Thursday, July 22, 2010

A TEAC-able moment

I've been away from the blog -- mostly -- for a while doing this delicate dance between my inner MacGyver and my inner MacGruber.

In other words, I was out accomplishing s***.
Despite myself.

The saga started Sunday, when Mrs. Favog and I bought an old TEAC reel-to-reel tape deck for $30 at an estate sale here in Omaha. Did it work? I didn't know, but I suspected I might be setting out on a journey to the Land of Fix-It -- a kind of road trip of the mind and soul that I'll detail in a bit.

But here's what's important right now about that trip:
It feels good -- and I needed that.

It's easy to sit behind the keys here and write about stuff. Some of that output, I hope, is insightful and decently written. Most of it, I fear, falls in the category of
"Well, DUH!"

an age where I have just committed a branding and self-marketing faux pas. Humility is out, and so is introspection that might lead to honesty.

What I ought to have told you is how dead-on right I've been about stuff, that this is important writing, and that you can't live without reading my take on things. This would be because I am smart, hip, happenin' and. . . .

That's right -- cool.

That's how, apparently, one "markets" oneself. I suck at that, probably because I think it's bull.
A lie. Immodest . . . particularly in a world where a little modesty might be refreshing.

Yeah, I could have been waxing eloquently about the bloody obvious fact that Shirley Sherrod got hosed, that the Obama Administration let itself get stampeded by the Big Lie, and that Andrew Breitbart is a far-right ideologue and twit whose actions over the last year or so just
may prove him to be objectively evil.

Or at least indifferent to the truth.

All of that, of course, would be bloody obvious, except to certain brain-dead constituencies who --
unfortunately -- have taken advantage of universal suffrage.

But I didn't wax eloquently about that, or any other stuff that might be rattling around the echo chamber this week. Instead, I've been doing something useful -- fixing up that beautiful old TEAC reel-to-reel tape deck, one about 40 years old.


WELL, for one thing, getting that thing running again -- put back into good use once more -- was something tangible, a sign of contradiction in this increasingly intangible world. I figured I could look at something restored to its former audiophile glory and feel like I'd accomplished something.

That's objective fact. It was broken.
Now it ain't. I accomplished something.

Being another schmuck opining on a blog?
Feh. Maybe that's an accomplishment, but you just might find it to be a first-class detriment to . . . whatever.

Making a tape deck live again -- making it once again able to pluck lost bits of music . . . and history . . . indeed, ourselves out of magnetized oxide particles stuck to a Mylar backing -- now that's something tangible, and your validation neither adds nor subtracts from the act.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
Or hear, as the case may be.

LIKE I SAID, my journey with the old TEAC started in west Omaha last Sunday. The ticket cost 30 bucks.

I don't know why --
I mean, apart from my general geekiness -- I love old reel-to-reel tape decks.

But I do love me some reel-to-reel tape deck, and I have even before I did my first air shift in a radio station, where once upon a time, you could play with top-end (or not) reel-to-reel tape decks to no end.

For its time -- the late 1960s and early '70s -- the TEAC A-4010S was quality stuff. A top performer. Built like a tank.

Today, geeks like me call it a "classic" -- classic in performance, in design and in quality of construction.

When I bought this one -- as I said -- I didn't know whether it worked. Turns out it didn't.

THE ELECTRONICS in the amplifier were fine, as I more or less discovered when I got it home and powered it up, but the tape transport was in bad shape. The pinch roller mechanism, part of what makes the tape move along at the correct speed, was as stiff as a board -- it moved only through brute force.

This was not by design. The whole thing needed cleaning and oiling . . . and a screw in back needed loosening (a little).

And the capstan drive belt? It had turned into tar balls. Really.

Ever tried cleaning tar off of all manner of metal moving parts? Not fun.

Slowly but surely, I got the old TEAC -- it of long-past better days in an Omaha home where its owner used it to listen to Latter-Day Saints conference sessions and some sort of music programming -- cleaned up, lubed up and loosened up.

I scavenged a drive belt and a better pinch roller from another old TEAC tape deck I wasn't using anymore. When I found the belt was too loose to stay where the tape-recorder gods intended, I cut it to fit and super-glued it back together.

And when the torque on the drive motors was too much in one spot and too little in another -- trust me, this can get real ugly, real fast -- I ended up doing some MacGyvering of the taps on a couple of resistors.

thank God for old service manuals found on the Internet, an unused tape deck to scavenge from, WD-40, Super Glue and electrical tape. Not necessarily in that order.

And thank God for the tangible things in a self-promoting, subjective and intangible world. Thank God for old tape decks, craftsmanship that stands the test of time, working with your hands and the visible fruits of one's labor.

Thank God for these things, because sometimes they're what keep us sane. And sometimes, they point the way toward what's really important in life.

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