video tape obsolescence – spares supplies disappearing

Greatbear protects tape-based analogue and digital media from the wave of obsolescence faced by these formats. The speed of technological change in the 20th and 21st centuries has been, and continues to be, breathtaking. Consider the amount of tapes and machines that have been made since the invention of magnetic recording tape by Valdemar Poulson in 1894. Since then, the drive for efficiency and better quality has fueled the development of numerous formats which become eclipsed as each new product hits the market.

Close up of a V-MAG Head off an AMPEX 1" Machine

Close up of an individual V-MAG Head off an AMPEX 1″ Machine

Obsolescence for video tape is an issue for a number of reasons. Firstly the knowledge of how to repair older video machines is disappearing: as technology changes, people are no longer trained in the maintenance of such technology.

Another crucial issue is the lack of spare parts. For video tape machines, the most sought after parts are often drum heads. Video drum heads are difficult and expensive to make, they can’t be refurbished and there is no commercial market for them, which makes them rare and sought after.

The nature of recording an audio signal is different from recording a video signal. Because of this, video heads and the video tape transport had to be designed in a different way to audio heads. Audio drum heads are in fact easier to make and they can also be ‘relapped‘ (a sophisticated form of sanding down), so it is a fairly straightforward process to refurbish them.

Because of the specific problems facing video tape obsolescence we have to rely on ‘New Old Stock’, although sometimes it is possible to use parts from scrap machines. These are however less reliable because the drums heads are part of a mechanical process and if used extensively, they will inevitably be worn down.

Betacam Head Drum

Betacam Head Drum

One company – Video Magnetics Inc – remake video drum heads and specialise in the repair and alignment of Betacam SP, Digital Betacam, Betacam SX, DVCAM and DVC PRO recorders, cameras, camcorders and dockables. They do not however cover all the machines we use at Greatbear.

Luckily we are well stocked up with lots of spare parts, mainly through careful collecting with an eye to work in the future.

U-matic Head Drum

U-matic Head Drum


Andrew Pearce

Hello, As and Ex-Ampex engineer who used to work on 2″ and 1″ VTR’s I have now acquired a large stock of unused V-Mag and CMC video heads of all flavours and standards. If at anytime you need a replacement please let me know. It would be a shame not to keep the Ampex machines going for as long as possible.



Sarabjit Jagpal

Hi am looking for a UMATIC Player – tape loading gear… Any help I can get from you…?

Richard Hudson

Hi do you by eney chance stock eney
Spairs for the Alesis adat 8 track black
Face tape Recorder
Kind Regaurds R Hudson .

Hi Richard

Thanks for your message. I’m afraid we don’t hold any new spares for this early model of Adat.
If Alesis don’t I would look for spare machines to use as parts sources. These were very common for a while.



A Carpenter

I have a box of sony and other new boxed drums/heads left over from long ago.. also 2 complete top loading sony and jvc edit suites all umatic. I need the space they take up. Also svhs mint panasonic editor little used fr new in storage. Lots cameras inc 3 tubes pal broadcast lenses. & all sorts. Anyone interested mail me. Thx. They
Need a home.

Thank you for your comment – I’ve replied by email.

Quintin Ferreira

Hi , I’m looking for a head for a Tascam da30mk1

Hi Quintin

We don’t have any new parts for this DAT machine but I would contact ProAudio Revival who do carry a range of DAT spares and service expertise.


Hi there not the most common ask but do you have any Betamax drums or heads at all ??

Hi David

Thanks for your comment. We do have a small number of Sony betamax heads but I’m afraid we need to keep these for our own machines.
You can sometimes find new heads on eBay if you’re persistent!

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