|On the Subject of 8 Track Playback Heads
|As you probably already know, the "head" is the device that picks up the music on the tape and sends it out to be amplified. The head
is also sometimes called a "reader" since the same general type of device is used in credit card machines to "read" the magnetic strip
when a credit card is swiped through it. A head is an electromagnetic device that responds to the changes music makes to the tape's
magnetic properties. Heads are used in virtually every tape player of all types from tiny portables right up to professional studio decks.
Even today, almost every part in any 8 track cartridge player is either generic enough to substitute with a similar new part, or can be
fabricated in the case of a mechanical part. But the one thing that cannot be substituted for, or fabricated, is the head. Due to differences
in gap size and spacing, a reel to reel or cassette head will not work in an 8 track player - it must be a head designed for the 8 track format.
When a head becomes excessively worn, the most common symptom is a nearly complete absence of treble on both left and right channels.
You can hear the bass guitar and the steady "boom boom" of the bass drum, but that's about it. Vocals and guitars are horribly muffled,
and you literally cannot hear the drummer's hi-hat or cymbals. When attempting to perform azimuth adjustment, there is literally no change
in the sound quality - your 8 track player sounds like it's buried under several pillows. Another symptom of a bad head, not necessarily
the result of wear, is a continuous or random static sound that cannot be corrected by moving the tape cartridge around. (Many heads
have slightly different frequency response between the left and right sides, but the overall performance is acceptable and not noticed).
Due to their scarcity these days, the price of a NEW 8 track head has skyrocketed, to the point that I must charge 125.00 for the head alone.
BUT - there are cheaper alternatives for the customer. Thankfully, almost all 8 track heads are very similar in construction, dimensions and
performance - with some 95% of all 8 track PLAYBACK heads crossing to a Nortronics 5800. This means that in the case of a playback
head, pretty much any head will work just fine - and there are ways to obtain a perfectly good replacement head for much less than 125.00.
An eBay search will turn up hundreds of old 8 track players of all types, shapes and sizes. In most cases, you can find a cheap home unit
for less than 50.00 plus shipping, and you can have the machine sent directly to me. You can find standalone car players for even less than
that, but car players tend to get more use than home players, possibly resulting in a head that has just as much wear as the bad one.
In my experience, the original classic car 8 track machines tend to have heads with the most wear - in particular, the 1966 Ford AM-8 Track
unit quite often has very worn heads, since 1966 was the first year for car 8 tracks and the customer probably had to specifically request
the combination 8 track radio - and this of course means the 8 track section was used a great deal. Other units that tend to have worn heads
include the Delco T-200, T-400 and the Chrysler thumbwheel units - especially the '68 and '69 models with the chrome front panel.
Finding an unacceptably worn head in an aftermarket car unit, or in ANY type of home unit, is EXTREMELY rare. Thus it is best to locate
a unit of this type. Thankfully, it is the cheapest units in which you'll likely find a head with many years of acceptable performance to offer.
Good candidates for aftermarket units are the smaller ones, either with or without a built-in radio. These almost always have good heads.
At this point, let's take a moment to celebrate the fact that the BEST is probably also the CHEAPEST - that certainly doesn't happen often !
But in this particular case, it usually works out to be true. The cheap units came along after the 8 track craze was well under way, and as a
result they weren't used nearly as much as the earlier factory classic units. Frequency response is not a huge issue, since most car 8 track
players were only designed to reproduce up to about 12 kHz anyway - and for the 8 track cartridge format, that is actually pretty good.
Alternatively, I usually have some used heads that will work fine - but since I avoid installing used parts in a customer's unit, I generally
don't have a collection of junk units lying around. Since most used heads are still good for many years, my price for one is 49.00 when I
have them available. At the time of this writing I have a small assortment of used heads, but cannot guarantee continued availability.