In the 1960s and 1970s, as home recording became more popular, two trends emerged to offer reel to reel tapes at a lower price. First, many private label or house brands entered the market, with even local drug store chains and department stores getting in on the act. Early on, the quality of all the tapes available was very similar, and the performance of the generic brands were all similar to the standard tapes available at the time. Low cost brands such as Shamrock, Melody, Emerald and Maestro were often rejects from Scotch, Ampex, Audio Magnetics or Audiotape. Some brands even included tapes from all manufacturers mixed in, so you never knew what you actually got.
In general, most of the tapes you will find will fit into the Standard (Type 1) category as most early tapes had a similar quality to Scotch 111 or 150, and will have a similar unpolished finish. Formulas labeled as “Low Noise” are typically gray oxide tapes, and should perform better although not always. Grey oxide tapes not labeled as low noise could be cut computer or instrumentation tape, and have bias characteristics not suitable for high fidelity tape recording.
If you find them cheap, test them on your machine, and check the oxide surface to determine how abrasive they might be on your heads. Later tapes made with better processes not only sound better, but shed less, and put less wear on your heads.
Except for the Shamrock and Emerald tapes, in general all of the old brands pre-dated the Sticky Shed or Squealing issues. Please see the rogue’s gallery of the classics below!