Almost thirty years ago my husband built a cabinet to house all his stereo paraphernalia. It was quite an ordeal and took him months since each hole he cut out had to be proportioned to fit each piece of equipment and each piece of equipment had many cables and wires attached. Now remember the time frame and recall things like record players and reel-to-reel decks of which he had two. (Ken always has two of everything. Today he has two DVD/VCR recorders, two equalizers; our TV room has two TV’s for Pete’s sake!)
Reel-to-reel decks were used to tape songs. They are kin to audio cassette decks (of which Ken has had two for 30 years) which are the forerunners of today’s CD’s, at least in home audio recording terms.
He has revamped the cabinet multiple times to accommodate new pieces of equipment as home audio has evolved and because he just likes doing that sort of thing. This allows him to put his wire skills to good use as well as woodworking ability. The man can wire anything. I marvel at his talent.
His latest hobby began when our neighbor noticed Ken had a couple of cassette decks and she asked if he could copy some of the cassettes she had. He was more than happy to oblige, however, his cassette decks were way old and no longer worked. He found a guy who took some of his cash and ‘tried’ to fix them to no avail.
Along the way Ken decided to get his reel-to-reel decks repaired. So the same guy took more of Ken’s money and proved that he was just as good at not fixing reel-to-reels as he was at not fixing cassettes decks!
Then hubby found a guy in Illinois who restored tape decks and sold them on eBay. Ken sent him first one tape deck, then a second, and paid him to restore each. Neither one worked properly when they were returned. After some deliberation Ken thought that maybe he could provide equally poor service to himself and save the cash!
He discovered that he could buy old tape decks on eBay that were reported to be already in working order. And then he realized that sometimes things don’t work as advertised. But then he found that he could actually have some success at fixing his own equipment. So, why not buy some tape decks that aren’t working (cheap), fix them and resell for a higher price?
The decks first began coming one by one once in a while. This led to two per week and then the final jackpot was when he drove to Hillsboro (160 miles round trip) and bought four at one time. Ken would celebrate each time the doorbell rang, and certainly with good cause since it was always a big box with an old (there is no such thing as a “new”) reel-to-reel being delivered. He’d hurriedly bring the box in and tear it open causing dust to fly and packing material to be strewn everywhere. Though thrilled for him this was one of the parts I didn’t like. And after he’d fixed a machine and had it in pristine condition the process of wrapping the reel-to-reel for shipment was another source of dust and tiny wrapping parts afloat in the room. I’ve given up dusting, vacuuming and mopping for a while.
I’ve experienced as many as nine reel-to-reels in his black hole (office) at one time with an additional dozen or so in his workshop out back. He added heavy duty shelves in his black hole so he can have eight tape decks all in a row. (I can remember when two of whatever was plenty.)
So who, besides Ken, buys reel-to-reels in this day and age? People who years ago bought LP’s (long- playing vinyl records) copied them to reel-to-reel tapes, and then their machines shot craps. Their tapes lay dormant for decades and now they want to play those tapes and convert them to CD’s.
Or maybe some thirty-something year old inherited a stack of old tapes and needs to know what kind of music Dad listened to.
Another prospective buyer would be one who has heard that analog sound can be warmer and more pleasant than digital sound and they want to convert their digital library to analog media. So there is definitely a market out there for reel-to-reels.
I’ve watched Ken use a Q-tip to clean the most intricate parts inside after taking the back cover off. He soaks some parts in the sink and uses a toothbrush in the corners to make sure they’re clean. I’ve seen him use a high power blower to dust the inside. And even a vacuum to suck more dust out…and be whistling at the same time. So why it is when he does any cleaning in the house it’s a half-baked job and he grumbles the entire time? I have the answer…he loves his newfound hobby. Not only does he fix the inside of the machines but he also makes new wooden side panels for the units using his woodworking skills.
He’s been able to sell the refurbished units and make a tidy profit, enough to cover his expenses and a little pocket change left over. What could be better? One unexpected bonus is making new phone-a-friends all over the country who share his penchant for old reel-to-reels. He’s meant some interesting people this way who speak his language. Ken’s even had contact from a dude in Brazil. Unfortunately, the cost to ship a tape deck to his location is cost prohibitive.
Now when people ask, “what do you do since you’re retired”, my husband says, “I make old tape decks as good as new.”
Originally published in the March 2011 issue of The Cross Timbers Gazette.