VHS Glitching

First things first...

It's time for the follow-up to my previous post! On the right (or above, depending on your screen size) is a plain VHS recording of an animation I've made for this post. I will also leave links to the video examples in each section of the post in case embeds aren't working for one reason or another. Just like this link for the plain VHS version.

Keep in mind that most of these things require some form of abuse, so if you value your tapes and VCR (or simply don't have a stock of spares), you might want to avoid any of these things.

Photosensitivity warning as well! Glitches, analog or otherwise, can result in flickering, flashes, and so on. If you are prone to seizures, keep going at your own risk.

Now that we're all clear, it's time to begin!

Crumpled tape

Simplest of them all and doesn't require you to have any sort of tools on hand. My example footage isn't exactly the best one since it started too early (and it's a bit hard to find the exact location if it's timing critical), but you get the idea! If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

A bit of a warning, so that it doesn't come as surprise, but crumpled tape will make some noise inside the VCR. Unless there's issues with your VRC to begin with, the noise made by it will pass once it goes into the right spool on the cassette. It's fine! Don't worry about it.

Tape strech

Like tape crumpling, this one is easy to do, but hard to time accurately. Additionally, stretching the tape is very easy to overdo as it gives in quicky after a certain point. The more it's stretched, the heavier the distortion and noise. If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

Tape stretching can be done at variety of length, but sorter length is easier to overdo. In my test, I opened the lid on the back of the cassette and stretched along the length of the tape, but adventurous soul can let some tape loose from the cassette and stretch a longer section. And like with crumpled tape, VCR will, in most cases, make a bit of weird noise.


First method with tool requirements and it's the nightmare of any VHS collector; the magnet. It's also the least violent and/or destructive method if you can re-record the damaged video. Don't do it on anything irreplacable and consider digitizing your footage first because there's no going back. In my example footage I've touched a part of tape with a fairly strong magnet and it left a noticeable rolling wave of noise. Following small waves of distortion came from using same magnet on its side with a piece of plastic between it and the tape. If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

Magnets come in many shapes, sizes, and strenghts, so this type of distortion has a lot potential for experimentation. I will get more magnets eventually, but for now, I only have a single strong one.

Dropping VCR (or just smacking it)

Blink and you'll miss it! Quite frankly, my test footage here isn't great and using my method for getting 50fps out of VHS doesn't help either. However, dropping VCR on a hard surface or simply hitting it creates momentary distortion in the picture and messes up the colors. If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

Obviously, the harder the shock, the stronger the effect. Sadly, compromises had to be made for the test footage since my table is glass, so dropping my VCR hard enough wasn't an option. It also doesn't have a cover attached to it, so smacking it wasn't an option either. I will consider redoing this example video, but for now, this is all I can give you. :(

Following methods require opening the VCR and physically interfering with its internals while powered. While most of the internals are safe and running on 12 volts or less, there IS a high voltage zone on the PCB that is between 100 and 230 volts, depending on where you live, and it can be dangerous. Even if the area is clearly marked, there is always a possibility of accidents. If you are unsure, you are welcome to keep reading, but please do not follow these instructions. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk.

Slowing down the read head

Time for the first unsafe method! For this method, I've used an end of a zip tie to carefully apply pressure on the edge of the spinning read head. It's a big metal cylinder, so you can't miss it! Applying pressure slows down the read head and creates the swaying seen in the video. If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

At 7 second mark I've applied a bit too much pressure and light swaying quickly turned into full blown distortion. Not my favorite, but someone might like it. As for the zip tie, I actually don't know how much voltage and current is running in the read head (if any), but I also don't want to leave stains since I do intent on actually digitizing VHS footage for archival if I happen to have some.

Pushing down on read head

Similar to the previous method if not exactly the same, but I've found that by slowly pushing down on the PCB on my VCR's read head (yours might not have one) I've been able to slow it down with ease. It results in heavier swaying than the last method, but it also creates distortion and warping. If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

I might be stating the obvious here, but heavier pressure means heavier effect. It's also easy to overdo by pressing on it too much. I also had this question that I needed and answer to:

But what if I do it while it's recording?

If you were expecting something different, I'm sorry to disappoint! On the upside, you can repeat the same glitch from VHS over and over and over again. Except we're digitizing everything so it will be repeatable regardless. On top of that, you can't actually monitor the glitching while it records, so you're going in blind and can't see if you're pressing too hard or too little. If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

So this part was a waste of time? Yup. But it brings me joy that I could waste a bit of your time as well, so it's fine. Let's move on!

Between tape and read head

Ziptie strikes back! This is one of the wilder effects I've managed to create so far and it's ridiculously easy; just hold something small between the tape and the read head. In my case, I a tip of the forementioned ziptie. You might have to wedge it in there if it's too large, but as long as it's in there, it will cause lots of interference. If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

I intend on trying this out later with other things such as toothpick, dental floss, paper, etc. Lots of options of different size! And also the distortion happens depending on where the object is being held. In my example I held it near where tape disconnects from the read head resulting in distortion being at the bottom of the screen.

Magnet near read head

Another friend makes a return! This time it's the magnet and if you've read the previous sections, magnet will destroy the recorded content on tape. However, with his method, it's easy to do in very controlled fashion. In my example I move the magnet between the middle of the read head and the very end where the tape disconnects from it. Looking at the distortion in the video it should be very clear where the magnet was held at any given moment. If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

Again, various magnet strenghts will work differently. And before I close this off...

[BLOOPER] Magnet too close for comfort

Magnet was a bit too strong and slipped out of my hand and into the spinning read head which then flung it and almost hit the high voltage section of the PCB. And that's why you have to be careful. If you can't see the embed, here's a backup link.

At the very least, read head blacking out, coming back, and resynchronizing after a couple of seconds looked cool.

What's next?

That's pretty much it for now! I will be actively looking for new methdos for glitching VHS footage and maybe delve into some analog video effects and (preferably DIY) equipment. I will keep this post updated with new stuff, but until then, this is it!