Monday, 9 February 2015

Beatles UK reel to reel tapes

THE BEATLES: Reel to reel tapes released in the UK - price and reference guide.

Help! First edition mono twin track reel to reel tape,
Reel-to-reel tape recording is the form of magnetic tape audio recording in which the recording medium is held on a reel, rather than being securely contained within a cassette.
In use, the supply reel or feed reel containing the tape is mounted on a spindle; the end of the tape is manually pulled out of the reel, threaded through mechanical guides and a tape head assembly, and attached by friction to the hub of a second, initially empty takeup reel.

In 1952, EMI started selling pre-recorded tapes in Great Britain. The tapes were twin-sided and mono (2 tracks) and were duplicated in real time on modified EMI BTR2 recorders.

The heyday of prerecorded reel tapes was the mid-1960s, but after the introduction of less complicated cassette tapes and 8-track tapes, the number of albums released on prerecorded reel tape dropped dramatically despite their superior sound quality. By the latter 1960s, their retail prices were considerably higher than competing formats, and musical genres were limited, only the major pop stars had their albums released in this format. And of course, the Beatles were major pop stars and their albums in the UK were available as prerecorded reel to reel tapes,

Original releases (first editions 1963-1967).

All the following releases are on 4" spools and has the title of the album printed on the leader tape. They are in cardboard boxes, with the album cover photo printed on the carton. The spool is mounted on a cardboard tray, and the tape used is Emitape, EMI's own, durable brand of high quality magnetic tape. There's also a packing slip in the package, and often a sheet with some information about the Emitape.
Reel to reel tapes, provided thay have been properly stored and taken care of, generally have very good sound, and of course, are not affected by vinyl surface noise, only tape hiss and mechanical noise from the motor of the playback device.

Cardboard box back

White leader tape

Emitape sheet and packing slip
Another type of Emitape square sheet

The back of the Emitape listed various types of tape available.

A rare Parlophone sticker, most of these will have fallen off.

The tray with the tape spool

Reel to reel tapes sold on the internet (typically on Ebay) are usually not tested by the seller, because he/she doesn't have the equipment to play back the tape. So if you buy an untested tape, that tape may have been wiped or damaged by magnetic fields, or even used to record other stuff in the mean time, it's a chance to take. Usually though, the tape will be ok.

Very few sellers have any idea about the value of reel to reel tapes, and rarely check out what other sellers of similar tapes are charging or how much previous sales of the same release went for, so the prices vary enormously. This is my attempt to remedy this, by way of releasing this reference and price guide.

The rarity/scarcity of the release is indicated by this letter code:

A = £10-£20
B = £25-£40
C = £30-£60
D = £80-£100
E = £100-£500

These are guiding prices, and the price depends on the quality of the various elements of the release: the tape, the spool, the tray, the cardboard front and back, whether or not the packing slip or Emitape sheet is included etc. Prices are on their way up.

The following twin-track (= mono) reel to reel tapes were released in the UK alongside their corresponding LPs:

A 1963 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1202 - PLEASE PLEASE ME
A 1964 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1206 - WITH THE BEATLES
A 1964 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1230 - A HARD DAY'S NIGHT
A 1965 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1240 - BEATLES FOR SALE
A 1965 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1255 - HELP!

B 1966 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1267 - RUBBER SOUL
B 1966 - Parlophone TA-PMC 7009 - REVOLVER
B 1967 - Parlophone TA-PMC 7016 - A COLLECTION OF BEATLES OLDIES
B 1967 - Parlophone TA-PMC 7027 - SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND

The 1967 A Collection of Beatles Oldies

The 1st edition Sgt Pepper. Note that the reel to reel tape presented the front cover photo less cropped than the LP edition.
Sgt Pepper 1st edition, back

Second editions (1968)

After 1967, the cardboard boxes were abandoned, and the reel to reel tapes got a new look, with plastic cases and inlay cards, much like the later cassettes and CDs.
In general, these second editions from 1968 are more rare than the first editions of the same tapes. These are issued on 4" spools, housed in plastic cases with the album cover art and track information printed on a glossy inlay card. This time around, the tapes were available both in mono and stereo editions. The mono tapes were twin track, the stereo tapes were 4-track.

C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1202 - PLEASE PLEASE ME mono
C 1968 - Parlophone D-PCS 3042 - PLEASE PLEASE ME stereo

C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1206 - WITH THE BEATLES mono
C 1968 - Parlophone TD-PCS 3045 - WITH THE BEATLES stereo

C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1230 - A HARD DAY'S NIGHT mono
C 1968 - Parlophone TD-PCS 3058 - A HARD DAY'S NIGHT stereo

C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1240 - BEATLES FOR SALE mono
C 1968 - Parlophone TD-PCS 3062 - BEATLES FOR SALE stereo

C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1255 - HELP! mono
C 1968 - Parlophone TD-PCS 3071 - HELP! stereo

C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PMC 1267 - RUBBER SOUL mono
C 1968 - Parlophone TD-PCS 3075 - RUBBER SOUL stereo

C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PMC 7009 – REVOLVER mono
C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PCS 7009 - REVOLVER stereo

C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PMC 7016 - A COLLECTION OF BEATLES OLDIES mono
C 1968 - Parlophone TD-PCS 7016 - A COLLECTION OF BEATLES OLDIES stereo

C 1968 - Parlophone TA-PMC 7027 - SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND mono
C 1968 - Parlophone TD-PCS 7027 - SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND stereo

The 1968 A Collection of Beatles Oldies

The 2nd edition of Sgt Pepper was in a plastic case. Depicted is the mono release.

Sgt Pepper inlay card for the plastic case
The stereo edition of Sgt Pepper.

Sgt. Pepper stereo edition, back

The Beatles (aka The White album) (1968)

The "White album" releases were issued on 5" spools, needed to hold the amount of tape required for a double album. It was housed in plastic cases with the album cover art and track information printed on a glossy inlay card.

D 1969 - Apple DTA-PMC 7067/8 - THE BEATLES mono
D 1969 - Apple DTD-PCS 7067/8 - THE BEATLES stereo

White album monaural tape

Red leader tape

Red leader tape with printed title

White album back
White album back - detail

The final releases (1969-1970)

The final releases, "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be" were issued on 4" spools, housed in plastic cases with the album cover art and track information printed on a glossy inlay card. The mono tapes were twin track, the stereo tapes were 4-track. These were the only monaural releases of "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be" in the UK, but they are merely folded down stereo mixes into mono as opposed to the dedicated mono mixes found on the other albums. Still, the novelty of having these monaural editions have driven the prices for these up lately. The availability of the mono versions of these albums on reel to reel tape was due to twin track mono machines by far outnumbering four track stereo machines in domestic audio equipment setups.

E 1970 - Apple TA-PMC 7088 - ABBEY ROAD mono
D 1970 - Apple TD-PCS 7088 - ABBEY ROAD stereo

E 1970 - Apple TA-OMC 7096 - LET IT BE mono
D 1970 - Apple TD-PCS 7096 - LET IT BE stereo

Abbey Road
Abbey Road back. This is the stereo edition.

The monaural Abbey Road.

Let It Be tape

Let It Be tape back (stereo edition)
The corresponding mono edition
Note: the "Yellow Submarine" album was not released on reel to reel tape in the UK. Neither was the "Magical Mystery Tour" album, since this was a double EP only in the UK.

The prices quoted are for guidance only. As we said, dealers are not generally aware of the market prices for Beatles reel to reel tapes, and upscale buyers are always willing to part with large sums of money for the rarer among these releases to complete their collections.

A mono "Let It Be" reel to reel tape went for £420.00 in October 2014, and the same month, a 1st edition "With The Beatles" was sold for £11.56 on Ebay. A stereo White album tape was sold for £120 in October and a stereo "Abbey Road" brought £114 in December. We hardly ever see mono "Abbey Road" twin tracks, but I found that one was sold for £149 back in 2007, and in 2014 a similar tape fetched £500.

Prices on Ebay are usually a bit inflated in comparison to record fairs, due to a world wide audience of collectors, but bargains can still be found and made.

The cardboard boxes used to house the first editions of The Beatles' reel to reel tapes were of a rough quality, and easily attract smudge marks and stains, so nice looking copies will be rare and are therefore likely to be more expensive.

A Tandberg series 15 twin track reel to reel tape player/recorder.
In the late sixties, technology had overtaken the reel to reel tapes as four track cassette tapes became the standard for tape collectors, and the manufacturing of reel to reel tapes was discontinued. Cassette tapes are smaller tapes, and as such more hiss is affecting playback, but since the tape is incapsuled by a cassette housing, they are easier to handle, and the format became very popular. By 1973 the prerecorded open-reel offerings had almost completely disappeared, even from record stores and audio equipment shops.

For reel to reel tapes of The Beatles in the USA, see this Price & Reference Guide.

7 comments:

bri286 said...

Thanks for this, Wogew - another fascinating article. Interesting to note the track order on Let It Be - it looks as if, as with compact cassettes, someone reorganised certain albums so that they would fit better onto the tape without an excessive gap at the end of one side. I wonder who made the decision as to the track order for these releases?

jun hiraoka said...

HI Roger, Thanks for your detailed information about UK reel.
I have collecting the UK and US Reels within one years. Do you need the information about pricing data? I don't mind the supply for you.

nigs said...

Hi Roger...very interesting article and information....bit of a cheek that you lifted the pics of the White Album from my currently running Ebay ad, never mind, I will take that as some sort of compliment!...with kind regards, Nigel (204462)...

Roger Stormo said...

Hi Nigel! Well, I had to get illustrations from somewhere, and ebay is always a good place to look. This guide is pioneer work, and in my own collection, all I have are the first editions from 1963-67 (minus "oldies"), plus a 1968 plastic case Sgt Pepper. I needed photos to illustrate the ones I didn't have, and yours was the best White album reel to reel photos I could find! ;-)
jun hiraoka: Yes, I would like to have your pricing info!

Crazy89 said...

4-track stereo? I'm curious, what was the sound separation like? Was it like the individual tracks as recorded in the studio i.e Rhythm track, lead guitar, vocals, back-ups/overdubs?

Roger Stormo said...

No, two and two tracks were played. So it's just regular stereo. Then you turn the tape around and play the other two tracks, which were side 2 of the album.

senormedia said...

3 3/4 IPS - sheesh. Were there any released at higher tape speeds?