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621004 Posts in 24984 Topics by 3550 Members - Latest Member: SunshineOverClouds November 23, 2017, 01:59:13 PM
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Author Topic: Pancakes and Reels, go 'round & 'round  (Read 910 times)
Stephen W. Desper
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« on: November 02, 2017, 11:48:29 AM »

Rather then a private reply to an email I received from a fan, I decided to post my response as a topic since the information may be of interest to other fans that post here.

Hi Stephen,

I'm a huge Beach Boy fan. I'm trying to discover all the Scotch reel tapes types in order to recreate a sort of personal collection with cd’s. I created the reel tape box, miniaturized for cds of course.

I found this types:
1) http://digitalspyuk.cdnds.net/13/31/980x1014/gallery_music-beach-boys-7.jpg
And it's ok, the most classic, typical BB tape.

2) http://www.phawker.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Brian-Mic1.jpg
Those on the wall where used for what? And what about the one on the reel machine?

3) I found an image of BB reels stored at Capitol Records (maybe are those Ampex reels?)
https://dudo6el28sqqp.cloudfront.net/gothamistgallery/2016/5/19/afe0633f0.jpeg

I thought you could be the best person who could help me in my research.
Thanks in advance!

All the best, ------- 

COMMENT:    Hello FAN:

I hope I understand what you are doing. From your email it seems you are (1) either copying BB cd’s to reel-to-reel tape, or you are creating miniature CD cases that look like master tape boxes.

The photo you provided at #2, is a picture of Brian standing next to an Ampex model 350 recorder. On the wall can be seen a small reel full of leader tape. Next to it is a transparent plate that fits onto the tape machine in place of a reel. A hub can be seen resting on top of the tape recorder.

Take note that the take-up section of the tape recorder has no reel, but a plate similar to the one on the wall. First of all, most master tapes are NOT stored on reels!  Reels cost about $25 each and do not actually hold the tape. So for storage, tape is not kept on reels. It is kept on what are called, “pancakes.”  So you understand, a pancake is all the tape used for a song or album, packed onto a hub or center spindle, layer after layer, until the pancake may be 10 inches in diameter (same as a reel). The pancake may also be smaller.

Take note that reel flanges do not actually come into contact with the tape as it winds. The reel is there to make it easy to handle the pancake, contained within the reel. Sometimes the pancake may have a reel assembled around it after it is removed from its storage box. It only takes three screws to hold the entire reel together. Here is a photo of a pancake.

http://www.arizona-am.net/PHOENIX/W7CPA/ATR%20Pancake%201.jpg

You can see the black center hub with the tape packed around it. If you pick up the pancake it is rather strong and will stay together with normal handling. Note the three screw-holes in the hub.

Sometimes the reel is assembled around the pancake as shown in the following four photos.

http://www.tapeheads.net/pictures/archived/Pancake_Flanges.jpg

http://www.tapeheads.net/pictures/archived/Pancake_Unscrew1.jpg

http://www.tapeheads.net/pictures/archived/Pancake_On_Flange.jpg

http://www.tapeheads.net/pictures/archived/Pancake_Flange_Cover.jpg

However it is unnecessary to use reels during normal studio work. Here is a video of using pancakes.  The tape machine uses plates on the bottom of the pancake, but even the plates are not necessary for using pancakes since the tape never touches anything but the next layer of tape. The reel flange does not guide the tape or even touch it. The reel only makes it safer to move the tape from place to place, because if the pancake should come apart, you have a real mess on your hands with about an hour to rewind the tape onto a new reel.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZznnBKy5ks

The tape exits or enters the tape recording mechanism via tape guides. These are so accurate in their ability to spool the tape that even fast-forwarding or rewinding the tape without any reels is easy. In the following video you will see how stable the tape is as it moves from the supply pancake to an empty hub.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHx8-ypYn0I

By the way, the studio rule is that when putting a tape away for storage, the free end is taped down to the reel or box using a piece of colored paper tape (always in good supply) so the pack does not unravel. The tape is supplied in two colors: red and blue. The blue paper tape signifies the tape is tails out (blue tails) and the red paper tape signifies the tape is heads out (red head).

Usually master reels are not rewound, but stored un-rewound. There are two reasons for this. First the pack of the tape is more even when it is spooled via the steady speed of 15 or 30 IPS rather than using the rewind speed. Even packing of the pancake assures long-time physical stability of the tape because all the forces used to spool the tape were even. Rewind speeds are not only uneven, but because of the high speed, allow air to be captured between the layers making for a looser pancake that may come apart with handling. Second, storing the tape in reverse places print-through, that may occur in long-time storage, at the end of, rather then at the beginning of a song. This tends to mask the print-through when heard in the fade rather than in the silence before the song begins. Print-through is the transfer of magnetic images from one layer of tape to the next and the next. When a tape has been stored for a long time after being rewound, you can hear the song start softly before it actually starts. If you store it without rewinding, this is minimized.

As to the type of tape used by the Beach Boys . . . their career spans several decades, thus the master tape used for their recordings reflects the technical progress of this long period. Usually the tape used is by choice of the engineer in charge, or the studio for whom they work. 

The early Capitol recordings used Scotch 203, 206 and later 209 (Studio Mastering Tapes). Also Ampex 456 (Grand Master) and Maxell 35-180 (Mastering Tape) came into wide spread use by independent studios. I preferred to use Agfa  PER 525, imported from Germany, with its distinctive pink backing color.

We sometimes forget that studio recording is not all glitz and glamour. There is the technical side that can sometimes be laborious. This is certain each time a reel of tape is mounted onto a recording machine. Every tape has a unique formulation. Each time a tape is used for recording, the machine must be aligned for that particular tape. This takes about 15 minutes for a two-track machine and up to 60 minutes for a multi-track machine, depending on the number of tracks.

The procedure is to first clean the heads. Next decide which standard you will adhere to NAB, IEC, or AES standards. The standard used is up to the studio or recording engineer. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Then mount a laboratory standard alignment tape and adjust all the equalization parameters so that all tones reproduce at zero level on the VU meter. This is adjusting the playback EQ. Once the playback section is adjusted, the particular brand and type of tape that will be used for recording is mounted. First, set the recording level for zero. Second, using a high-frequency tone, the bias is adjusted for optimum hysteresis – too much or too little bias will distort, so the correct amount is adjusted for minimum distortion. Some tapes recommend an over-bias point for best performance, so that must be taken into consideration. Next tones are recorded and monitored via the playback head (which was previously adjusted to the lab standard) for zero settings. This is adjusting the recording EQ. The same thing must be repeated for adjusting the sync heads (playback via the recording heads).  Obviously, doing all this for 24 tracks can take up to an hour.

Tones of 1000 Hz, 10k Hz, and 100 Hz are recorded at the beginning of any Master Tape so that machines that may be used in the future can be adjusted to have the same EQ as was used when the recording was originally made.

This video shows how it’s done.

Part I (on EQ) >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW5kifLh598

Part II (on Bias) >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUMtN2kQtqw

Here are images of tape boxes that you can easily adapt to CD jewel-case inserts.

Agfa 525 >>>  https://i.pinimg.com/736x/4d/2a/94/4d2a94c7c895c9b1f55eed96409d7cd8--tape-audio.jpg

Scotch (generic) >>>
https://psap.library.illinois.edu/assets/audiotape-or-box-1500-dd100e1ff25f6f86c3e4931f578847c3.jpg

Ampex 456 >>> https://i.pinimg.com/736x/0b/35/f3/0b35f361ede492ef0a440df4d7f881f8--tape-masters.jpg

Ampex (generic) >>>
https://images.reverb.com/image/upload/s--UeM4XmxI--/a_270/a_exif,c_limit,e_unsharp_mask:80,f_auto,fl_progressive,g_south,h_620,q_90,w_620/v1490126899/gn9awkuga3wkoywxbh8o.jpg

And a label for the CD itself that turns the CD into a 10 ˝ inch reel of tape >>>
http://a0.amlimg.com/ZjgxMTAzYWE0MzZmZWE5NzMzYWYwMTkwZTkzYmU0ZGNW43AIty7v2PwAuATWcMieaHR0cDovL21lZGlhLmFkc2ltZy5jb20vZjE4YTZmMzBkNTRkZmY5YTlhNzZhODdiZjlmNzI1N2NmZDIyOGI2ZGNmMWUwOWIxMmRjYmI1ZDQwZTJhMmYwYS5qcGd8fHx8fHwzOTZ4MjYzfGh0dHA6Ly93d3cuYWR2ZXJ0cy5pZS9zdGF0aWMvaS93YXRlcm1hcmsucG5nfHx8.jpg

When you have finished your mock Beach Boy Reel box CD collection, post a photo for all to see.

Recently another fan did the something similar. It was cause for quite a lot of conversation and conjecture here, by many fans.

Here’s the link. >>> http://smileysmile.net/board/index.php/topic,25470.0.html

Hope all this helps --- And have fun.

~SWD


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JK
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« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2017, 01:52:08 AM »

Thank you very much for sharing, sir. In-depth insider information like this would otherwise be lost for ever.
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« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2017, 07:10:35 AM »

yes thanks so much for all this info.. i learned alot.. !!
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Don Malcolm
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« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2017, 04:49:44 PM »

Stephen, could you elaborate on the reasons behind your preference for Agfa tape? And, if you kept track of such info (no one here would be surprised to discover that you did so!), which songs were recorded on what? It's been awhile since I read your technical notes that were included on SUNFLOWER, but I don't recall you mentioning tape brands as part of your discussion...
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Stephen W. Desper
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« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2017, 07:39:45 AM »

Stephen, could you elaborate on the reasons behind your preference for Agfa tape? And, if you kept track of such info (no one here would be surprised to discover that you did so!), which songs were recorded on what? It's been awhile since I read your technical notes that were included on SUNFLOWER, but I don't recall you mentioning tape brands as part of your discussion...

   COMMENT TO Don Malcolm:  Of all the tape manufacturers of that time, Agfa had the most stable of the backing formulas. Over time their backing would prove to be quite enduring and permanent in that masters recorded on Agfa do not need to be "baked" before playing nor does the magnetic material flake off the backing. This is due to the superior bonding chemicals used by Agfa -- having been a chemical conglomerate for many years prior. However the major reason I liked Agfa was that one of their formulations (#525) had the highest output available. Knowing that we were going to be doing a lot of ping-ponging, that extra few dB of output would give us that much less tape hiss from track jumping to track jumping -- resulting in a finished work with more signal and less noise. A minor advantage to the pink backing was the ability to write on the tape and see visual cues for punch-ins in advance of thier passing the record head. In recording background vocals for example, rewinding the tape back and listening, over and over you may think you're in the second chorus when you;re really in the first chorus -- they can sometimes sound alike -- so the writing on the backing was a help.  Agfa was about 50% more costly than Scotch or Ampex tape, but over the years has proven its mechanical and magnetic advantages.
   Unfortunately Agfa was very hard to get, so some recordings are done on Ampex or Scotch. Someone with access to the master tapes in the vault can tell you what song was recorded on what tape, but my journals do not always list the tape used.
 ~swd
« Last Edit: November 15, 2017, 07:48:59 AM by Stephen W. Desper » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2017, 11:15:51 AM »

I love reading about these details!!! Thanks Stephen!
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« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2017, 12:20:31 PM »

COMMENT TO Don Malcolm:  Of all the tape manufacturers of that time, Agfa had the most stable of the backing formulas. Over time their backing would prove to be quite enduring and permanent in that masters recorded on Agfa do not need to be "baked" before playing nor does the magnetic material flake off the backing. This is due to the superior bonding chemicals used by Agfa -- having been a chemical conglomerate for many years prior. However the major reason I liked Agfa was that one of their formulations (#525) had the highest output available. Knowing that we were going to be doing a lot of ping-ponging, that extra few dB of output would give us that much less tape hiss from track jumping to track jumping -- resulting in a finished work with more signal and less noise. A minor advantage to the pink backing was the ability to write on the tape and see visual cues for punch-ins in advance of thier passing the record head. In recording background vocals for example, rewinding the tape back and listening, over and over you may think you're in the second chorus when you;re really in the first chorus -- they can sometimes sound alike -- so the writing on the backing was a help.  Agfa was about 50% more costly than Scotch or Ampex tape, but over the years has proven its mechanical and magnetic advantages.
   Unfortunately Agfa was very hard to get, so some recordings are done on Ampex or Scotch. Someone with access to the master tapes in the vault can tell you what song was recorded on what tape, but my journals do not always list the tape used.
 ~swd

I used to work on the fringes of the music business in '69-'72, very low-key stuff. I was an assistant at a background music library, catering mainly to TV stations. I remember we used Agfa tape----exclusively, if my memory serves me right.
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