Reel to reel tape recorders were the standard for recording music for decades until digital media took over some time in the 1990's. For some audiophiles, they are still the king. Much like those who prefer turntables, many artists today still prefer analog tape's natural, warm tones to the clean and (what they consider) sterile sound of a digital recording. If you are in this camp and are looking for an old reel to reel tape recorder to record your next LP, or are just in the market for a vintage electronics collectible for playing your own reel to reel tapes, here's where to look.
Reel to reel tape recorders. First off, what are you looking for? Akai, Pioneer, Sony, and Teac are some of the most popular manufacturers of these vintage gems, but there are many other manufacturers that have their own devotees. The size and type of the recording tape used, recording techniques, and the recording speeds of the machines all need to be taken into consideration in order to match your tapes to the appropriate player.
Recorders were made that can handle from two to 32 tracks, in the last case allowing up to 32 instruments or sounds to be recorded simultaneously. Four track reel to reel and eight track tape recorders are among the most popular and versatile.
Look on the Internet. Of course you have to start with the number one site to get practically anything -- eBay. Search "reel to reel recorder" and you will find pages and pages to peruse. If you are in the market for a particular one, just search for it to see results.
There are also a couple of websites dedicated to these recorders that either sell them or can show you where to buy them.
- Phantom's Reel To Reel Tape Recorder Museum out of Texas and Vintage Recorders of the United Kingdom are nice little sites with good info covering a lot of different brands and models.
- Get Reel, though not a place to buy or sell recorders, is worth mentioning for the product it does sell: CD-ROMs packed full of information and pictures on vintage reel to reels.
- Online classifieds such as Craigslist and Sell.com might be of use also. Check in the "musical instruments" or "electronics" categories or just type it into the search tool.
Look in your region's classified ads. Local want ads and weekly publications, as well as daily newspapers, might have an area of interest.
Check local shops. Pawn shops are always great places to find that which you seek. Most of the time, you can call ahead and the purveyor will know whether his shop has some old reel to reels for sale, but sometimes you just have to get in there and find them yourself.
Music stores that buy and sell used equipment are probably an even better place to find them; you may even be able to find audio tape. You'll find them with the audio equipment and usually you'll be able to test them out there, too.
Check music studios. Another resource that might pan out for you is local music studios. As almost every studio in the world has changed over to all-digital recording equipment, you might be able to take some old, obsolete (to them) equipment off their hands. This might take some effort and cajoling on your part, but it just might work. I know because I walked into one with my nutty cousin and chatted up some engineers and they handed him -- as in, for free -- a nice old Akai they was wasting away in some storage room! For just a few minutes of conversation, he's now able to play any reel to reel audio tape in his library on a cool vintage machine!
So like I said, not the conventional way to go about things, but it might be a very nice surprise. You probably are not going to get much for free either, but you could get a deal. Good luck!