Belt up!

Martin Astell blogs for us about one of the weird and wonderful things he is called upon to do as the Sound and Video Archivist at the Essex Record Office…

Because the Essex Sound and Video Archive preserves a range of sound recordings on all sorts of obsolete media, to some extent we have to be a kind of working museum of old audio equipment.

This is a Fostex R8 – an 8-track open reel tape recorder built in Japan in the late 1980s for the high-end home recording market. Our machine was refusing to play tapes, so I decided to investigate.

I could see that the capstan (i.e. the bit that drives the tape through the machine) was not turning so I guessed that there may have been a problem with the drive belt. I took the front panel off to see if I could identify the problem.

This is the daunting sight that greets you when you remove the front panel. The cotton swab you can see stuck into the machine is showing the capstan drive wheel. I could see at this stage that the belt was slipping off the drive wheel as it turned.

The rubber drive belts unfortunately stretch over time, eventually reaching a point where they no longer grip the wheel sufficiently. The remedy is to replace the belt.


Here is a close-up of the capstan drive wheel. Note that there is quite a small ‘window’ through which the belt and drive wheel can be seen. So how do you change the belt? This is when I discovered (thanks to the wonders of the internet and the willingness of analogue recording enthusiasts to help one another) that I should have taken off the back panel of the machine.


Here are the scary circuit boards which present themselves when you remove the rear panel and the daunting tangle of wires, motors and electrical doo-hickeys behind them.

Through the judicious use of a screwdriver and some tweezers (which reminded me at times of playing the children’s game ‘Operation’) I was able to remove the drive motor, take off the old belt and replace it with a new one. Having put it all back together (with no bits left over), I am mightily relieved when I turn the machine on and see the capstan spinning as intended.

All very rewarding, but it does make me think, “The other archivists don’t have to go through all this bother to access their records. They just have to open a volume and start reading!”

But, I hear you ask, where do you get a new drive belt for an old, obscure and obsolete Japanese tape recorder? Well, that would be telling…