Buying a Reel to Reel – Updated October 2021!

Since launching this website in March of 2017, a lot has changed in the world of reel to reels.

–  Pricing has doubled or tripled for both refurbished and  “as-is” (but working great according to every eBay and Craigslist seller!). In addition,  the demand of good working decks –  never mind the need for repairs from experienced techs is through the roof! Frankly, I launched this site hoping to receive 10-15 hours a week of extra business, but that has quickly morphed into the ability to work 100 hours a week.. and still not keep on top of every incoming email and call.

– As we have worked on many more decks since the original writing, we have seen a plethora of new and recurring failures of tape decks not noticed in earlier years.

– We’ve amassed a significant amount of information with respect  many of the common decks, and we will be adding and sharing this wealth of knowledge to the various tech sections.  We are adding more tech articles on D-I-Y servicing (and hints that will be useful for other techs) to this website as time allows.

– Belts and especially pinch rollers are failing, as many that come in here are original. A hint of out-of-roundness, and the pinch roller will cause tape skewing and/or wow and flutter. We replace at least 50% of the pinch rollers on decks that arrive for servicing.

– By far the most common issue that we hear about literally on a daily basis is people playing old tapes that are plagued with the SSS syndrome. SSS tapes can cause a deck to cease functioning, both audibly and to mechanically stop the transport within 20 seconds of hitting ‘play’. Read the ‘tape problems’ article, and take it to heart. Many old tapes are unplayable, and cause all sorts of issues with recording and playback. Yes, that includes YOUR tapes that have been well stored!

– We see many reel to reel decks for sale on the various internet platforms for sale at outrageous prices, and many of our clients have bought such a machine based on the online description. (Our favorite was on the local Vancouver Craigslist, stating ‘works fine, but I have no tape to test it with’.) Generally speaking,  an unserviced deck that comes in for a ‘tune-up’ can easily require $300-600 worth of work due to a lack of maintenance over the last 20-40 years. This generally isn’t expected by the buyer of an as-is deck, so beware.

– The below article has now been updated,  reflecting the current status of reel to reel tape decks, the pricing, and the servicing thereof.

Here’s a few notes showing how we overhaul a typical reel to reel tape recorder, and how the pricing of a reel to reel deck can vary from under $100 to over $5000.

A typical reel to reel that hasn’t been serviced in 20-40 years will develop numerous problems, even if stored in the original box and packing material and put into the back of a closet. We have found that a typical deck like this that hasn’t been turned on in a long time will require 2-4 hours of labor at minimum to bring the deck back to life, and that is not including the cost of parts. We buy many decks through other stereo stores that take trade-ins, from collectors that buy estate pieces, and from people that contact us through our website here, via Craigslist, eBay or Facebook, etc. More often than not, the comment from the seller is “oh, the deck is in mint condition”.  All you need to do is look at the electronics section of Facebook to read similar sales pitches time and time again, but when you ask when the last time the equipment was serviced, the seller either can’t tell you, or will respond “well, it worked fine when I stored it 20 years ago”.

A case in point: A client of ours sold a Revox A77 in excess of $1200 USD online, even though he hadn’t tested it since it was put in storage 20 years ago. It had the rare original Revox Varispeed control on it, making it command top dollar. It was also a ½ track, semi-pro deck.  He brought it in for a ‘general service’, and we quoted a typical ‘$350-400’ to do a general service, calibration and alignment, along with supplying frequency response charts  of play and record functions. The deck looked to be in excellent cosmetic shape, and the heads looked good. Once we powered up the deck and ran audio through it, we found the following:

  •  capstan motor seized due to lack of use
  •  one VU meter defective, due to the meter movement glue bonds breaking
  •  dirty controls
  •  trimpot wiper arms snapped off due to age.
  •  no audio on one channel
  •  etc etc.

The bottom line is that the repair cost was exactly double from what was originally quoted, based on the client’s description of the deck working fine. Since the client sold the deck at a premium, and  the buyer would have returned it due to it not working, a full repair was done.  Both the seller and buyer ended up happy.

What we do here to every deck that comes in for service or as a potential sales unit is:

  • Clean all switches and controls with DeOxIt cleaner
  • Carefully check all belts, pulleys and the pinch rollers for hardening, stretching, gooiness and overall wear, and replace as required. Unless we know that the deck has recently been serviced, we usually replace the main capstan belt before even powering up the belt, as a gooey belt can instantly wrap itself around the capstan motor, and destroy the motor within seconds.
  • Check FF and REW for proper torque and speed, right to the end of the tape in both directions
  • Check takeup and supply reel tensions, especially on decks that are known to drift.
  • Check for head wear even before taking frequency response measurements
  • Check frequency response from the line input to the line outputs
  • Check frequency response and levels from a calibration tape in play mode on all speeds
  • Check frequency response and levels in record mode, and set bias, eq, and level trimpots.
  • Test run the deck for a minimum of 24 hours to ensure longevity of the deck. You’d be surprised how often a deck develops a secondary problem a few hours after it appears to be in good shape.

Yes, you can find decks for sale in any number of places, and many clients bring us decks that were supposed to be in mint shape, but had problems a few reels of tape into use. Some of these decks need minor repairs or adjustments as indicated above, but sadly, some decks are beyond economical repair once some basic tests are done.

Things that add to the price of a Reel to Reel

You will find reel to reel pricing all over the map, from giveaway prices, to ‘over-retail-I-think-I can-get-this-for-a-deck’ price. With us, the pricing is consistent based on cosmetics, head condition, features and overall performance. What will add to the base price of a tape deck is:

  • Original box
  • Original manual
  • Original takeup reel (can get up to $130 on ebay by itself!)
  • Original NAB (10”) hubs can add up to $200 to a deck
  • Mint condition or new wood side panels on decks that come with them
  • Dust cover (not many were sold, an uncracked original can sell for $250 on eBay)
  • Wired or wireless remote control (again, up to $250 on eBay)
  • Auto reverse feature- can add up to $500 depending on the make and model
  • New old stock, meaning it’s a never used, 0 hour deck that has sat in the box for the last 30-40 years. These decks almost always need servicing, but the price goes up exponentially for a pristine unit.

Price Range of Reel to Reel decks

Much like a used car, a refurbished reel to reel tape deck will have a wide price range – starting at under $100, and going to $5000 and beyond. From a tech reseller like ourselves, you definitely get what you pay for. Ask yourself what you need the deck for.. is this a long term investment, or as a showpiece item for a vintage stereo system,?  Or,  do you simply need a deck to transfer a box of old reel to reel tapes to disc?  In this case, you may not need a deck to last 10-15 years, and if the tapes were recorded on a mono tube machine, the best quality playback deck isn’t required to transfer these old tapes.

Rather than list every one of the 40-60 reel to reel decks that we typically have ready for sale, or are pending repairs or parts, we’ll list a few of the standard models that we receive in on a regular basis, with a typical price that we’d sell the decks for. Pricing is in Canadian dollars, with a rough US dollar equivalent in brackets after the Canadian dollar amount. (based on a USD to CDN exchange rate at the time of this writing)

Decks under $450 CDN  ($350 USD)

One version of the Akai  4000DS,  from around 1975 or so. Generally very reliable after servicing. Later models used more reliable spring loaded reel retainers compared to the rubber caps above, that tend to disintegrate due to age. (aftermarket replacements are available on EBay and Etsy)

Due to reasons stated near the beginning of this article, we generally do not sell decks that are prior to 1973. Many of the single motor decks have problems too numerous to list, and simply aren’t worth repairing. We’ve spent time on many of these entry level consumer decks, trying to bring a low cost machine to someone that simply wants to transfer a box of tapes to digital.   However, with many of these decks requiring hours of labor to repair, we’ve opted not to sell them at all.

With the expense of failing pinch rollers, bad rubber idler wheels and noisy transistors, our repaired 7” consumer decks start at $400 USD and go up from there. We see many decks in the $50-200 range online, however almost all of these will need significant amounts of work to make them reliable for the long term.

Spending $400 or so for a refurbished entry level 7” consumer deck will get you a post-1973 machine that is reliable, and will sound better than pre-1973 machines. The head condition will be verified, along with frequency response charts supplied for every deck we sell.

For people that simply want to transfer a few reel to reel tapes to disc, a reel to reel deck in this price range will generally fill the need. We’ve also had musicians that want to experiment with tape loops or tape speeds purchase these lower end decks, as they specifically don’t want the best quality recordings, they want sound effects!

A deck under $400 will generally be a recorder made between 1973 and 1980. The most prevalent brands here in North America were Sony and Roberts/Akai, and some older Teac units. A lot of European brands (Grundig, Telefunken and Philips to name 3) were also popular, but due to the mechanisms, many of these decks are written off by us, so it’s rare that we’d sell a European model at this point.

The more popular Japanese brands like Sony used a single motor for the whole mechanism, and failure of the motor, specifically with the Sony decks is relatively common at this point, and replacements are very difficult to find. If we find the motor to be strong with good torque, then we’ll sell one of these decks.

Also, decks from us in the $400 range are usually completely mechanical mechanisms, with some of the later models having solenoid or logic controls in the transport.

Other less popular inexpensive decks had speakers built either into the tape recorders themselves, or had speakers in the lid that covered the tape deck. Some lesser known brands (Realistic, Toshiba, and Sanyo) actually made reliable transports, while the overall fidelity wasn’t stellar. Again, these are entry level decks at this point, designed for you to transfer tapes with.  You generally won’t get 10 years of regular use out of these decks.

Once in a while we will get a deck in that works flawlessly from a mechanical  and electronic point of view, but may be missing some cosmetic pieces (the correct knobs, or a missing head cover), or may have a wood/pressboard case in iffy condition (scratches, water damage, etc.). If you can handle an ugly ducking, and are only concerned about sound quality and reliability, you can get into a better deck in this manner.

A typical single motor Sony deck, circa 1968 or so. Sony made dozens of similar mechanical transport decks over a 10 year period. Most of these Sonys are now beyond repair, requiring time and material to make the deck reliable. Bad rubber, failing motors all contribute to these decks being beyond repair.

 

A rare example of a good working Sony TC-255 from around 1968. The heads were in good shape on this one, the motor was strong, and the capstan idler wheel had to be changed.

Some typical decks would be:

  • Entry level Akai models, such as the 4000 series
  • Good working Roberts decks from the pre-Akai days
  • Good working European decks such as Grundig, Telefunken, Philips, etc.
  • Older Teac models such as the A-4010, A-1200, A-1250, etc
  • Less popular RTR manufacturers, such as Sanyo, Toshiba, etc.
  • Older (pre-1977) Realistic models
  • All Sony single motor models, generally pre-1975

Decks from $450-800 CDN ($375-600 USD)

In this price range, you’re getting into a more reliable and better sounding (better frequency response) deck, typically in the early to mid 1970s. Akai made the 4000 series, a typically bulletproof and good sounding deck, along with other Akai models in the mid 1970s.  Sony  had a few models that  were more reliable 3 motor mechanisms (Sony TC-645, etc), and a bunch of Teac models that were all 3 motor units.  Don’t forget that the Realistic TR-3000 was actually a Teac X3, with the same performance and quality, just a slightly different looking faceplate. The aforementioned decks are all 7” reel models. At the high end of this price range, you may also get into a 10” reel to reel, such as a Pioneer RT-1011 or similar, The Akai GX-600 or GX-630 are solid performers, as are some of the entry level 10” Teac models such as the A-3300 and similar.

The Teac A-3300:

https://www.hifiengine.com/files/images/TEAC%20A3300-SX_0.jpg

Typical decks in this price range would include:

  • 3 motor Sony decks (TC-645, etc)
  • Many Akai 7” GX series decks from the mid-1970s
  • Most 7” Teac models
  • Entry level 10” machines, some scratch and dent models, such as Pioneer RT-1011
  • Older Teac 10” machines (A-6010, etc)

Decks from $800-1200 CDN ($600-900 USD)

Teac A3300SX

In this price range, you’re getting into the top of the line 7” reel to reel machines, and either a really nice condition entry level 10” machine, or a higher end machine with a bit of head wear, or a deck with some cosmetic issues. 7” machines include:

  • Akai GX-77 – 6 head, auto reverse, EE tape capable
  • Akai GX-270- auto reverse
  • Akai GX-265 auto reverse
  • Akai GX-255 late model, auto reverse
  • Pioneer RT-701- rack mount
  • Pioneer RT-707- rack mount, auto reverse
  • Teac X-7R- late model, auto reverse
  • Teac X-700R- late model, auto reverse
  • Teac A-2340 4 channel unit
  • Tandberg 7” models- solenoid controlled

In the 10” reel types, you’d be looking at excellent condition entry level 10” models, such as:

  • Akai GX-600
  • Akai GX-630
  • Other Akai single direction 10” machines
  • Revox A77 series
  • Mid-level Teac decks such as A-6300, etc
  • Midrange 10” Sony decks, such as the TC-755, 756, 758, etc.
  • Scratch and dent 10” decks such as the 4 channel Akai GX-630DSS
  • Tandberg 10X series

The Revox A77:

http://medias.audiofanzine.com/images/normal/revox-a77-641585.jpg

(see our brand-specific writeups for more detailed information on Revox and Sony models)

Decks from $1300-2000 CDN ($1600-2500 USD)

The Revox A77

Climbing higher up in the food chain, now you’re into the top of the line consumer machines, and a whole bunch of semi pro and pro models. Decks in this price range from us will show minimal, if any head wear, the cosmetics will generally be excellent, and any decks listed here may have original boxes, owner’s manuals, remote controls , original NAB hubs, etc etc, which all add to the value of the selling price. Decks include:

  • Akai GX747, 635, 636
  • Revox B77, PR99, A700
  • Pioneer RT-909
  • Tandberg 20SE
  • Revox G36 tube deck in mint condition
  • Pro and semi pro decks, including ½” 8 track models such as the Teac 80-8, Model 38, Otari 5050, etc
  • Some semi-pro decks, such as early Teac A-3340 4 channel models
  • Teac 32, 34, semi pro machines
  • High end 4 channel decks such as the Teac model 44, A-3440, Otari 5050 4 channel versions
  • Top of the line 2 channel pro decks such as the Tascam 42
  • Technics 1500 and 1700 series
  • Pro 2 channel decks like the MCI JH-110, Ampex 440, 350, etc
  • Play only versions of certain pro decks such as Studer A810, A807, etc

Revox B77, this one with the fancy aluminum NAB hubs:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-UPmqKP9Umh4/U0hYh9PiZiI/AAAAAAAAF9c/Gf0y_jT2mQ4/s1600/ReVox+B77+MKII+high+speed+4.jpg

Decks from $3500 CDN and up  ($2750+ USD)

Revox B77 with the fancy aluminum NAB hubs

You have now entered the realm of studio decks and audiophile home decks, and there’s overlap here, as many high end audiophiles will use pro studio decks in their homes. Tape handling is generally better (lots of pro decks are used for archiving rare and old tapes that may break due to being brittle on lower end machines). Decks in this price range can go as high as $15K ($11K USD), depending on the machine, and the condition thereof. Some examples are:

  • Studer A807, A810, B67
  • High end 8 track ½” machines
  • Multitrack studio recorders, ranging from 8 to 24 tracks, and from ½” to 2” tape
  • High end Otari, Ampex, 3M and other units
  • Rare tube machines, generally the likes of Revox, Ampex and others.

A nice collection of Ampex 440 machines, from 2-16 track:

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/c1/d9/35/c1d9356d4b4abe14ddbfd529a1fc298d.jpg

Note that the above lists and examples are by no means complete, they are just some guidelines on how we price decks. An AS-IS, un-serviced machine should be priced significantly less than what we have priced out here. We welcome repairs of decks purchased elsewhere, we’ll bring them back to as-new condition!

We generally have anywhere between 40-60 decks in stock, with usually about 20 or so ready for sale, the rest being in the queue, waiting to be serviced. Some of those will be scrapped if they aren’t worth repair.  If you’re looking for a specific deck, and have a price in mind, feel free to email us at curt@reeltoreeltech.com to discuss your specifics, and if we don’t have stock of what you’re looking for, we’ll hang onto your email, and will advise you when a deck comes in. Some of our offerings are always on  Reverb:

https://reverb.com/ca/shop/reeltoreeltech

Our NAB hubs and reels, custom made to our specifications are in the ‘shop’ section of our website, and on eBay (PSST, it’s cheaper buying on our site, no state taxes!)

https://www.ebay.com/sch/audiovideotechnician/m.html?item=353566480827&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2562

For more info on frequency response charts click HERE

A nice collection of Ampex 440 machines, from 2-16 track