Cassette Deck Repair

Cassette decks are still alive and well — or at least alive, and many can benefit from cassette deck repair. This Fix-It Guide on cassette deck repair tells how a cassette deck works, what can go wrong, how to identify a cassette deck problem, what tools and materials are needed, and the steps to cassette deck repair. This guide tells how to clean a cassette deck head using a cleaning tape, how to clean a cassette deck head without a cleaning tape, how to demagnetize a tape heads and how to repair a cassette tape. The repair process is relatively easy and replacement parts are readily available.

Cassette Deck Repair

The head reads the signals off the tape. The capstan roller pulls the tape across the head.

How Does a Cassette Deck Work?

A cassette deck is a motor-driven electronic device that records and plays audio signals stored on a magnetic tape. The tape is encased in a housing called a cassette.

More specifically, the cassette deck player passes the cassette tape over magnetic heads that record or read the information already stored on the tape. The tape wheels are turned by a small belt connected to a motor. Newer cassette decks feature reliable electronic circuitry that means most problems that occur are mechanical. Cleaning, lubrication, and replacement of broken belts will add years of useful life to a cassette deck. Most electronic problems require professional service, but there still are many things you can do to fix your cassette deck.

What Can Go Wrong with a Cassette Deck?

Many things can go wrong with cassette decks because they have numerous electrical and moving parts. The electrical power cord can be faulty. The drive belt can break or be damaged. The read and record heads can be misaligned, worn, or dirty. The pinch roller that pulls the tape past the heads can be glazed. The tape motion sensor may be faulty or dirty. Switches can fail and connections may be dirty. In many cases, the problem is with the cassette itself. However, if the problem is electronic, take the deck to a professional repair person.

Fix-It Tip

You can fix a bad cassette tape by carefully removing the screws that hold the cassette together, then rewinding the tape on the two spools and across the pad between them. If you’re working on a treasured tape you don’t want to toss, buy a new tape that looks just like it, then take it apart to see how things should look. You may even be able to borrow a part or two from the new cassette to fix the old one.

How Can I Identify a Cassette Deck Problem?

What are the symptoms? Let’s take a look at some common symptoms to help you identify the problem.

  • If the deck won’t work at all, make sure that power is on at the outlet and check the electrical cord.
  • If the tape hisses, the sound is weak, or there are no high tones, the heads may be dirty or misaligned. You can clean (see below) and demagnetize the heads, but head misalignment is best left to a professional.
  • If the tape spills out of the cassette, the tape itself may be faulty, the belt may be broken, or the pinch roller may need cleaning.
  • If the sound is garbled, the heads may be dirty or the belts may be dirty, stretched, or slipping, or the cassette may be faulty.
  • If the deck won’t rewind or fast forward, the problem could be a broken belt or a faulty idler. Take it to a repair shop for service.
  • If the deck stops unexpectedly or won’t stop at the end of a tape, the cassette may be dirty or the tape may be misaligned. Inspect the hubs and clean off any dirt. Gently drop the cassette flat on a table so that the tape lies evenly on the reels. The problem also could be with the pinch roller. Remove the deck and unscrew it from the front panel. Lift the roller assembly off the shaft for replacement. Alternately, the tape motion sensor may be faulty or dirty, which requires professional servicing.
  • If the deck won’t record, the record/playback switch may be faulty, requiring professional service.
  • If the sound is distorted or intermittent, clean the external jacks, cables, and plugs. If that doesn’t help, the heads may be faulty, requiring professional service.

Fix-It Tip

Get a written estimate of costs before turning your broken cassette deck over to a repair service. There may be a fee just to get an estimate; however, that fee may apply to any repairs you authorize. Make sure you write on the estimate that the shop must call you before exceeding the estimate. If the unit isn’t repairable, the repair shop may be able to recycle parts from your old cassette deck for future repairs.

What Do I Need for Cassette Deck Repair?

You can get replacement parts from the manufacturer or aftermarket supplier. You also may need these tools:

  • Cleaning tape and solution
  • Cotton swabs
  • Denatured alcohol or head-cleaning fluid
  • Degausser (demagnetizer)
  • Tape splicing kit

What Are the Steps to Cassette Deck Repair?

As noted earlier, there are many things you can do yourself to fix a problematic cassette deck. Here are the most common fixes.

Clean cassette deck heads using a cleaning tape:

Over time oxides come loose from the cassette tape and collect on the tape guides, capstans, and pinch rollers and can push the tape off the path. Even a little dirt on the head will affect the sound. Clean the heads after 10 to 20 hours of use, using a cleaning tape. Follow the instructions from the manufacturer.

Clean cassette deck heads without a cleaning tape:

  1. Open the cassette door and wipe the heads with a cotton swab moistened with denatured alcohol or head-cleaning fluid.
  2. Turn the player on and hold a swab against each capstan and pinch roller as it turns.

Demagnetize cassette deck tape heads:

Purchase a demagnetizer (degausser) from an electronic parts and supply store and follow manufacturer’s recommendations.

Repair a cassette tape:

If a valuable tape breaks, you can splice it using a repair kit so that you can make a new copy of it. Avoid opening the housing whenever possible. If the end of the broken tape is visible, fish for it with double-stick tape wrapped over a toothpick. But if you must open the cassette, remove the screws or pry a bonded housing open, taking care not to let the tape unwind or fall out. Splice the tape following the repair kit instructions. Reinstall the repaired tape.

Fix-It Tip

Before spending too much money on repairs, visit a store to determine how much a replacement cassette deck will cost.