How to extract jammed tapes (and other helpful hints) originally appeared in the August '97 issue of EQ

by Eddie Ciletti


One week the machines were particularly unhappy: five jammed tapes and one formerly happy-go-lucky machine gone awry.  Unusual, because a deck that snags a tape like a dog with a favorite chew-toy usually gives some advance warning.  The first time Ďround, there is maybe a 30% chance that either the tape or the shell is at fault.  Sometimes little pieces of the plastic shell break off and get lodged in the mechanism. No matter what the cause, donít ignore the hint.  Itís service time.

Make a point to regularly check the error rate especially after formatting a new tape.  If youíve gone three years or 500-plus hours without a glitch, donít wait for distortion.  Once the error light is on, itís too late.


The best way to free a magnetic hostage is through careful negotiation, NOT by prying the tape or the loading mechanism with a penknife.  Donít laugh.  Iíve had customers get blood on the head drum.  More damage is done to tapes and mechanisms by the over-anxious than by momentarily crazed machines.  If the tape is really important to you, have a pro remove it.  My policy is to remove tapes for free provided the customer leaves the machine for service.

Before your machine ever gets the munchies, pop its cover and observe how first the cassette is loaded, then the tape is pulled from the shell and threaded around the head drum.  Loading and threading are two separate processes.  Often you may be able to unload the cassette but the tape will still be wrapped around the head.

Click here to learn how to remove a tape from the popular Panasonic models: SV-3200 through SV-4100 (all except the SV 3500 and the SV-2xx series.

Note:  It is good practice to leave a five minute pad at both ends of a tape in the event that a tapedectomy is required.  Though illegal in some states, tapedectomy is allowed in cases where the life of the studio owner/engineer and/or machine is at stake.

Machines that allow manual manipulation of the loading mechanism are:  the Tascam DA-30 and DA-30 MKII, blackface adats and XTs, all Panasonic tabletops except the SV-3500 and some Sony machines.  Only Alesis machines allow easy access to both the threading and ejecting mechanisms.

For all machines, first determine if the deck is "frozen" or simply canít/wonít eject the tape.  If possible, wind to the head or the tail so that only the least important part of the tape is exposed to potential damage.


Tascamís DA-38/88 mechanism is programmed to halt at the first sign of trouble.  Re-powering clears error messages (for many machines).  If so, eject first, then try a non-critical tape.  DA-88 load mechanisms canít  be manually manipulated, but users can enter TEST mode by simultaneously pressing FF, STOP and PLAY on power-up and then immediately pressing STOP.  ("Test" should appear in the display.  No message means "try again" and "Hung Servo" means fageddaboudit.)  After the VU meter message antics are over, press EJECT.  If nothing happens, go to the nearest repair facility.

More Notes: Once in TEST mode, pressing the REMOTE switch turns meters 1 & 2 into an error rate display for the A & B heads, respectively.  Donít leave the machine in TEST mode.


Thereís not enough room here to provide extraction details for each machine.  That will be saved for a future article.  Massaging the machine into coughing up your master means you won the battle, not the war.  If a broken piece of cassette shell caused the problem in the first place, it must be found and removed before it does further damage.  Unfortunately, the other source of transport problems is a defective "Mode" or "Load" switch.  Both are responsible for status reports back to the microprocessor.  These are not user-serviceable parts.

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