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8 ways to build up an 8-track tape or other vintage tape collection

You can’t go down to the mall or stereo shop and buy new 8-track tapes anymore. Any tapes you get these days will be used, possibly abused, or leftover stock from the halcyon days of the endless loop.

With that in mind, realize that there are zillions of tapes sitting around in the dark corners of people’s past lives, waiting to be liberated and given good homes. Every day lots of 8-track tapes get dumped into bins and crushed by bulldozers, but there are still a lot of good ones that you can save.

This list will help you find the 8-track tapes you want, and even some you didn’t know you wanted.

1. Flea markets

If you go to any decent-sized flea market, you’ll almost assuredly see some 8-track tapes here and there. People are hoarders, and there are still innumerable tapes sitting in closets and attics that continue to trickle into flea markets around the world. Most flea market vendors would rather sell all of them for a single price rather than have you buy a couple of them, and then have to worry about liquidating the rest. Try to bargain for the lot, keeping in mind a rough per-tape cost you’re willing to pay.

Tip: Ask vendors about 8-track tapes, even if you don’t see any. Ask every vendor. A few will have access to some and can bring them to their stall next weekend. If they see you repeatedly coming back to the same flea market, they’ll sometimes actually look around for 8-tracks from their friends and neighbors to bring in the hopes that you’ll buy them.

Tip: Avoid big supercenters that call themselves flea markets but are really just selling mostly new packaged products, aluminum siding services, and things like that. You want the dustier, sleepier, attic-junk type of place. It may be more out of the way and less populated, but the range of stuff is generally much better.

2. Yard sales and garage sales

Look in the classified section of your local newspaper; odds are there is a Yard Sale section or something similar. Read the ads and see if any actually mention 8-track tapes (hey, sometimes you get lucky). Even if they don’t, circle the promising-sounding ones and plan out a basic route to follow that Saturday and/or Sunday. The good thing about yard sales is that even if you don’t see any 8-track tapes, you’re already at the people’s house so when you ask about 8-tracks, if they have any in their attic they can get them for you without too much problem.

Tip: It’s smart to include a good cross-section in your yard sale selection demographics — big houses, small houses, old neighborhoods, new neighborhoods, etc. — but try to favor the older houses, which may have been lived in since the 1970s and may not have been cleaned out of their 8-tracks like newer, younger families’ homes might’ve.

3. Thrift stores

Any size thrift store in any part of town is a good location to hunt for 8-track tapes. Look for thrift store location lists in your area to make sure you haven’t missed any. They will often have a collection of tapes near the record section — but look around the video game and book sections as well. Keep going back to the same stores over and over — you’ll learn which ones you should visit more often, and you’ll get to know the staff who may help you out once they know what you’re looking for.

Tip: Always ask an employee if they have any 8-track tapes. It might help to actually have one in your hand to show them. Even if they don’t have any (though they often do), they may rethink their policy of throwing them away when they see them in their donation bins. Shelf space comes at a premium, even in thrift stores, and they may toss them automatically in the assumption that nobody would buy them. Let them know you’re interested. And make it worth their while — try to find something to buy when they do put them out, even if it’s for trading (see below).

4. Estate sales

When people die, the family sometimes sticks price tags on all the stuff they don’t want themselves, opens the doors and lets people come in and paw all over it. Not to sound too cold about it, but the reality is that as the original 8-track generation ages, this will be a goldmine for 8-tracks for some time to come. You can find estate sales in the newspaper classifieds. They’re a lot like yard sales — you often won’t get lucky, but you will often enough if you stick to it.

Tip: Estate sales are usually held for people of slightly better means than normal. Not necessarily rich, but quite comfortable. These people often have nice old stereos and equipment like that, often with their original packaging. Even if you don’t find any tapes, you may get lucky with a nice player or some other accessories.

5. Friends and family

Ask around. Get the word out; let people know you collect 8-track tapes, want them, and may even pay for them. Mention it more than once, to keep reminding people. Eight tracks will start to filter your way occasionally.

Tip: Use any opportunity to mention your desire for 8-track tapes in front of a group of people. In college in the 1990s once, I for some reason mentioned to the other students in my computer art class about 8-tracks. One kid, whom I’d never spoken to before, said his parents had a bunch; when I expressed interest and asked how much they might ask for them, he laughed and said, “You can have ’em!”

6. Trade for them online

What do you do when you see a box of 8-tracks in the thrift store full of Connie Francis, Jessi Colter, and a local church choir? Or with yet more copies of Band On the Run and the Guess Who’s Greatest Hits that you love but already have? Buy them! Especially if they’re cheap or you can finagle a deal. You can list these online along with a want list — offer 5-for-1 trades, or even 10-for-1. Hey, if someone has a Byrds Younger Than Yesterday tape they don’t want, but they’d like some extra copies of Slim Whitman or Bee Gees or something you don’t need, make ’em an offer they can’t refuse.

Tip: Always buy every quadraphonic 8-track tape you see if they’re not priced outrageously. Every one — automobile demo tapes, 101 Strings, etc. Every single one of these tapes is excellent trade bait, whether you are looking for stereo or quad yourself.

Tip: Don’t be shy about buying up extra copies of things you like but already have. Beatles, Eagles, BTO, etc. — if you can offer these at 5-for-1, you’ll be very surprised at how many traders will be able to work out a deal with you.

7. Buy them online

People seem to sell off their old possessions, including 8-track tapes and players, as often or more often online these days. Places like Craigslist can be good, though you usually have to be patient and persistent, flea market style. Or you can find online vintage music/record stores, which will often have a small 8-track tape section. The only problem with these is a tendency to outrageous pricing (nobody should be paying $25 for a Wings 8-track tape, even if it is still sealed).

The best places to get tapes online are auction sites like eBay. Most opening bids are around $1 and you can pick and choose just what you want and the price you will pay. There are often bigger lots of dozens or more tapes that end up being sold for relatively cheap, too. What you can do occasionally at a flea market, you can do every day online.

Tip: Put a wanted ad on web-based classifieds sites yourself. People do scour the wanted ads, and even if they don’t have any 8-tracks they might know someone who does. Be careful about this though — they may expect more money than is reasonable, and anyway it may be unwise to state a price in your ad.

8. Make your own

Get a good 8-track unit that records, hook it up to your stereo system and create your own tapes. Blank (or once-blank) 80-minute tapes aren’t too hard to find, and since CDs are not longer than 80 minutes, with a little chopping and rearranging you can usually put any album from any era onto an 8-track tape.

How fancy you get is up to you — you can even print out a full-color album cover and stick it on, and create your own back label showing the programs and song order you’ve come up with. You can split the album into exact fourths, fading the song out so the program can change before the song fades back in. You can even play the tape as long as you’ll need from the splice, then open it up and snip out the extra tape, making it exactly the length you need. Just think how much fun it will be to shove in a Franz Ferdinand 8-track next time you’re out driving around with your friends!

Tip: This is another good reason to buy tapes that you otherwise wouldn’t buy. RCA released a lot of boring music, but their tapes were made well and were often stored well by considerate older people, so they make good blanks. You might have to work a little to get the old labels off, or you can stick your new ones right over them if you measure it well.

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