There's a point of diminishing returns where you have to weigh the cost of a top-line VCR (or more likely two) against the fact you only have a couple dozen tapes to transfer that are fairly worn. If your tapes were really superb recordings, or perversely if they were really bad but priceless, and you had hundreds to dub, fancy recorders might be useful. But it sounds like this is more of a "I forgot I had these sitting in storage and just want to make DVDs so I can get rid of 'em" situation. The problem with the "best" VCRs is they aren't consistent, you usually need two different brands to cover all the bases, and if used carelessly or incorrectly they often make worse
tape players than the typical consumer models. Plus they can cost a fortune if in good condition, $100-300 or more.
Unless someone is already a dedicated video wingnut
, who knows the ins and outs of the various VCR brands and models, I always recommend starting out simple and cheap to see if the results are satisfactory: they very often are. Look on eBay or Craigs List for a Mitsubishi 448 or 748 standard-issue VCR, these are built like tanks, they track well, and they don't damage tapes. They were last made in 2001 so they're relatively recent as VCRs go. They aren't the "last word" in picture quality, but if the tapes are already deteriorating you want a rugged gentle basic VCR, not a persnickety problem-prone diva VCR. If you can't find a Mitsubishi as quickly as you'd like, opt for a Quasar, Panasonic or Sharp circa 1995 (ask the seller to tell you the date stamped on the back of the VCR for sale). Any of these will be a good basic VCR and should cost no more than $20-30, if that.
Understand there are really only two choices in top-line used VCRs, the Panasonic AG series and the JVC svhs units. The Panasonics have generally seen pro use and been beat to death, the JVCs are fragile beasts that will destroy your tapes in an instant when they take a fit and act up. Neither is worth gambling on unless you have a ton of irreplaceable tapes to dub, and you have a "sixth sense" that keeps you one step ahead of these VCRs, which have a mind of their own. They also need constant fiddling of their various "enhancement" features and tracking if you're to obtain any advantage from them, they require babysitting. Of the Panasonics, the AG1980 is the one to get, cost runs $100-500 depending on condition and seller. The simiar-looking AG1970 is much older and is more suited to certain specific tapes, the AG1980 is more universally useful. Of the JVCs, frankly I would avoid all
the SVHS models: they are legendary, many people think they're the holy grail, but every one of I've owned or used in studio settings has been a dog that wrecks tapes. Instead of the ancient and overpriced svhs units I'd recommend the newer "DVHS" JVCs: they are just as good but much newer and less prone to breakdown and tape eating. These cost $150-400 depending on model and condition, I recommend the JVC SR-VD400U.