Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sony TC-530 - Reel to Reel!

I found a real treat on a trip to the thrift store: an old Sony Reel to Reel recorder. I`ve never had one of these machines before, but I always thought they were pretty cool looking. Sure it will never get daily use, but just the nostalgia of having the unit, a real snapshot of the late 60`s when this machine was used for live recordings (this particular unit is from 1967). Plus, once it`s polished up, it will look great on display in my musical household.

When we (my Father and I) first plugged it in, the reels spun about three times and then decided to quit. It`s more than I expected actually, being almost 50 years old with probably a good portion of those years sitting around in somebody’s attic. So, we found a digital copy of the owner’s manual online, took the unit apart, and had a look inside. The first hour was spent giving it a thorough cleaning. We did a light vacuum and then hit it with a can of compressed air. Most of it cleaned up quite nicely but we got the stubborn areas with cotton swabs and alcohol. The back of the unit contained all of the electronics and the front had all the mechanical parts which ran the reels.

Even though the reels were no longer turning, the motor was running, and at a fairly good pace too. I found a YouTube video of the same unit and just by judgment, the motor seemed to be running at around the same speed as on this video. This led me to believe that the issue must be mechanical. If the motor pulley was turning at the correct speed, then all we need is for the gears to hit that pulley at the right place with the right pressure, and everything should turn.

The belts seem to be in remarkable condition (I believe they must have been changed at some point) so that was not the problem. The issue was that some dirt gunked up the interior springs not allowing them to work properly. I was able to clean all of these springs except one which appeared to be permanently damaged. Luckily I found a similar spring on an old turntable and installed it replacing the dirty one. Lo and behold, the reels began to spin!

Now that the reels were moving we thought we were home free, but when I played the tape that came with it (CharleyPride) it was playing way too slow. It took me a while to figure out what the issue was, but it turned out to be this tiny wheel at the bottom of the unit called the ‘pinch roller’ which pinches the tape to this peg called a ‘capstan’. It was pinching the tape too hard causing it to slow down. I tried sanding the wheel a little to make the rubber softer, but it wouldn't work. After some more searching, I found this metal plate that could be adjusted. The farther out the plate was, the farther the wheel is from the capstan. After a few small adjustments, I got the speed set up perfectly!

So, now I can play reel to reels at ease. Next, I’m going to try and get a blank tape to see how the recording feature works. There are speakers on the side of this unit, but it also has two exterior speakers that can be used as monitors. These simply plug into the side of the unit and I flick a switch telling it to use these speakers.

Also included were the original two microphones that came with the unit. These were stored in a small compartment on the top. They are heavy steel microphones that really seem durable. You can use both microphones to record in stereo, one mic for the left channel and one for the right. The speakers clip onto the front of the unit making it portable, folding up like a suitcase (mind you a heavy one...It weighs approximately 50 pounds).

This turned out to be a really fun project. I now have a great antique to display as well as a fully functional reel to reel recorder. These units in the 60’s were built to last, and it really shows. Barely any tweaking was required to fix this unit to just like new condition. Now, to find the perfect place in my home for this piece!

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