Friday, May 27

My "New" VCR, How I Fixed It, and Other Helpful Tips...

Buyers of old home theater equipment have surely heard this line before, "I'm selling it for a friend who upgraded...". And anyone who bought whatever it was are probably aware of the inevitable outcome once plugged into an outlet. My guess is the seller can justify passing off a broken VCR, DVD player, or whatever by saying this line at the time of purchase. Thinking that the buyer might blame this phantom "friend" and not be able to come back to complain to him about his supposed friend's junk.

Whatever the case, I encountered this situation last Saturday. This Sony SLV-770HF VCR was sitting at a yard sale with a chunk of cardboard proclaiming "VHS $5.00". I immediately knew it was one of Sony's higher end models from the front panel's dropdown door and electroluminescent display. This deck also has a rewind mode dubbed "Hi-Speed Rewind" which like old VCRs places the tape back into the cassette for rewinding instead of running the tape against the drum and through the machine at lightening speed (less wear and tear).

In spite of hearing that infamous line, the unit looked too good cosmetically and the price was low enough to take the gamble. Sure enough, upon ejecting an old blank that was already inside, the eject mechanism labored and the tape barely popped out. Pulling the cassette out revealed ribbons of eaten tape unspooled inside the machine. Sometimes the VCR would make a few noises in protest and immediately spit the tape back out. This is why it's never a good idea to ever quickly pull a tape out of a VCR. Ya just never know...

Now what? It's a tape eater! The worst thing to an avid collector who wants to enjoy their collection through its original purpose. Popping the case off, I suspected a particular piece to be the culprit and was proven right. One of the guide pins, the metal posts that pull the tape from the cassette into the mechanism for playback, was extremely stiff when moved manually by hand.

Another blank tape sacrifice proved the half load (or return) arm (red arrow) functioned as intended at pulling the tape in, but when swinging back to eject, swung too slowly with the tape catching and wrenching out when the cassette lifted up and out. This resulted in troubled ejecting and "eaten" tapes.

Apparently this is a known issue with Sony models, but it can also apply to many other VCRs since the internal layout is standardized. The original factory grease thickens over time and clogs the arm's movement resulting in hungry VCR syndrome. The fix was simple enough. I marked the tiny hexnut that holds the arm down with a magic marker. Then I took a pair of needlenose pliers and slowly unscrewed the nut while counting the turns by the mark I made (mine was about nine turns).

Why count turns? The arm is supported by a fragile spring and counting the turns helps when re-fitting the arm back onto the post. The arm needs to be correctly aligned back or it will crimp the tape as it moves along the arm. Ever see a tape with a shredded edge that played like shit? Misalignment of this arm was the reason.

After removing the arm and being careful not to even touch the spring, I soaked the piece in some isopropyl alcohol and then scraped the dried ear wax-like "grease" out of the post hole. I dug in the garage for some Silicone Spray lubricant (easy to find) and thoroughly sprayed the hole and broke California State law by spraying my fingers directly to lub up the post in the VCR. I'd avoid spraying anything inside the VCR.

Placing the arm back in its original position (the spring's end sits under a little holding tab), nine turns of the hexnut later and another blank cassette saw that the tape was aligned properly while playing on the first try. Eject worked smoothly and the arm swung freely by hand and with the VCR's normal functions. Keep the case's screws out and tape them on the side for top in a baggie just in case you ever need to open the VCR again. Fixed, cool VCR for five bucks!

Pissed off robotic Pam Grier in the year 1999 approves of her playback device!


JSG said...

you are a genius. wish you were my neighbor.

Anonymous said...

Mine was eating tapes too. I cleaned the return arm as you suggested and moves much better now. I would advise closely looking at how the spring and arm is engaged prior to pulling off. I cleaned with alcohol and put a very small amount of motor oil in the arm cavity. Mine continued to eat tapes. It appeared that the guide that swings upward toward the head when a tape is inserted (it is blue on mine) was riding too high. I cleaned up the track that it rides on and now voila! no more eaten tapes. Thanks for the tutorial, I would probably have just ditched this tape eater, but you made it look so simple... you dare tread upon the staircase?

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