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Baking Ampex Tapes

Demonstration of the ‘sticky-shed’ syndrome exhibited by Ampex (and other) tapes that were manufactured during the 1980s and 1990s.

The polymer that was used to bind the tape’s magnetic oxide dust particles to its substrate had been found to absorb moisture over time, becoming sticky, and shedding oxide/binder goo over tape heads and transport elements. This causes squealing, which modulates the audio signal and renders it unusable. Sticky tapes may even completely stall the tape recorder’s transport, running the risk of motor damage.

According to the manufacturer, baking the tapes at 55 degrees Celsius for a few hours dries out the binder sufficiently for the tape to be played. Opinions vary over how many times a tape can be baked before its mechanical structure and/or audio content become degraded, but most people simply want the tape to play reliably for a single pass, while they capture the recording to a modern digital format.

This video shows me baking tapes in a conventional domestic fan-assisted electric oven, while monitoring temperature with an external meter and thermocouple.

UPDATE 2018: I now ‘bake’ tapes using a food desiccator – this is a very simple and popular solution, and I figure it’s less likely to ‘fry’ tapes due to momentary operator inattention!

CAUTION: This process has worked for me, but if you are considering baking your own tape collection I recommend that you read all the literature available on the Internet before deciding whether or not to proceed. A good starting point is Wikipedia’s article on Sticky-shed syndrome.


39 thoughts on “Baking Ampex Tapes

  1. Please,can you tell me what does it mean 8 track/8 channel ?.What kind of tape is used and how the tape recording is performed ?.
    Also what amplifier should be used and how many speakers, to listen to 8 channels ?.
    Thank you very much.

  2. There is a lot easier way to find out if tape has SSS without gumming up your unit like he did with this TASCAM: Just pull the tape straight across the top of the headblock with holding up the trigger roller or arm and wind it straight across to the takeup reel.

    If the tape is sticking to itself as it's feeding off the roll and you rub the tape between the fingers and is sticky as crud, that tape is full of SSS and needs to be tossed.

    You don't need to bake non coated tapes and NEVER bake acetate based tapes, or the head destroys the acetate.

  3. As mentioned, the temperature controls on a kitchen oven are very crude. They are designed to cook things. I would consider this approach very risky. Maintaining a consistent, and consistently >>low<< temperature in such an oven is highly likely to be very difficult. Don't try this method if you don't have a reliable way of controlling the temperature.

  4. hi i 100% one this to ampex 406 1 inch tapes 40 of them danger is the word some of the nab hubs don't like the heat and go funny
    i had to put spacers in some of the reel hubs because the hub dia has gone down and would not go no the recorder.
    i fixed the hub's on more thng have the windows open all the time. i did them all in the winter when baking soming comes out
    of the tapes into the air and can do your head in i had 8x 1 inch tapes in at a time thanks for the video it helped big time bob

  5. One quastion: This solusion is good if the tape is being rolled on a metal reel. But what if the tape is rolled on a plastic reel? Will the plastic reel survive the oven heat without melting? And if the plastic reel can reallt melt – how do we transfer the tape to a metal reel whithout using the tape recorder?

  6. After baking it this way, for how long can you use the tape for recording before it becomes sticky again. Most of my tapes Ampex, 3M, BASF etc have gone sticky but occasionally I find a reel of Ampex tape etc which has not gone sticky. Has anyone ever figured out what has happened during manufacturing to produce these rare exceptions to the rule ?

  7. I've found half an hour baking will give you around the same playability(2years),be warned,however that when re-recording the tape will not record like a new tape and will suffer drop outs(AMPEX)…AGFA,BASF are way better tape and don't suffer this problem and will give you more signal to noise thatn AMPEX,although sourcing it is difficult these days(AGFA 468,BASF 911)

  8. I've had this also with Shamrock tapes. Tape wasn't even used at all – long storage. I Was surprised – it was so advanced that tape wouldn't unwind at all – magnetic layer when unwinded by force was detached . . .After I did such bake drying. It helped instantly – could unwind and record but after months whistling happened again. Two reel melted by temperature. So I decided it's too much job and developed my way – only condition is that tape is easy to unwind so first for those very bad is is to bake them. . I unwinded parts of tape loose to plastic container – rather not big one – mine was about 4 liters. Then this mess I dried with hair dryier untill the smell was sagnificantly less and tape got foldown, – usualy about 5 minutes, then wind it up to next reel and repeat with next part – for whole 7" reel it takes about 4 repeatitions. With beeing carefull not to definitely mix tape it is quite easy to regain it from mess. Take care to use not hot by hand but warm blow – some polyesters are vournerable for temerature. Having reel tape recorder it is convinient to use it for winding job in "play" mode with coupled reel. . It takes about 1 hour of job.This way I got permanent removal of sticky shred. I have also 3 Ampex which shown magnetic layer detachement – and after this drying it is so far stabil. I did this to few of my 26 pieces of Scotch which were showing signs of slow winding and it hepled too. All is working fine and because I am happy to see turning reels I am not willing to make digital copies.

  9. hi i did some baking of tapes i had to bake 406 9 x 1 inch for 8 hours as they were very bad i was baking tapes for days
    you got to be carefull with the tape nabs on the 406 they can go funny i can tell you it works very well
    i tryed 2 hours this works it's to do with the space the tapes take up in the oven
    i baked 4 2 inch tapes for 2.5 hours as a test did not work after 5 hrs alot better

  10. i almost ruined my teac motor by running those sticky fucking back coated sss tapes!! lucky they work again but i smeeled some burned smell dont know if affected the motor really but s working fine with my old ferrite tapes

  11. oh my god…is it possibile to do it with home oven????!!!!

    i knew it was impossible and quite dangerous due to:

    1) electromagnetic fields from electric oven (house ovens are not always well shelded)

    2) no constant temperature control (but maybe can be obtained monitoring constantly the temperature)

    3) the oxide vapours from the magnetic tape could fly and fix themself inside the oven and the next time you cook a chicken or a pizza you'll get an oxide flavour pizza that can seriously poison anyone would try to eat.

    never seen doing something at home :O

    (I remember one friend who tried years ago but used an old gas oven in the basement not used anymore in the kitchen….and the result was a total disaster due to the poor temperature control and feedback….he baked in the very good meaning of the word the poor old tape!)

  12. Can you tell by looking at the tape. I would have go to a studio to transfer them. How long does it take for this issue to appear? My tapes are from about 91 to 93.

  13. so basically its just baking out the moisture, coudlnt you just chuck your tapes into a big plastic crate and chuck in a few moisture absorbers? and keep them in there or do what we used to do with photocopy paper and build a cupboard put a lightbulb inside.it and keep your tapes in there. the bulb boils off moisture in the air.

  14. Hi, I have a couple of commercial pre-recorded classical tapes that have serious tape squeak when playing. There does not seem to be any real evidence of sticky shred, surfaces seem dry. Any ideas how to solve the problem as I do not think that baking is the solution. I  did hear that putting some sort of silicon coating on the tape surface may work. Have you any experience with that sort of solution.

  15. My mom bought an Ampex tape recorder in about 1965. I still have it and it plays but the brakes don't stop the tapes so my finger has to. She got a lot of Ampex tapes with it and they play fine. I transferred them to CD but these are 50+ year old tapes. I also have a couple of tapes made on my brother in laws R2R from back in 1958. That tape still works but is brittle. I have transferred it to CD too. Is it just later Ampex tapes that this squeal happens to? It doesn't much matter to me now as I only have one tape to transfer and I don't even know if I will do it.

  16. Refuse manager. .I will call on Friday to remove the tape machine for you,the council charge will be waved on this occasion as you paid your council tax this year. Thank you for recycling in the borough

  17. And yet tape hobbyists still shell out money to buy old SSS tapes. A waste of time and money unless there is something extraordinary on the tape. However most of the time it's some old same old. I've learned to avoid the stuff in spite of being an expert at treating SSS.

  18. In 1992 I came across the master tapes of "Ye-s-Close to the Edge" at a studio in Los Angeles. I put them on a machine and carefully rewound them very slowly to make sure there were no problems. There were several splices so i wanted to make sure they didn't break. It turned out to be the old European pink Agfa tape and played like a charm. So I got a reel of Ampex 456 and made myself a copy. (Bear in mind at this point the original masters were about 20 years old) I tried playing the copy about 5 years later and it was COMPLETELY gummy. I'll bet those Agfa originals still play just fine.

  19. I bought a reel to reel for 20$ at a garage sale..it had been stored in a barn and I found some reels of tape in a second hand store. I was never able to get the speed to remainin stable for long…I've nearly trashed it trying to set the tensions…oops!! after seeing this I noticed my reels are plastic….Maybe microwave them?1!

  20. Hi this is a great vid, I have loads of tapes I have to do. Can you tell what the cable you used to measure the temperature. And also do you bring the tapes up to temperature or put them in at heat.

  21. I can't hear the squeal. I'm hard of hearing, so the only way I can tell a tape has gone sticky is by the decrease in pitch of the info on the tape, due to the increase in drag.

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