My friend and I have a collection of cassettes from the 70's and 80's, some of them irreplaceable. We're planning to make digital copies of them. I remember from my studio days that old reel-to-reel tapes could get sticky after years in storage but we never ran into the problem so I can't remember how to prevent it.

Before we start I'll clean the machine, check the rollers and such and align it. What I'm worried about are the tapes themselves. I plan to ff/rewind them to loosen them up.

Has anyone had any experience with this? What else do I need to do before playing these back so they don't get ruined?

  • Before you FF/RW you might want to wait for answers or at least don't let the tapes hit the end of the reel and auto-stop on FF/RW. I'm wondering if the stress of the hard stop could break something if they are old enough. You could always use an old hex barrel Bic pen to manually loosen them a bit. Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 23:36
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    @ToddWilcox Good point. It's gonna be a bit before we get started. I remember back in the 80,s thinking that Bic pens seemed to be designed for cassettes. They are so perfect for turning the reels
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 23:41

2 Answers 2


I play all kinds of tapes from the 70-90 no issues here. I think they will still work flawlessly. Tapes are build like tanks :) You definetely won't rip them off at the end. I tried to rip one by Hand. No chance.

  • It sounds like you are probably talking about tapes that get played regularly. These have been sitting in storage for 25-30 years. A couple of years ago my friend put one in his tape deck to transfer it and it immediately tangled up in the machine. Back in the day I had all manner of cassette failures from cinching to twisting to, yes the leader pulling off the hub. That was usually from a deck that was too aggressive on rewinding, tho
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 18:38
  • I had a NAD that would make streamers from tapes if they weren't in pristine condition, but also a Nakamichi that would treat them like a precious commodity.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 18:48
  • No. I played them not since like 10 or 15 years. But simetimes it happens that they tangle up. I don't know. My son is listening to 30 year old audio plays on cassette every day since two years and no accident ever happened. Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 21:48

I've never heard of the 'sticky tape' phenomenon affecting anything other than specific Ampex 456 tape made during the 80s… & boy, have I baked some of those over the years ;-)

Old cassettes may shed a little, but I don't think they should be sticky. I'd play one track at a time & clean the heads before each track.

Unless your heads are so far out of alignment that they're crinkling the tape, I wouldn't do any line-up at all for azimuth correction, [certainly not using your rare source, maybe something less precious] I'd do it all after the fact - something like Stereo Tool is made for the task - though maybe check after one track that it can shift it far enough, rather than after you transferred the entire batch.

  • I'm simultaneously glad and bummed to hear that the sticky problem is unique to 456. My cassettes should be safe then. But my old masters I have downstairs are all on 456. I'll probably never have any need for them, but there's no telling what condition they're in
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 18:42
  • I feel for you - but baking does work. I got a whole stack of completely gummy 80s 456 back; long enough to get it all on disk. Baking, apparently, lasts about a week. I haven't looked at that stock since, but it was long enough to do the transfers. The tapes wouldn't even run over the heads before that - squeak, squeak, jam... loop/mash city.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 18:45

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