Used Reel-to-Reel buying checklist

Concluding our series on Buying a Used Reel-To-Reel, here is a short checklist of what to look at when purchasing used reel-to-reel equipment:

  • Check to see if the play and record buttons work
  • Check FF and REW, especially on the lower end decks with single motor mechanisms. Check rewind with an almost full reel of tape on the left spindle, check FF with the almost full reel on the right, as that puts the most stress on the tape transport
  • Go into stop mode from a full fast forward and rewind at several intervals. When going into stop, do the reels stop evenly, or does the tape spill out from one or both spools? If tape spillage occurs, at minimum the brakes of the tape recorder need adjusting, at worst you could have some circuitry issues
  • Check the pinch roller for stickiness, roundness and smoothness. It’s not a bad idea to get an original 40 year old pinch roller rebuilt regardless, check our references page for more details
  • Check visually for head wear
  • Check that the line and mic level input controls and the output control (if applicable) are smooth and noise free
  • Check all switches, especially the tape/source monitor switch for noise or intermittent connections
  • Check that the reel spindles are straight, and do not wobble
  • Check overall condition of the deck, are the wood side panels/case in presentable condition?

Elsewhere on this site are more details that are brand specific. Again, it’s impossible to determine exactly the condition of any used reel-to-reel deck out there for sale. Decks that have been exposed to high humidity for example, may have rubber deterioration as compared to a deck that has been stored in a dry environment. I’ve seen decks from Hawaii have massive internal corrosion, even though the outside of the deck look fine.

I also need to put a note in regarding ‘new old stock’ tape decks. From a physical condition point of view, a new old stock deck is desirable, as if it indeed is new in the box, it will be pristine. Sadly, the internals of the deck may or may not be in great condition, as moisture has no problem entering a tape deck over the years, even if sealed in a plastic bag. With the electronics and motors not being used over a 30-50 year old period, internal parts can deteriorate, fail and seize. Having said that, I was fortunate to find a new in the box top of the line Teac X2000R reel-to-reel recently (2015), which was from about 1985 or so. Before powering it up, I opened it to check the drive belt, found it to be in excellent condition, then I ran the deck for 2 hours with zero issues before I listed it on ebay. It needed nothing. Other decks may not fare as well.

There are many more areas on this website that go into more detail on certain topics above. Please feel free to email regarding suggestions of topics to cover. If you are a tech, or a reseller of used reel-to-reel decks, or if you carry parts, please email us your contact information, and we can put you into our ‘referral’ section. Sadly, due to the amount of time needed to work on reel-to-reel decks, we cannot offer individual email response for us to assist in diagnosing or servicing your reel-to-reel tape deck. We are always open for you to drop your tape deck off for evaluation, service, or to buy for parts if it is not worth repairing.


Read parts one and two of Buying A Reel-To Reel