I’ve always liked vintage HiFi, ever since I was a kid and had absolutely no idea what it was. Recently I’ve taken up refurbishing and selling old HiFi equipment, a ‘flipper’ in fewer words. I’m scooping up untested stuff that’s been left on the side of the road, or being sold at garage sales or that have been donated to local thrift stores, and I’ve found some excellent pieces of kit. From some gorgeous Polk Audio bookshelf speakers to a late 80’s Turntable, CD Player, Twin Tape deck, abomination from Fisher, I’ve seen some nice stuff, and stuck my fingers in some nasty places.
I’m no stranger to what time does to the belts of a Cassette Mechanism, they eventually decide that they’ve had enough with being a single, solid, entity and melt back into the oil they came from. It’s a mess. Today I almost met my match when it came to a particularly pretty tape deck with a particularly nasty player.
I picked up a matching pair of equipment, a Pioneer SX-4 Stereo Receiver and its accompanying tape deck, a Pioneer CT-3. They’re quite eye-grabbing, with a color I’ve never seen HiFi take on before, beige. They look like holdovers from the 1970’s, even though they’re from ’81. The Stereo works thankfully, no bad caps and the knobs weren’t even crackly, the tape deck was another story.
It didn’t work, no big surprise, and upon further inspection I saw that the play button had snapped and fallen into the machine, at least it was still there. Let me just say this, I am not a professional, I am not an engineer, I am not a technician, I am just a kid with an unhealthy interest in vintage electronics, so when I say I rather bungled things is an understatement. The belts had perished, in a big way too. It was fairly clear this guy had been sitting in storage for a long time and when the previous owner had decided to turn it on for the first time in 30 years the near liquefied belts decided to say adios and go flying off, splattering wherever they pleased.
It was a mess, maybe even a travesty depending on how you choose to define the word. Looking online I couldn’t find any official belt kits for this model of player, it doesn’t seem to be a remarkably popular machine. So… I made due.
The first order of business what to fix the play button, which was a shambles, it was stuck in a small space which the rest of the buttons what was wholly inaccessible. So, I unfastened the entire tape mechanism from the chassis. This involved removing the door, which is screwed on with four tiny screws and as soon as it’s free you have to deal with the hinges flopping loosely around and falling out since they’re held in place entirely by the piece you just removed. Next is removing the matte black plastic piece from the front since it hides a screw or two you need to remove in order to mode the mechanism, there was also another hidden behind the door just for good measure. One you get those bits away you have free access to shift the mechanism about as you please, but be careful there’s still a load of wires to be cautious of and the power supply is worryingly close.
After getting the play button back in place I had the joy of putting everything back together again. At the time I wrote off the thing as a lost cause and just wanted in good outward shape for some crazy person to clean up and repair later, but it seems I’m both fickle, and stubborn, and maybe a bit stupid. So, after I had put everything back together I decided to clean the mechanism or the belt remnants. An hour or so later, after poking with screwdrivers, dabbing with q-tips, and rubbing with rags and paper towels I finally have most of the evil gunge off of the mechanism. But I have no belts, so I used the next best thing, rubber bands.
Pioneer seems to have put in an extraordinary amount of effort to make replacing the belts yourself has difficult as possible. Two of the three belts were no issue to replace since they were in the open air with nothing to prevent easy rethreading. The main drive wheel was another matter entirely, it was pretty much sealed in, sandwiched between the main tape drive and a metal portion of the chassis that made it impossible, at a glance to replace the belt without disassembling the entire mechanism. But, after a few minutes of angry staring you can just make out the most infinitesimal of gaps between the wheel and the chassis. You can try to get a belt around the wheel all day but you’ll never manage to do it, not without being able to get it through that infinitesimal gap, and the only way to do that was to pull it through by force. Now, there is a small plastic bracket clipped into the chassis, probably to catch the belt in case it slips off, that makes it near impossible the thread the belt from the top, you just can’t get any force to get the belt through.
You have to go through the bottom. There is a flap of metal, specifically machined onto the bottom of the main body, directly underneath the main drive wheel, giving you limited access to the mechanism inside. You have to feed the belt up through the bottom of the machine and then pull it upwards and try to squeeze it through the gap in order to get the damn thing onto the wheel.
But I did it, and holy fuck it works perfectly! Using standard size rubber bands out of a bulk bag the machine plays at the proper speed and with zero noticeable wow or flutter. I know that this is a temporary fix since the rubber bands will perish eventually, but that fact that I now know the sizes that make it work and how to replace them I don’t think it’ll be too much of an issue.
Was this more trouble than it was worth? Yes. Was I stupid for doing this? Probably, but holy hell was I lucky. I’m pretty sure I did just about everything wrong in this scenario but still wound up at the best outcome.
Small plug: I do sell stuff on craigslist so if you're in the Portland, Oregon area and are looking for a new vintage stereo, speakers, or a hifi repair project (I have a few that are beyond my help), drop me a line. I also sell more novelty items like CD changers.