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Ampex Ag440 Tape machine?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by iamfrobs, Jan 29, 2009.

  1. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    So I am a college student, and I have a workstudy job in one of the buildings on campus. There is a history of Post-Production work at my college, so there is vintage stuff laying around all over. So I was organizing a pile of chair cushions in the basement, and lo and behold, there is an Ampex tape machine sitting under them. I got very interested in my job, and found two more similar machines. They are two-track, and I WANT THEM
    Would they be worth using/restoring/having as cool furniture?
    I can probably get them for next to nothing.
    I will try to get serial #s next week.

    Would they be worth restoring/using/have around as cool furniture?

    Thanks everyone, and sorry about the post, but it made my day.

    EDIT: I think it may be an AG-440. Two tracks. Oh the joy of youtube.

    I am looking forward to an interesting post and story on this machine if you have any.
  2. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Mmmmmmmmmm, AG-440. I loved the way that mine spiled tape when the brakes failed. LOL!!!! DO IT!!!!
  3. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    So do you have any experience with restoring them? I have a few contacts, and I have some experience. Any idea as to how expensive it would be?
  4. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Naw, that was many moons ago when I cut demoes for the Van Zant boys.
    These are not cheap to maintain, much less to repair. Their sitting around for what has probably been a few decades is not a good thing. Dust builds up and causes moisture to collect on parts and that ends up causing rust. Capacitors dry out, motors freeze up, rubber rollers dry out, etc. Not cheap. You might check out ATR Services (Google them). They offer various services on Ampex 2-tracks...
  5. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    How cheap would not cheap be?
    It would be over the summer, with lots of overtime.

    It would probably be in a seperate room I'm trying to convince my parents can be an actual tape room...we will see though.

    Would it be possible to turn that into the 8-channel version?
  6. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Check out these guys.
  7. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    Link is bookmarked thanks jack. Any one have any idea on a price of one in pretty bad shape, and one in pretty good shape to get it working very well?

    If it's not easy to estimate I totally understand, maybe just some experiences?
  8. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

  9. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    I'm going to assume that is one that has seen better days. The one I have been looking at has from what I can tell all of the parts on the front, and the top record/reproduce units. I will keep digging around. I posted over on TapeOp as well.
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    LMAO John. That's a Scully 280. Not an Ampex 440. It appears to be in a Ampex Cabinet? Scully's were mounted in a similar looking cabinet made by Russ Lang. Certainly not in working condition without electronics. LOL. Yeah, it may pull tape?

    Some of the old machines are old workhorses that are hard to kill. What generally dies first is the rubber pinch roller. That will set you back about $100 US to have it retreaded or replaced.

    The heads are your next largest factor. Heads are designed to wear out since they were originally made from soft ferrous metals. But many old heads that are worn, can simply be recontoured/relaped. This is a process where the head is removed from the stack. You can try this at home. You'll need numerous different grit emery cloth's, course to extremely fine. You'll also need an extremely flat surface such as a small piece of glass or a mirror to place the Emory cloth upon. Then you literally begin to "sand down" or recontour the face of the head. There is a certain technique this end is not done in a back-and-forth motion. It's done in a single motion numerous times. Turned around and then done in the opposite direction. When done properly, this not only breathes new life into old heads. It can actually improve record to play back response. The pole pieces are thick when new. You get better high frequency response as the heads wear. Recontouring professional heads can frequently be done up to 3 times before the heads are trash. And it only costs what the sand paper costs.

    As also mentioned, capacitors, electrolytic capacitors in particular, frequently need to be replaced. They operate much like rechargeable batteries. They are similar to rechargeable batteries. So their life expectancy is similar to that of rechargeable batteries. But that can be anywhere from 10 to 20 years. Of course those machines are over 30 years old. And while the electronics may still work, for critical purposes, you'll probably want to replace them.

    From those other wonderful links provided, you'll probably find that the Ampex 440 went through 3 different permutations. The last one being the 440C series. Those were a little easier to identify as the electronics and shadow pushbutton's instead of a lever switch on the front of the electronics. The 440B series had fatter knobs on the electronics than did the original 440 release.

    Yes, those machines would be worth restoration and using if you like that beautiful analog tape sound.

    Still rolling numerous Reel to reels
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  11. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    Thanks for your reply Remy. Would a B or C revision be more desirable to your knowledge? As I said there are two, and they both are in much better shape than that war-zone relic on craigslist.

    Also, I noticed online that there is an AG440-8. Were these different machines? I was confused when I found the brochure.
  12. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I didn't even look at the ad! I just googled. Apparently I should check things out from now on before posting a link. :) The ampex list on the other hand is a good site IMO.
  13. davidollard

    davidollard Active Member

    Don't over-think it on which version (440/440B/440C). It is what it is, and they were all good. The only thing to bear in mind is that while most parts are interchangeable between 440 and 440B, the same is not entirely true between them and the 440C.

    No, do not try to convert one into a 1" 8 track. Different transport elements, guides, etc. And they weren't the best 8 tracks either. Get an MM-1100 or MM-1200 if you want to use wide tape.

    I have restored a few 440s, and starting with two or three of them (as you have the opportunity to) is the best way. Take the one in best cosmetic condition and substitute parts from the others when you find issues.

    This is of course assuming that you have some basic knowledge of how tape machines work, and assumes that you have a manual (you can find them online, but hard copy is so much nicer to work with).

    The members of the Ampex Mailing List (I am one) will be very willing to give you assistance, and the online archives are extensive (albeit slow to search). But I cannot emphasize more the need for a basic understanding of tape machines. If you don't have - or can't obtain - this, then I would not recommend embarking on this.

    Good luck!

    David Ollard
  14. davidollard

    davidollard Active Member

    Oh... a good price guide for a non-working 440 series machine is $25 per track.


    You are, after all, at the very start of a restoration project. The value of the finished machine is measured more in terms of the hours spent, than the cost of the metal.


  15. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    Well what would you consider basic knowledge? Anything in a manual (which is there) I can probably learn. I'm expecting this to take a while. I would say even a few years depending on how my school stuff goes, money, etc. As long as I know its a worthy machine, I feel good about it.

    Should I get a smaller cheaper unit and play around first?
  16. davidollard

    davidollard Active Member

    You sound quite resourceful, so you should be ok. Very basic things like understanding the purpose of each tape head, knowing what bias is, equalization, and so on. Being unafraid of going through the alignment procedure. If you can follow the "theory of operation" section of the manual you should be fine.

    You do not need to be an electronics expert (I am not), but it is important to be able to follow the signal path in a circuit diagram, for when you are faultfinding.

    The great thing about the 440s (and Ampexes in general, prior to the ATR series anyway) is that they are so easy to work on. So no, don't try something smaller first.

    For instance, you will find an Ampex way easier to work on than a Teac or Otari. Almost without exception, you can have any major piece of the 440 removed and in your hand within 5 minutes. Try that with a Teac.


  17. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I have owned about 8 AG-440Bs and 2 AG-440Cs. They are workhorses and can be kept running for as long as you can find parts. The hardest parts to find are the VU meter bulbs and the front panel lamps. The rest of the electronic parts are fairly normal off the shelf parts. You can buy a machine for next to nothing fix it up and sell it for some serious cash. At one point a recording studio was throwing out all of their AG-440Bs and I worked out a deal to haul them away. I fixed up three of them and sold them, gave 4 of them away to Audio Books for the Blind and sold off the parts from 2 of them on Ebay. I already had an AG440B-4 which I also sold to a guy locally who was setting up his own analog studio. GREAT machines and easy to work on easy to fix if they break down.

    Best of luck!
  18. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    You're probably not going to find much difference between the different 440's. The differences are small mechanical changes & slightly lower noise as the electronics progressed. It's basically like the difference between last year's Chevy and this year's Chevy. Take the one that seems to be in the best mechanical condition. Not necessarily the newest. The newest machines had better sync response when playing back to the recording head than the older units. But you won't be doing that with a 2 track machine. Although you could use this machine, while tracking 2 tracks where you want that smoother analog sound. It would be more practical to mix down to this machine. In that respect, you might want to get a set of custom one half-inch, 2 track heads. I don't have that and I don't do that. But lots of folks do. That would be a sizable investment in the machine. But if you're going to do that? You probably want to change out the drive motor & convert the electronics to 15/30 from 7.5/15. That's a sizable investment of money & Time. And then you also need alignment tapes & a head de-magnetizer. Of course, you'll also have to learn how to align heads. That's an art just like engineering technique.

    Scully/Ampex yeah baby
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  19. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    Well like I said, I expect this to be a long-term investment. I'm banking on return of high-fidelity sound to mass-market. Well, not really, but I like the thought of it.

    Thanks so much for all of your help everyone. I also have the numbers of a few local people as well.

    So, anyone have any interesting stories about these machines?
  20. jammster

    jammster Active Member

    Hey iamfrobs,
    analog tape sounds the best! I noticed it brings out harmonics that actually improve what is already there. It has something to do with the odd harmonics I think. I too have invested in a couple of Otari MX series machines. You will enjoy the sound of tape, its wonderful! Well worth the money.

    I wish you Happy recordings,

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