Introduction: How to Revive a Craig 2603 Cassette Recorder
** this instructable takes for granted that you have basic electronics knowledge and feel comfortable using small hand tools**
in this instructable we will be doing some basic maintenance to a craig 2603 "shoebox" style portable cassette recorder from the early 1970's.
these craig machines hit the market by storm. they were a quality, lower priced alternative to machines made by philips/norelco. functionally, they are very similar. just like the philips machines they copied, they used a multi position sliding knob to actuate play and fast wind modes. the craig 2603 even used 5 batteries just like the first philips machines did.
significant differences between the craig and the philips machines where the use of standard headphone jack type plugs instead of DIN plugs, a top mounted volume control, and the fact the craig is made in japan, not europe.
let's look inside!
Step 1: More Similarities
let's pop the cover and look inside. remove two screws on the bottom as shown in pic 1 and the cover comes off along with the battery cover. this is a very similar design to the philips machines. once inside (pic 2), things are pretty basic and easy to get to. there's one belt to replace and you're looking at it.
for comparison i have laid the craig chassis next to a philips chassis from the late 1960's. look at pic 3 and note how similar these machines are laid out. the craig seems to just be a little more spread out.
that one belt should be replaced. an old belt causes slipping which translates into warbly audio from speed variations and poor tape winding speed. a few manufacturers used belts that didn't turn to black goo over the years and it seems craig might have been one of them. i was surely expecting to see melted belt tar all over the pulleys but nope, this one just had a stretched belt.
right next to the flywheel there is a pulley with a rubber tire on it. clean the edge of that rubber tire with a q-tip soaked in alcohol. wipe the edge until you get most of the black residue off. the black residue is rubber dust.
if your machine has melted belt goo, see my instructable on reviving a norelco/philips machine for cleanup instructions. belt tar is nasty stuff and gets on everything.
Step 2: Getting the Belt Out
this deck is fairly easy to service. all you need to remove is the metal plate that goes over the capstan flywheel and you can replace the belt. in order to remove that plate though, you need to loosen a few more things.
there are two screws to remove in the battery compartment (pic 1) and two that hold the metal handle (pic 2). once those are removed, the mechanism will be loose in its case. the mechanism will not come out unless you remove the joystick control knob which i found to be impossible without breaking it. i decided to work with the bit of space i had just by wiggling the loose chassis over enough to get a screw driver in and loosen the flywheel retainer plate (pic 3).
you don't need to remove the retainer plate completely, just loosen it to slip the belt in. you should use a new belt that fits snug but is not tight like a guitar string. the way to test if a belt has enough tension is hold the motor pulley and try to turn the flywheel. do this while NOT touching the belt. there should be significant resistance to slipping yet the belt should not be tight like a guitar string.
use a real tape recorder belt and not a rubber band. a rubber band will theoretically work but results in obnoxious speed variations while playing or recording. a cassette deck belt assortment kit can be found online at the auction site for about $10 that will have the belt you need for this recorder.
Step 3: Some Basic Cleaning
now that you've got a new belt in, finish the job by cleaning the machine up for your first tape. in pic 1 you see a q-tip on the erase head. this is what erases old recordings when you are reusing a tape.
in pic 2 you see a q-tip on the play / record head. this is what "reads" the tape for playback and puts your signal on the tape when you record.
in pic 3 you see a q-tip on the roller and capstan shaft. both of these should be cleaned. if you put batteries in your machine and hit fast forward or rewind, the capstan shaft will spin making cleanup easier. when you are done with that, put the machine in play mode and this will cause the roller to spin as it's pressed against the capstan shaft. it's much easier to clean as it spins.
what to use for cleanup?
ideally, denatured alcohol or dedicated head cleaning fluid is the correct fluid to use. this is a non critical application and you can wing it with common rubbing alcohol and not hurt anything. when you are done cleaning, take a fresh dry q-tip and wipe all the parts you cleaned and make sure there is no wet residue left.
i recently wrote an instructable on cleaning the tape path on cassette recorders. for an in depth how to with parts names and all, check out.. https://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Clean-a-Cassette-Recorder/
Step 4: Re-assemble and Enjoy
putting the chassis back in might be a little challenging. just don't rush it. the chassis holds the speaker in place so you must make sure the speaker is sitting properly in its round indentation in the plastic before the chassis will set down right. once you've done that, put the two screws from the battery compartment back in but don't fully tighten them.
next put the handle back on. the flat washer goes against the recorder's body, the washer with the alignment key goes through the handle and into a slot on the side of the recorder's plastic case, then goes the flathead screw. once all the fasteners are in, then tighten them.
done! your machine should be up to snuff once again.
what to expect? well, this is a early 70's era machine designed to be used mainly for voice recording. people did use them for music. if it wasn't for the number of people using machines like this for music, cassette wouldn't have taken off as a viable music media.
these machines were also popular with people sending and receiving "living letters" to friends and family that were sent off to vietnam. folks would send voice recordings to soldiers overseas and they would send tapes back. soldiers coming back from vietnam often times brought back japanese audio gear that wasn't available yet in the U.S.
on the front of the machine you will see 4 jacks. (3) are the standard sized 1/8" type plugs used on ipods and so forth, the remaining one is a slightly smaller size that was commonly used on old tape recorders. these old tape recorders had the ability to use a mic with a pause button. this would allow you to momentarily stop the recording if needed. the small jack was for that pause function.
the remaining 3 jacks are "mic" level in for a dynamic mic, "aux" in which is line level, and "ear" (headphone) out. you can feed the aux in with line level from a cd player, computer, ipod, etc. the "ear" out disconnects the speaker when you plug in and allows you to listen to tapes via headphones.
keep in mind this is a mono machine, not stereo. this means it records and plays back as one channel. plugging in stereo headphones or a headphone to rca cable to the "ear" jack will provide audio on only one channel. it will play stereo tapes as mono and the tapes it makes will play on a stereo machine but they will be mono.
new blank tapes can still be found at some drug stores and used ones can be easily found at yard sales and flea markets. if you wish to learn much more about cassette tapes as a recording media, check out my instructable on cassette tapes 1101.
finally, this machine does not have auto stop. it was made before most machines had the feature. what does that mean? if you leave the machine in play or fast wind, when it hits the end of the tape the machine stalls. it's not an ideal situation for the machine or the tape in it. this machine is not meant to be left unattended.
so how did it record once it was revived?
better than expected. i dropped in a used, modern production maxell UR90. it was one of the last made with the mu-metal shield. i ran audio from my lappy into the aux in jack on the machine. i had to set the output on the lappy down to about 25% as it would easily overload the craig. i did run processing on the audio which i'm sure helped with the limited dynamic range of this machine.
consistent recording and good sound for a shoebox recorder. seems that it likes the maxell UR tapes. this machine has "auto" recording levels (probably just a clipper). it did a good job. i still need to go play the tape back on the home stereo and see how it sounds on a real system.
i can see how these decks definitely helped usher in the cassette for music movement. even running off batteries, music recordings were still beyond just acceptable. if all you had was the craig and some typical 1970's bookshelf stereo, you'd be happy with the performance of the craig. don't just fix up your machine, use it every so often! enjoy it!