In the mid 1960s the life of the new Ampex Mark IV heads was not very long - to put it mildly. I can personally remember having a brand new head fail during a “Dixon of Dock Green” recording - we only managed to record the studio clock during a 60 minute recording. Luckily virtually every recording was backed by another machine in case of technical failure.
Willie WestThe problem was caused by a combination of tape and head materials and made worse if the environment wasn't correct with respect to humidity and temperature - there was a lot of learning to do. As engineers we were responsible for aligning the heads and measuring the projection of the individual heads on their drum; this was measured by a dial gauge that fitted on the head assembly - the readings were noted on a label stuck on the head assembly. Several heads failed and a memo was issued restricting the use of the VR2000s on transmission until matters improved. Failures also occurred while the tips were being measured when the engineer leant on the Ready button causing the head to spin up...........and wear out very quickly. These two memos mark the end of that early phase of problems. Willie West (on the right looking pensive with Don) wrote the following memo in late 1965 to enquire why the embargo on VR2000 transmissions hadn't been cancelled.
Heads memo
The reply from S.E.Tel Rec, Dickie Meakin, really sets the stage for the introduction of a specialist Heads department some years later.
I mentioned above head failures while the tips were being measured - who can forget the sound of a VR2000 head spinning up while a dial gauge is measuring the ever decreasing tip projection. After a couple (or so) such incidents the memo below was produced.
Dial gauge problem