertaking. But if your problem is a tape that has become mangled inside its case or the cassette mechanism is broken, then here’s what you can do. My advice would be to  practice first on another tape before tackling the one you want to repair.

Broken Cassette

  1. Purchase a cassette shell from an A/V supplier or find a good cassette that you’re no longer using. Open it up and remove the original tape.
  2. Find a clean table and place your cassette flat with the screw side facing up.
  3. Take a small Phillips screw driver and carefully remove the five screws. Place them in a small container.
  4. Carefully lift the top off, noting how the tape is threaded in the mechanism and the placement of the components. The picture below should cassette 2
  5. Lift your tape out of the old shell and thread it carefully into the new one. Make sure to keep the tape untwisted.
  6. Place the top back on the cassette, making sure that all the pieces fit and that nothing is pinched. Insert the screws and tighten.

Mangled tape

  1. Open the cassette as described above and survey the damage.
  2. If the tape is crinkled, just leave it. The sound may not be perfect but cutting out the offending piece or trying to smooth it out will only make the situation worse.
  3. If the tape is broken, you can purchase a splicing kit or do it yourself with some sharp scissors or razor blade and Scotch tape. Not perfect but it’ll work.
  4. If the edges of the broken tape are ragged, trim just a fraction off each end. Remember that whatever you cut off will also cut out some of your recorded audio.
  5. Cut a piece of Scotch tape exactly the width of your tape and about 3/8″ long. Trim off any overhang. Failure to do this will cause the tape to stick to the internal mechanism.
  6. Place half  of the Scotch tape on one end of the audio tape and press it down firmly. Make sure your tape is straight. If it isn’t, the tape will run unevenly and may be damaged further. Now attach the other half of the Scotch tape to the remaining half of audio tape making sure to form a seamless joint. Don’t overlap the ends. Press down firmly on this remaining segment.
  7. Carefully rethread your tape and seal up the cassette as described above.

One final word. Once you’ve made your repairs, plan to transfer your tape to a digital format as soon as possible. You can find out how to do that here.

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4 Responses to How to Salvage a Damaged Audio Cassette.

  1. As a transcriptionist, this brings back memories! Back in the day when most of what we did was audio tapes, there were a few (thank goodness only a few) instances where tape surgery and subsequent rehab had to be applied. Generally not much was lost, but it was always a procedure done with a hope and a prayer.

    • @Wendy. Thanks for your memories of old tapes. Interestingly, more people are coming forward with damaged old audio cassettes that store valuable family memories. I’m hoping that some may find my instructions give them enough courage to tackle the repairs.

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for the solution.

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