In mid-December, Chief Marketing Officer Ted Langdell drove 400 miles from Northern California to Los Angeles to pick up equipment for Zinspection that an Eastern US customer bought at an auction when a film and video company closed.
Among the five vintage video recorders was a late 1960s Ampex VR-7800 1″ VTR that Ken Zin had refurbished for the now-closed company ten or so years ago.
Colleague Al Sturm built an interface box to allow the VR-7800 to be used with a 1986-era digital time base corrector.
The Eastern customer needed the machine inspected, repaired to working condition if needed, and shipped to them ASAP.
Ken’s inspection revealed the machine to be working. He thoroughly cleaned, tested functions, made adjustments to improve the playback quality.
Once satisfied that the machine was ready to ship, Ken built a crate for safe shipping.
Ted and Ken crated the VTR, boxed up the associated TBC and interface.
Here’s the ZinCrate with VR-7800, Ampex TBC-6 and custom interface box strapped on tope and ready to ship to our Eastern customer from the FedEx Heavyweight Air terminal in Sacramento
Ted worked with the customer’s logistics department to get the items shipped via FedEx Express Freight, and drove the items 90 miles from the Zin! VTRWorks lab in Magalia (near Paradise east of Chico) to Sacramento on Christmas Eve in time to make a plane for next day delivery.
The boxes were pallet-wrapped to the crate for safety and protection, and then strapped to the crate. “We wanted to make sure all three items arrived at the same time, so our customer could set up and go right to work,” Langdell says.
The customer got the machine the morning after Christmas, and was able to have a batch of tapes converted to files, QC’d and delivered to its customer before New Years Eve, which was the deadline for them to complete the job.
Ken has been working on Ampex AVR-2 Serial #197, which began life as one of a pair of machines at KRBK-TV, Sacramento, California.
Seen here at time of pickup, this third-generation Ampex Quad is in need of some TLC, which it is getting now.
# 197 is undergoing a thorough ZinFurbishment.
That’s designed to identify and correct problems that make “fun” vector and waveform patterns like those seen here…
The ZinFurbishment will replace quite a few capacitors, such as the one on this board that leaked, destroyed its lead and trace on the board,
It will also fix “crispy” power connections such as on the rectifiers seen here, caused by poorly crimped connectors.
Ampex issued a field bulletin advising to solder directly to the lug on the rectifier or other part, such as transformers.
The system did power up, but there were quite a few power supply related issues to be addressed.
Apparently, previous owners or engineers chose to “band-aid” some faults rather than fix them… like put a fuse in circuit with a circuit breaker because what was found to be a poorly crimped connection wouldn’t support the current requirements of the circuit.
Rather than deal with a problem involving part of the TBC, a workaround involving a 3M dropout compensator RF tap was installed.
(Heads were being scratched while contemplating “Why’d they do THAT?”)
A wire break found on one of the transport harness plugs was responsible for no rewind capability.
A lot of small and large things have been discovered and fixed as the process of problem finding, identification and elimination continues.
Instead of the factory complement of six muffin fans under the machine blowing air up into the electronics chassis, only three were found, and one of those was frozen… didn’t move.
That means the heat generated by the electronics wasn’t being removed, and could be the cause of overheated components, malfunctions and shorter time between failures.
People wonder why the cost of bringing back VTRs and VCRs can be expensive. These things are why. It can be a very time-consuming process, and time is money.
The basic electronic and mechanical issues need to be addressed before any “fine tuning” and finishing work can be done.
Once those items are addressed, we can see what to do about cosmetics, like worn paint and button legends.
The good news includes two Ampex Extender Cards for the electronics chassis (needed to do adjustments where circuits on several cards interact) and an audio preamp extender.
The head spun up fine and has good life… as tested on another VTR.
All in all, we expect to see this AVR-2 transferring tape reliably very soon for new users.
Principal Engineer Ken Zin has been Zinfurbishing this Ampex AVR-3 in recent weeks.
When first powered up, mechanical and electronic problems prevented the machine from operating properly.
Over time, Ken’s identified problems with power supplies, connections, small electronic parts, and the mechanical assemblies that are critical to safe and smooth operation.
Ken attributes many of the problems he has been finding to lack of maintenance or shortcuts taken by previous engineers or owners who wanted to run the machine without fixing problems.
After giving the power supply a good bath (yep, soap and water, a scrubbing, rinse and plenty of sunshine afterward), Ken discovered a bad solder joint on the +5 volt power connection:
Without the connections being clean, this bad connection might go unobserved, creating instability in systems connected to it.
More obvious is this rusting, leaky capacitor in the +5 volt power supply:
Large capacitors like this one are used in AC to DC conversion to reduce the ripple found on the DC lines. When they leak, the chemicals can damage other parts of the equipment. There’s also an increasing potential for the capacitor to rupture or become a fire hazard.
Aside from the safety issues, the lack of clean and stable power can cause electronic instability or unwanted machine behavior, with poorer tape reproduction or tape safety. Since 30-40 year old capacitors are often at end-of-life, its common practice to replace all of the power supply capacitors like this, instead of fix just one and wait for the others to cause problems tomorrow.
Ken discovered that air supply hoses to an important sub-system had been removed. A new set of hoses was fitted and checked for leaks.
Tension arm rollers were found to be in bad condition.
They have bearings inside that were worn… to the point of being frozen. That caused wear on the surface that contacts that tape, resulting in drag that could have damaged tape, likely resulted in less than optimal picture quality, and ultimately wore down one part of the rollers.
When laid on a flat granite surface plate as a check, it is easy to spot the wear: Light shines through where the roller’s not flat against the granite:
These tension arms are supposed to be aligned with the tape path—especially the tape guide rollers before and after each tension arm. A check with a flat steel jig showed the arms were significantly out of alignment.
See how the light shines through on the far side of this tension arm?
The flat steel plate is perfectly flat on both guide rollers to the right, however the tension arm is skewed (bent) to the right, allowing light to shine through the gap with the steel plate.
Here’s a video of the kind of damage that results from this type of mechanical problem.
Notice how the tape is wrinkling and is not flat when passing from the top roller to the tension arm, and then onto the bottom roller.
Damage to valuable videotapes from poorly maintained machines are a potentially costly problem for users if tape owners demand compensation for harm and loss of content, or take business elsewhere.
Archives playing gems from their collections on such machines risk their most valuable assets.
Ken attributes the bending of the arms to continued use of the machine when there was something else wrong with the transport systems. Possibly repeated jerking of the tape caused by an unstable servo system or other undiagnosed problem?
With the tension arms now back from being fixed at a machine shop (at some expense) Ken advises this AVR-3 is handling tape much smoother, especially when ramping down from a fast to a slow shuttle. He says the vector dots are smaller and more stable in Play mode.
Machines that haven’t been treated well over time can require sometimes significant amounts of time to track down the problems and fix them, especially when parts are not routinely available. Time equals money, which adds to the cost of refurbishing equipment.
But the value in a Zinfurbishment like this is that the equipment can be brought up to a reference standard. With continued routine maintenance, Zinfurbished VTRs will give years of smooth, safe and stable playback of high quality pictures and sound.
There’s more to be done on this AVR-3, and we’ll add to this post as the process progresses toward a clean-looking exterior, renewed systems providing safe tape handling with pictures and sound that meet or exceed factory specifications.
Repair and Refurbishment of Video Tape Recorders (VTRs) for Archiving Legacy Media