Picture of How to fix a cassette tape.
*this instructable takes for granted that you can use basic hand tools and have good dexterity with small parts. the only items required are the tapes, a small screwdriver set, a pair of needle nose pliers is helpful, and scotch tape.*

for all those folks still holding on to a cherished but broken cassette tape, here's how to properly fix the common ailments. in this instructable we'll cover transplanting the tape from a busted shell to a good shell, how to get into a welded shell cassette, how to splice a tape, and how to fix squeals.

the lowly cassette.. if you were a kid of the 80's you knew them well. littered around the car's glovebox, piled around a boombox, or crammed in your pocket on your way to school, cassettes were everywhere. it's how an entire generation swapped music or impressed their partner with their ability to create a mix tape.

thanks to the ipod and its huge storage abilities, the mixtape has become a lost art. swapping music went from being a very social activity to something as mundane as checking email. despite the advances in tech, millions of cassettes still survive as do the machines to play them on.

granted the music on many tapes is available in digital form but not all. lots of folks used hidden recorders to make bootleg tapes at concerts. just look at the huge online community that still swaps grateful dead recordings. many of those bootleg recordings were initially made on cassette. there's also mixtapes that were made with a personal touch that a playlist on an ipod can never come near.

enough reminiscing, let's dig in!

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Step 1: What kind of shell do you have?

Picture of what kind of shell do you have?
cassette shells basically come in two types, welded together and screwed together. the screwed together shells will have from 1 to 5 screws holding them together. the welded ones have no screws. both halves are joined using a process called sonic welding which makes repair a little difficult but not impossible.

welded shell tapes must be cracked open. screwed together tapes come apart easily once the screws are removed.

There is one very important problem that wasn't covered in your instructions: if the tape (unplayed for years) doesn't play, fast-forward or go backward one. What can be done? Doesn't work on high-end Pioneer and Nakamichi players? The player hums for a few seconds on any of these 3 functions and then stop, or on another machine, it plays for a second then stops, and after removing the cassette, I notice that 1-2 inches of tape came out of the cassette. There appears to be resistance from the plastic cassette tape. Should I put a drop of oil on each of the cassette wheel as well as the player's transport system??? RSVP for you or anybody that had that problem and got it fixed. Now, my 300-cassette vintage collection doesn't play. Thank you.

ke4mcl (author)  michel.laflamme.5645 months ago
NO OIL on tapes! that would be a bad thing.

there are some tapes that are known to bind up like that but its an uncommon occurrence seen only on really old 1960's-early 70's tapes and some really cheap tapes.

you wont want to hear this but chances are it's your decks if all your tapes are doing the same thing. the issue may have to do with the belts. most cassette decks are reaching the point where the factory belts are stretched or melting into a blob of tar. it's a fairly common problem that's well documented and not a terribly hard fix. it's easy to get dirty though cleaning up the melted belt goo.

you can get new belts tailored to your machines from marrscommunications on the web. they even bring instructions. to get an idea what you're looking at as far as belt goo and cleanup, see my instructable on reviving a vintage norelco cassette recorder.

if you need help, has a very knowledgeable and friendly user base that will gladly field questions. whatever you do, dont toss your gear. plenty of us in tapeland are used to rebelting decks and even buy "broken" ones.
Barbara7412 months ago

Please can you help me.. I have a 1960 cassette tape with my dads voice on it and the tape looks fine I need to put new case on it..My dad past in 1966 Thank you

Barbara7412 months ago
nishy.wishy.37 months ago

Is it possible to retrieve data off a tape??

ke4mcl (author)  nishy.wishy.37 months ago
Most certainly. Data on cassettes was just audio tones.
Vulpinemac10 months ago

I would argue one single point about this article, and that's the, "Snip the ends of the snap tape so you have nice square cuts."

ABSOLUTELY NOT! You're already talking about using ordinary Scotch tape (ok, Scotch MAGIC tape) so we're working with an adhesive not intended to secure something that's under tension--especially in an auto-reverse machine. Splicing the tape with squared-off ends simply doesn't offer enough surface area for a proper bond.

I offer an alternative suggestion, but this does require the Post-It note and a really sharp blade on your knife.

Rather than cutting the tips square right away, overlap the loose ends of the audio tape--preferably by placing the cleanest piece down first and carefully aligning the crinkled piece to put the undamaged portion in line with the least-damaged end and stick it down. (You may want to cut off all but a half-inch or so of the crinkled audio tape if machine-eaten.) I emphasize that you want about a half- to one-inch of overlap when the two pieces are stuck down.

Assuming your two strips of audio tape are aligned properly, take your knife and make a 45° cut across the tape. Press straight down with the blade to avoid moving the tape itself and get a clean cut. Use your tweezers to carefully remove both cut-off pieces of tape and gently press the loose tip into alignment with the other on the Post-It note.

Now you can apply the Scotch tape and have a stronger splice that will hold up through several play cycles.

Windber10 months ago

Great Instructable. One quick question though. On most of my old tapes, the pressure pads have either popped off or become oddly misshapened. Are replacements easy to get, and what would be a good way of re-affixing them? Any help you good give me would be greatly appreciated.

Keep up the good work!

hmmfomtgal1 year ago
Thank you for the nice instructable, it was easy to follow and full of information.

Also, I apologize for the feud we had a little less than a year ago, I was being stubborn. I figured that my issue was unusual, when in fact it could be any one of the problems that you listed here. When I came across the issue with the squealing tape, I was unable to find any significant advice other than to lubricate the tapes with engine oil or something of the like and wipe it off. (I didn't have any.... Nor did I think that using it was a good idea.) I had to sort through all of the jargon about squeaky rollers, which wasn't the issue I thought that I was having. (It was more than a little squeak from the rollers..... Three-fourths of the most of the songs were overlapped by a loud, obnoxious squealing noise... It was awful! >.<) I think I was being a little pertinacious back then, as the tape could have easily stuck to the rollers a bit during those parts of the song, causing the squealing noise...... I still don't know the what the issue was (I bought the tape used online in that condition, which makes it harder to locate the problem.), but I haven't had an issue with my player, that tape, nor any of the other tapes since then and don't feel like looking into it until the issue arises again. (I don't play that particular tape very often, though. Hopefully it wouldn't ruin my player if I were decided to play it more often.) Being my age, I lack knowledge of the proper care and use of cassette tapes, and when I saw that my cheap solution to my "peculiar" problem worked, I felt the need to inform the world of how to fix it so that they wouldn't have to search through all of that "unnecessary information" and get straight to the point. I apologize for my incompetence and for telling the world to go along with it and possibly ruin their tapes and/or cassette players.
Pfft, still listening to cassettes? Everyone knows records are where it's at.
On a more serious note, this brings back fond memories of reeling in tape over the length of the house.
ProfMuggs2 years ago
When I used to have tapes get eaten by a tape player, I would carefully remove the tape and cut off any stretched pieces to get 2 nice ends to work with. Then I would use a drop of Krazy glue on the 2 ends of tape to stick them back together. That spot on the tape would usually make a loud pop when it ran over the tape heads, but it worked great.
MikB2 years ago
Nice to see the old technology and techniques being kept alive :)

"is scotch tape the right stuff? ... No"

But it's pretty darn close. In fact, I've used this in preference to some official splicing tape which (over time) allowed the adhesive backing to bleed, sticking neighbouring winds of tape together. Useless!

You can use many of these principles on VHS tape too, if you still have any :)

Also on those slip sheets: Some are coated with graphite to help the tape slide, but I had a batch of Philips brand tapes with these things in that kept binding up. So much for lubricating qualities. Took the slip sheets out and threw them away. Worked much better since ... it would cause the takeup spool to stall and eventually stop -> no takeup -> tape everywhere -> jammed.
caarntedd2 years ago
Great work. I have many old cassettes. Thanks.
Well written and informative 'ible. Good job!