Monday, November 28, 2016

Guide to replacing VHS tape shells.

The following is a guide on repairing VHS tapes the easy way: basically replacing the outer shell and other small repairs. Note that poor picture quality, distortion/static, and audio issues are problems rooted in the actual ribbon that contains the video signal. There is not much one can do to repair a damaged ribbon, most times it is a lost cause. However if your tape refuses to enter your VCR, cannot be fast-forwarded/rewound/played at all, or the ribbon just needs a new home, this guide is for you.

For this guide, I will be using a 1990 re-release copy of Star Wars which desperately needs a new shell. Poor thing. I've never even seen the film, and I still think it's a disgrace. The slip sleeve isn't much better off, either. If you intend to actually replace the outer shell, you will need a new shell (obviously). Any blank tape's case will do, but please don't sacrifice any home television recordings. You never know what could be lost on those tapes! For this guide, I will be using a still freshly-sealed blank VHS tape for the replacement shell.

"It's kind of like dissecting those frogs in high school."

The first step is to obviously open up the old shell. On the back of the VHS tape, you will find five screws. 99% of the time, these are your average household phillips-head (+) screws. However I have come across a tape that used tri-wing screws. If the screws 'snap' loose when you undo them, don't worry. That just means you've voided any warranties/return policies you may have had on that tape. Shame on you. Once these screws are removed, flip the tape rightside up once more and the top half of the shell should EASILY slide off. The tape should always be rightside up when opening the shell, it makes things easier. If there is substantial resistance, check for more screws on the back.

"Cover your shame!"

This is a basic example of what you should see, otherwise you may not be looking at a VHS tape. Depending on many factors such as manufacturer, tape length, and age your tape may look different from this, but all of the parts should still be present as seen above.

"As Danny Devito once said: 'It's like looking in a mirror.'"

Once you're done with that, do the same for your replacement shell. The top one is my replacement shell, while the bottom one is Star Wars. You can see that the two tape look different internally, but have the same basic structure.

"See that bump in the ribbon? That's what happens when a tape is left partially wound. Don't leave your tapes partially wound, please. There may be distortion when I get to that part in the film."

Now it's time to take out the ribbons. Press down on the main lever as pictured above to slide the reels out one by one without any resistance. Take note of how the ribbon is wound around the rollers, as you will need to recreate this same system. Do NOT touch the ribbon itself with your bare fingers! The natural oils in your skin can deteriorate the images on the ribbon and damage it!


Now that the reels are free from the back of the shell, make sure that both ends of your replacement shell have their metal rollers. These are important! Without them, the ribbon will be damaged as the VCR runs it along this part. The metal rollers are supposed to be loose to provide frictionless movement as the reel is spun. Sometimes they stick to the top shell, so check there if they are missing.

"It's like knitting for hipsters."

While holding down the replacement shell's main lever once more, gently slide the source tape's reels into place one at a time, making sure to weave the ribbon around the metal rollers as seen above.

"I also like to wind the reels reeeeeeel tight."

There we go. The reels should fit right in just fine. You should be able to slide the top of the replacement shell right over this with some slight maneuvering. Watch out for the ribbon, though!

"I just used a screwdriver."

Now for something not many people know. Do you see that little tab? Of course you do, I made sure it was the center of focus in this photo. Remove it. That is, unless you want to accidentally overwrite this tape's contents by pressing Record on your VCR. If this tab is removed, the VCR/video camera will refuse to do any recording on the tape, keeping the contents safe. Notice how absolutely no commercial tapes have this tab, while all personal blank tapes do. That's why.

"Joke's on both of them. I shot first."

You should now be able to play your tape in your VCR without any technical problems besides picture quality/distortion. Luckily this copy of Star Wars looks great, despite the old case saying otherwise. As I've said before in my previous tape-related guide, the condition of a VHS shell bears absolutely NO reflection on the quality of the ribbon inside. A pristine/sealed VHS can still have suffered damage to the ribbon, rendering it as distorted as the tape from The Ring.

But wait! Now this perfectly good Star Wars tape is sitting in a boring, black shell! No problem. With some salad tongs and a hairdryer, you can get the label off of the old shell and place it on the new shell. Use the tongs to hold the shell (the plastic can get pretty hot) and hit the label with the high setting on your hairdryer. I run the drier swiftly horizontally across the label while slowly moving vertically and this technique has yielded some good results. Think of how a computer scanner (or even a printer) works and imitate that pattern. This process can take a LONG time, sometimes even up to thirty minutes of continuous drying. The key is to melt the glue JUST ENOUGH so that it won't stick to the hot shell anymore, while still keeping it from drying up so much that it won't stick to the new shell. If you do it just right the label should come up with hardly any resistance, and then stick like cement to the new shell. This Star Wars sticker took approximately fifteen minutes to do just that (lucky me). If you get ANY RESISTANCE AT ALL when trying to remove the sticker, STOP and dry it some more. You don't want to the damage the sticker.

Look at that. Beautiful. You could hardly tell the shell was replaced... unless you count the 'Maxell' logos on the top, the clearly removed tab on the side, and the 'T-120' stamp. In fact if most people saw this, they'd claim it was a bootleg. But you know it's not, and you can take solace in the fact that no one cares about bootleg tapes anymore.

Now if only we could do something about that sleeve. Oh well. It's not TOO bad. I got The Empire Strikes Back along with this, and believe me: That sleeve looks much worse. Maybe some day, I might actually watch this movie.