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Restoration, A Personal Dilemma

March 12, 2011 1 comment
Voice of Music is a reel to reel which I enjoyed much in my youth.

Voice of Music Reel to Reel, Model VM-739, made 1965

One of my treasured hobbies is collecting and restoring vintage reel to reels.  The model I enjoy most is VM 739 by Voice of Music, manufactured about 1965.  I developed a strong affinity for this particular model because of its nostalgic connections.  It was the model used by an old church friend and given as a birthday gift by his dad.

At any rate, the subject of this particular entry is about common aesthetic issues, when restoring vintage equipment.  A strange paradox exists. It is desirable to have as well running machine as possible.  Yet, how many parts can one replace before it is no longer considered the same machine? Let me use a real life experience to illustrate this point.

After Voice of Music went out of business in 1977, it was difficult to find exact replacement parts for my reel to reel.  At that time, a common problem with any reel to reel was the belt drive system.  The rubber belts needed to be replaced after about five years.  Other parts included rubber wheels, which became increasingly brittle and lost traction in rewind and fast forward.  The capstan roller was the most important part since it controlled to tape speed and sound reproduction.  As they aged, the rubber became hard and would lose traction with the tape.
Since the original Voice of Music Company was no longer in business, I was limited to replacing parts, usually with generic duplicates or homemade fabrications.  It was an ongoing process that took a great deal of time, but I finally had my VM 739 running like new.  I was so proud of my work that I attached an engraved brass plate to the cabinet.  It bore my name and the year of my restoration, 1979.

With the advent of EBay, one could find not only a few replacement parts, but now it was possible to purchase a complete reel to reel, exactly the same model that I owned.  I

voice of music microphone

Voice of Music Microphone

was obsessed with purchasing every VM 739 that I could locate.  Often the postage would cost more than the actual machine. However, I continued to buy them religiously, perhaps fulfilling some inner desire to rekindle those earlier memories.  I soon acquired machines which were in even better condition that my original.  I began stripping
parts from my newer purchases and using them to tweak the performance of my original.  My objective was to make my old machine better and better, until it held the coveted status of, “mint.”

I was no longer content on just changing the rubber belts or the drive rollers. I began replacing the transformer, the condenser filters, and even entire amplifier circuits. This obsession continued until one very fateful day.  I made the ultimate EBay find, a very special VM 739.  It had a mint cabinet and a pristine escutcheon panel.  Just as I was about to remove its cover, I had a major epiphany.  If I changed the cabinet, the panel, and even all the knobs, would I still have the same machine used by my friend, the same machine which proudly earned my engraved brass plate of 1979?