Reparatie: 8-Track Cartridge

Get to know the type of media where you spend more time fixing than listening to it. The infamous 8-Track cartridge cannot be compared to many other types of media. There have been several types of cartridges on the market but none as popular as the 8-Track. Although hip in America, the concept never really caught on in Europe.

We're looking specifically at the cartridges here, whether it's 'new' or used, they all have the same flaws. Some problems are worse than others.

I also strongly advise you to read this page first , before you seriously want to get started.

To keep this page clear, the repairs have been divided into topics.


  1. The cartridge plays badly
  2. How do I open a cartridge?
  3. The tape hangs out of the cartridge
  4. The cartridge is noisy
  5. How do I replace the sponge?
  6. The touch strip has come loose
  7. The tape runs poorly or is stuck
  8. The tape has come off the spool
  9. The tape is completely useless
  10. Summary

Enkele onderwerpen zijn nog in de maak, deze zijn in het rood aangegeven.

1. The cartridge plays badly

This problem can have multiple causes, but there is one specific case where the solution is literally obvious.

Required tools:

  • Hand (or two)

(ring not included)

I'm assuming you've ruled out that the music is poorly recorded. The tape may also be in poor condition.

You put a cartridge in the machine, it plays well at first but after a while the music gets very sloppy, the music distorts (wow and flutter) or the tape even stops playing.

What usually helps me is to move the cartridge back and forth or push it gently, it happens that the cartridge is pushed out of the machine slowly while playing, it is rather a problem caused by the machine, some will not have this problem, others may be worse.

Remember that the transport of the tape is on the right side of the machine, sometimes it helps if you push the cartridge on the right (carefully).

By the way, I use the left hand for this magic trick, I'm left handed...

2. How do I open a cartridge?

If you have just started tinkering with 8-tracks, it is wise to know how to open a cartridge. They all look the same but some are built slightly differently. You also have to make sure that you open them with the right side up, open them wrong and you have spaghetti.

Below is an overview of the cartridges that we are going to open.

Information on how to open an glue-sealed cartridge still has to be added to this chapter.

The first is from JVC (60 minutes of play time). The screw is hidden under the sticker here, it comes loose without difficulty due to age, it's a shame that the screw is under the sticker.

When it's out, lift the front and push it back. There are two barbs on the back.

By the way, don't lose the screw, it's a separate model.

I like this type of sponge, a metal leaf spring with two sponges on it. They are better than the loose sponge, but I will have to replace this one too.

Next up is an unused one from Realistic (80 minutes of playtime).

As already mentioned, it opens fairly easily, with the flat screwdriver you first push the front hook aside and carefully pull the cartridge open a bit, then push the back two hooks to the side and carefully lift the top.

Take a look at this masterpiece, I made a new 'pressure pad' from a washing-up sponge, on top I stuck a piece of blank tape.

It works, but I'm still looking for a better method (see chapter 5).

Then you have this cartridge (unknown brand / playing time), the hooks are on the bottom, this means that you have to hold the cartridge while you push the hooks to the side with the screwdriver and pull the cartridge open with your hand, do not hold it upside down when you open it, the tape rolls out and you can throw it away right away.

I use another pointed object (the tweezers) to hold the cracks open while I open up the other corners.

There is a chance that a hook or more will break, if too many break, the cartridge can no longer close properly and it is ready. The fact that an individual would break does not have to be the end, but stay careful.

Count on the fact that these cartridges are at least 50 years old, the plastic is sometimes hardened and therefore breaks even more easily!

Here is a view of the inside.

So there is a lot of difference in the cartridges and there will probably be more. If you are going to buy 8-tracks, it is wise to look at this, there is a good chance that you have to open them for use.

Now that we are inside the cartridge, we also take a look at how the tape is rolled back on the reel. I have seen two different techniques. The tape can be wound directly from the Pinch Roller onto the spool, but in some cases the tape will run along the two axes in the back before returning to the spool.

My personal experience says that the indirect way is not the right way, the tape will scrape along the two axes that don't rotate which may deteriorate the tape more quickly, otherwise it will leave a mess on the two axes. Moreover, it is also more difficult to click a cartridge closed without the tape getting stuck in between. When I come across this technique I always move the tape to the direct way of winding.

Should I find a good reason for winding the tape indirectly in the future, I will mention it here.

3. The tape hangs out of the cartridge

"Refurbished plays well" it says on the pink strip
"Refurbished plays well" it says on the pink strip

Just like cassette tapes and other tape-related media, the 8-track sometimes suffers from the 'spaghettification syndrome', I had just put it in the device to see what the real total playing time of this cartridge is. But after a few seconds, the cartridge stops abruptly, which is never a good sign! When removing it, it became clear right away that something had gone wrong, but what is the cause and how do you solve this problem?

Even though the playback device can be a culprit. In this case it is the cartridge itself. Although the tape is flexible, the metal touch strip is somewhat stiff. When passing the pinch roller, it got stuck in the meanwhile the tape is still being pulled from the cartridge, a string of tape is created that is crumpled in the player itself until everything is so tight that the 8-track will no longer spin and everything stops. Which is actually fortunate, because otherwise the result would have been even worse.

With the cause known, it remains to be seen whether the tape on this 8-track can be saved.

When opening the cartridge it becomes clear that a string of tape has also ended up inside, which I carefully pull out of the cartridge until everything inside is fine again.

It seems that the touch strip has come loose a bit, this is probably why the tape got stuck and everything went wrong. So I replace this strip with a new one. But this does not solve the whole problem!

Because the device has continued to rotate for a while, the tape on the reel has become so tight that it can no longer rotate by itself. So I have to pull a piece of tape out of the middle myself until it starts winding again. The result is a string of crumpled tape that is no longer usable. I'll have to cut the crumpled piece of tape from between and then stitch the right ends back together.

A nice length of tape is lost. By the way, every re-pasted piece is also a weak point. As soon as the glued parts get old, they can come loose again. If you have to cut several times in a piece of tape, it is sometimes better to consider replacing everything. In this case I'll give it a shot.

When the tape has been made again and runs smoothly from the reel, the whole can be rolled up again. Start by gently pulling the piece of tape that comes out of the center. Rewind the last piece by turning the reel itself, at the same time guiding the tape along the parts where it should run.

Beforehand I checked the other parts. The Pinch roller has become quite dirty because it has been wringing against the tape for a while. The glossy layer is the result. I will clean this one so that it will have enough grip on the tape later.

I had already calculated the total playing time of the cartridge. According to the sticker, 20 minutes of music should fit, in total this turned out to be more than 25 minutes.

I can still see from the device how much time the cartridge has been running before it jammed. This is somewhere at 12 to 13 seconds. Since the same piece of tape will pass the head 4 times you have to do 13 seconds times 4 (13x4=52 seconds). I also had to pull the same length of tape from the reel that the player did not count, so 52 seconds I have to do 2 again. So in total I lost 1 minute and 44 seconds of playback time! I put the cartridge in the device and let it run through all the programs. When the cartridge is ready, I check the playback time again.

The calculation I made will not be accurate to the seconds, but I lost about 2 minutes of playback time. Which, by the way, is a shame since I had a playlist ready that lasts just 15 seconds longer. Perhaps the playlist is flexible enough that it just barely fits.

Anyway, the cartridge is made again and plays as before. Keep in mind that you first check whether the cause is with the device or the cartridge. Should the device fail, there is little point in repairing the cartridge if it can happen again. It is also wise to always open a cartridge when the tape is hanging out. So you see that often something has to be done inside before it is good again.

In the end, the recording ended well, I was able to eat enough of the playlist so that it now fits completely!

4. The cartridge is noisy

You can hear the cartridge rumble a bit during playback. Sometimes it crunches or even sounds like your tape is being eaten (while it isn't). In severe cases, the cartridge beeps while playing!

With cartridges that are 50+ years old, it makes sense that they sometimes make some noise or creaks. In some cases it is really disturbing, and if it is combined with poor sound quality, it may be wise to service the cartridge.

Grocery list:

  • Screwdriver (flat 2mm or Phillips PH2)
  • Grease (Ball Bearing Grease)
  • 96% alcohol (Ketonatus)
  • Cotton swabs
  • Compressed air

First of all you see how you open the cartridge, in my case I take the easiest one.

Disassemble the entire cartridge (as described in the previous topic) and set all parts aside. Be very careful with the spool of tape, make sure it doesn't fall off the spool or it will get messy.

First I clean the Pinch Roller, you can clearly see the deposit of the tape itself.
Some alcohol and a cotton swab makes a big difference.

We will now take another cartridge with another common part.

You can easily overlook this conductive piece of plastic. In most cases you can lift it off like this. A cotton swab with alcohol makes a big difference here. It is important that the surface of the plastic remains smooth for smooth transport of the tape. At first glance this piece of plastic seems to be of little use, but the small stud that you see sticking out on the left is what makes this part so important. This stud ensures that the tape is properly aligned as it passes through the playback head.

Dirty on the left, clean on the right.
Dirty on the left, clean on the right.

The 'pressure pad' should actually be replaced, but I don't have anything for this at the moment. For now I clean the two mats, here you can already see the difference between a dirty and a clean one.

I clean the housing with compressed air, any dirt that still remains I check with a wet cotton swab.

The squeaking and creaking can be caused by the coil rubbing against the shaft, a possible solution is to apply a very small amount of grease to the shaft and base. I strongly advise against oil, eventually this will sit throughout the cartridge and also on the tape! Lubricating with grease is still not recommended, but if you really see no other option .... Vaseline also seems to work but I have never tried this myself.

Replace all parts and turn clockwise a few times so that the grease inside is evenly distributed, then carefully click the cartridge shut. Make sure that the tape does not get caught between the two parts!

Give it a test in the machine and listen to see if the cartridge plays normally and if your service has helped.

5. How do I replace the sponge?

A crumbled sponge...
A crumbled sponge...

The sponge of an 8-track cartridge is important for playing and recording sound. The player presses the tape between the sponge and the playback head to transfer the sound from the tape to the player and vice versa. If the sponge is bad or even completely missing it will certainly not do your sound any good.

The photo of the crumbled sponge you saw before is the same sponge as in the photo above.
As you can see, it is no longer worth the word 'sponge'...

Almost every (original) sponge that you encounter on an 8-track has to be replaced. In addition, it never hurts to open an 8-track in advance for general inspection, there is usually more than just a weathered sponge.

Let's take a look at two different techniques for replacing such a sponge.

The first technique is a real DIY project. One that I have been using for a long time as you can see from this dishwashing sponge. Basically, I make a new sponge by cutting it to size from the dishwashing sponge.

I reuse the strip that the original sponge was on, this is a nice indicator of how big the sponge should be. With a (sharp) hobby knife I cut the new sponge from the washing-up sponge.

As you can see, it's not that easy to really neatly cut it to size. But there is some room for marche so it shouldn't hurt much.

Then I make a new contact strip for the sponge, this part comes into contact with the tape. It is therefore important that it has as little friction as possible when the tape runs along it. The roll of ribbon is tailor-made for tape for the larger magnetic tapes, but 8-track tape has the same size so it is also suitable for this.

I clamp the ribbon on this handy 'splicer'. I use the strip here again to determine the length and then cut the ribbon to size.

I now have everything I need to make a new sponge. There's still one thing I've never figured out on my own. Super glue or a glue stick....

They both have advantages and disadvantages that the other does not have.

With super glue, a few drops are enough, I drop these on the hard strip where the sponge rests. The advantage is that the glue dries quickly and lasts for years. The downside is that the sponge likes to live up to its name and sometimes absorbs the glue causing the sponge to become rock hard and contract all the way. Personally, I think it has to do with the amount of super glue I use, so really only apply a little bit with this method.

With the glue stick you have the advantage that the sponge does not absorb this, but the disadvantage is that the glue must first dry well, otherwise there is a chance that the tape will stick to the sponge later. By the way, I'm still unsure about the glue itself. It probably won't be as strong as super glue and probably won't last as long. In any case, let the sponge dry thoroughly if you work with a glue stick.

Glue stick
Glue stick

The method of sticking the sponge to the strip also depends on the type of glue you use. With super glue you have to put it on and press lightly. If you do this too hard, the sponge will suck itself full of glue and you can start over again. With the glue stick it is just the other way around. Press the sponge firmly so that the glue bonds well with the sponge.

I forgot to take pictures of the white ribbon sticking on top of the sponge. So we'll keep it short, I stuck this one with super glue because a glue stick creates too much mess and chances are that the glue (once dried) will leave residue on the part that comes in contact with the tape, this gives up turn friction you just don't want. The surface must remain as smooth and clean as possible...

In the pictures above you can see that it is important that the corners are also glued well and do not remain loose, here I lift the edge to put a small drop of super glue in between worming. I cut the piece of ribbon that sticks out afterwards with scissors.

See the result here! Although there is also criticism of this work of art, the sponge is actually too high. Another quarter would have been allowed because now the sponge presses the tape against the housing of the cartridge (which you will see again later) But for now we'll make do with it...

This would be the result if I would leave it at that, the round pins are quite in the way but are important as they keep the sponge in place. I'll take the sponge out for a little edit...

I make a cut in the sponge around the place where the ridges rest.

Dit oogt al stukken beter, de spons wordt nog steeds vast gehouden door de nokjes maar deze zitten nu niet meer in de weg. Toch zie je nu goed wat ik eerder al zei, de spons is veel te groot. De tape wordt nu tegen de twee vlakke nokken van de cartridge aan gedrukt. Dit geeft wrijving tot gevolg, de wrijving op zijn beurt zorgt weer voor onnodig slijtage van de tape en de kans is groot op vervorming van het geluid omdat deze langs de nokken slipt.

Kortom het is mogelijk om zelf een spons in elkaar te knutselen maar je moet met een heleboel punten rekening houden. Deze spons moet ik afkeuren en opnieuw maken. Maar dit keer ga ik voor een andere aanpak! Het is de laatste keer dat ik zelf een spons in elkaar zet want er zijn betere alternatieven!

We travel to the local hardware store for alternatives. For example, I was led to believe that 'draught tape' (sticky roll with foam) would be a perfect alternative to serving as a sponge in 8-tracks. It does take a while to find the right thickness and size, but in the end I settle for a white roll of draft tape, the dimensions of which are fairly close to what I'm looking for.

The draft band has a width of 9mm and is 6mm high. The strip of the old sponge is more than 7mm wide, so slightly smaller than the draft band, but the difference is so small that it doesn't really matter. The height is also more important. 6mm should be enough, but an extra millimeter or two wouldn't hurt either.

From the roll (of which there are three in a pack) I cut a piece of the size of the old strip. I glue the two together with super glue.

the result already looks better than the homemade sponge, but there is still work to be done because the round lugs are still in the way. I can make a cut in the sponge but go for a different tactic.

The rear round cam is the most in the way and seems to be of little use. I carefully cut these away with a hobby knife.

The result this time is worth talking about. The sponge fits well and is not too big. Problem solved...


There is already a plastic ribbon on the draft tape from the factory, you should officially remove this to expose the adhesive side of the foam. I thought the ribbon would be smooth enough for the tape to flow over, but inspection shows otherwise. The tape leaves a lot of debris on the ribbon which indicates a lot of friction.

For comparison, a sponge with a ribbon that is neatly smooth, here too there is deposits on the ribbon, but it is clearly much less. So I will have to replace the tape on the draft band with the right material.

It is equally good to look for a suitable solution, because the white ribbon is narrower than the sponge itself. This leaves a part of the adhesive layer exposed, so there is a chance that the tape will stick to it and I certainly don't want that! But a better solution is obvious.

The blue adhesive tape seems more appropriate. Although one piece is not completely opaque, I can apply two coats to it to create a nice smooth surface.

I'll give it a try. After checking, the tape still appears to have dispensed, but it clearly looks less bad than before. I settle for knowing that the tape itself is also approaching 50 years old. It is therefore almost unavoidable that sometimes some material comes loose from the tape.

6. The sensing strip has come off

A common problem, the sensing strip has come loose, in most cases it is loose on one side. In other cases it has completely disappeared or is hidden in the cartridge, here is the solution.

Tool list:

  • Tweezers
  • sharp blade
  • roll with adhesive aluminum foil
  • cutting block

The last three items are specially made for the repair of audio tape. I purchased these as a set and are required.

For this repair I use a cutting set 'splicing set'. I had to order the aluminum roll separately and it is not always standard in the set, so make sure when purchasing that you have the correct parts in the set or else order them separately.

  • Sharp blade for cutting the tape
  • Cutting board for a neat cut
  • Roll with adhesive tape (the blue roll).
  • Roll of 'leading tape' (white roll)
  • Roll with adhesive aluminum foil 'sensing foil'

The cutting set also comes with an instruction leaflet, useful if you've never done it before. I just can't show it because it's included in the price and the seller expects you to buy the set before you see the instruction, I don't need it in this case because I'll write this explanation here myself!

The complete set (including aluminum foil) cost me a little over €40, this is excluding shipping costs. If I included this, the amount would be around €60. A considerable investment, because I bought the set in America, the shipping costs are also higher than in other countries. If you would buy a similar set in Russia or Germany, for example, it would often be much cheaper.

It is also a well-assembled set, everything is neatly packaged and the cutting board is made to last a lifetime (according to the seller).

I should also mention that my cutting board was not perfect, the width of the groove where the tape should rest was just too narrow and I had to widen it myself afterwards (with a milling machine). Plus, I can't edit cassette tape in it because it's even thinner. with time I want to make one myself in which I can edit all variants of tape.

Here's the bulk of my 8-track collection. To the left of the stacks is a Beatles cartridge. I bought this a few months ago for €11 via a webshop, the shipping costs were €10. It is wise to buy these things in bulk, they are mainly sold in America for often a few dollars.

He was intact on arrival and played well too. Yet after a few rounds the metal strip let go, I've experienced it often enough. Now with a professional repair kit I can fix it in a decent way.

Although the sticker on the cartridge doesn't look as good anymore, the inside is still in good condition. The tape also looks very neat, I have already replaced the sponge. The housing does not have to be opened to re-stick the tape, leave it closed even if it is not necessary!

Previously it was always sloppy cutting and pasting, with scissors and superglue or tape.

Now I put the end of the tape in the cutting board, and cut it neatly.

I barely have to cut, pressing the knife on the tape is enough for a nice cut.
By the way, I already deviate from the manual....

According to the manual I should overlap the two ends opposite each other on the cutting board, and cut them to size at the same time, so both ends are exactly the same and you can stick them directly.

I cut a small piece of the aluminum foil. the sticky side is covered with a thin foil, so the foil is loose on the roll, so I have to make sure that it does not fall off the roll when I lift it.

Then I carefully stick the strip to the ends of the tape with tweezers.

Now that the tape is made, I have to test it of course. It's not a masterpiece by the way, but it's also the first time for me to try it with this set and, as stated before, I didn't follow the manual properly...

I had forgotten that the sound of this cartridge is not bad at all, you hear noise but it is not noticeable. After a few minutes, the moment comes when he has to switch, it is quiet for a while. With a dull click it switches and music comes out again, the repair is successful!

7. The tape runs poorly or is stuck

Although I originally want to describe a different cause here, I can add a 'Live' cause to this:

Yesterday I made a recording again after a long time. (I also described this here by accident ) Today, just back from work, I naturally want to hear how the recording went, so put the cartridge in and listen to the result. After a few minutes, the music stops abruptly.

A jammed cartridge... I quickly take it out before it gets damaged.
I open it to see what the damage is:

Something is clearly wrong, a piece of tape sticks out on the right side of the spool, it is somewhat wrinkled and is clearly the cause of the jam.

But this is also new to me and I am wondering how this came about.

If I look closely, I can see that the loosened loop of tape got entangled with the outgoing part while spinning, which explains why the music stopped so abruptly.

Of course, this loop didn't just happen, the cause can easily be overlooked.

There is too much play in the coil. This has created this hole, because the coil has not been rolled up neatly, the tape slowly creeps out of the coil here, the piece that comes out of the center pulls this piece of tape with every round until a loop is formed, eventually the two get entangled and stops playback.

But before we look at the solution, let's grab a second cartridge!

[complete with information about the gold 8-Track]

the information below is pure concept and not entirely accurate, consult it at your own risk!

It's the only remedy if your 8-track gets stuck or won't get going. But with a professional splice set, you can limit the damage.

[complete with reason for cutting tape]

First we make the red 8 track. I first place the part that comes out of the center on the cutting board, I let the other part of tape overlap a little, so there is less chance that it will be pulled off when playing. Both halves should be facing up (as shown in the photo), so there is less chance of it being pulled off during use.

[add further reason for overlap and explanation about correct adhesive side]

I cut a piece of adhesive tape from the roll, 2cm should be enough, because too much is not good either, since the adhesive tape is quite stiff, so that this piece of tape will be wound less smoothly on the reel.

Carefully I stick the strip on the two halves with tape, I didn't stick it really straight so cheat a bit by very carefully again cutting the protruding piece of adhesive tape with the scissors, because nothing should protrude.

Before we move on to the next chapter, a little tip, always open a never-used cartridge for inspection, although it is new out of the box, it is obvious that it is not immediately usable. Of course, the sponge should always be replaced, it is no longer good after so many years.
Above is another cartridge of the same brand and model, this one just came out fresh (after 40+ years) from the packaging, but as you can see this one also needs a major makeover before I can use it!

8. The tape has come off the spool

I can't write this article until I have this incident myself.

9. The tape is completely useless

Okay, we've covered a lot of potential issues, but I'll save the worst for the end.

The tape is completely crumpled, you opened the cartridge the wrong way round, or the machine has eaten the tape, there are countless possibilities for your tape to fall off the spool or get completely tangled.

There are three things you can do right now, the first is toss the whole thing in the trash and forget it happened. The other two take a little more time and effort, but are nice alternatives.

If the tape is really all crumpled, torn or useless in any other shape, just throw it away, unless it's that important to you, you can still try the following.

For both options we need a different device, there is a chance that you do not just have one at home.

[describe article further (reel to reel recorder required)]

10. Summary

After the many topics that have been described, it might not be a bad idea to make a summary of what is involved in an 8-track maintenance and repair. Let's briefly review everything that has been described here.

[still on my to-do-list]

Related pages: