If you have a vintage record player in your living room, you’ll know that it’s the best complement for the room décor. And it also reflects your taste for old music as well as the sound quality, which modern day files cannot produce. However, it’s also true that many families inherited record players from their parents and grandparents, and they don’t really know how to take care of the equipment.
Record players wear with time and therefore, need proper care and maintenance. If you have one of those “old folks”, this post will help you locate the damages in them. You will also learn how you can minimize these damages, so that you can listen to your favorite “oldies” without any problem.
The Record Player
Before moving on to the basic, it’s better to begin with understanding the mechanism. There are three major components in any record player without which, it cannot work. These are:
- The Turntable: It is a flat and round surface that works as a record holder. It spins or rotates at a certain speed, allowing the needle to pick the vibrations off the vinyl grooves. Turntable comes in two basic designs; direct-drive and belt-drive. Normally, vintage record players built for homes have belt-driven turntables.
- Needle or Stylus: It is a tiniest and thinnest component of the record player, yet the most important one in the entire setup. Being the only part that touches the vinyl record, it is responsible to pick vibrations from the grooves, as the record rotates, and transfers them to the sound producing source.
- Tonearm: It is a long, rod-like component that is responsible to hold and move the stylus on the surface of the record. The other, non-moveable end is attached to the turntable. Tonearm has a magnetic cartridge where the vibrations are amplified into sound signals. Tonearm controls the flow, as well as the pressure of the needle on the record surface. You can lower or lift the tonearm by means of a special lever for extra protection of the record.
To identify potential threats to the record player, you need to understand the working of each component in detail.
Major Issues with Your Record Player
Among major symptoms of damages in the record player may include distorted or muffled sound. Although, there is always a chances of minor popping and scratches in older records, you might have noticed an increasing amount of cracking as well as other noises if your record player has functional issues.
There may be a noticeable skipping, resulting in sound loss on many occasions. These problems in the record player must be eradicated on immediate basis, in order to avoid major damages to your precious collection as well as the record player.
There are three major threats to the record players:
- Moisture Damage
You must have heard about “wet-playing” a record player. In this technique, the record player is wetted before the playing the record. This particular technique is believed to have reduced the cracking, ticking or popping sound produced by old records.
The downside is, it deepens the scratches and drives abrasion into the record, only to make it sound worse the next time you “dry-play” the record. Here’s what happens with wet-playing.
- Tiny particles of oil or grit combined with water accumulate sludge in the grooves of the record.
- The turntable and the needle may become grimy, only to cause more issues in sound as well as the functionality of the player.
Record player owners who notice such issues with their devices after wet-playing, should check all the components thoroughly and clean the moisture from the entire equipment properly. Otherwise, other records may be affected, even if you play them without wetting the equipment.
- Dirt Buildup on the Needle
As mentioned about the needle before, it exerts a little amount of pressure on the vinyl surface to extract vibrations off the grooves. The end touching the surface of the vinyl record is not pointed. It’s rather rounded, so that it can move without damaging the surface.
The rounded end has a disadvantage that, instead of playing through the dirt and dust inside the grooves, the needle goes over them to make those “cluck and skip” sounds. The pressure of the needle can push hard particles of dust and dirt further inside the record surface, causing permanent damages to the records.
Another issue is, the needle tip accumulates pieces of dust and dirt from the grooves, as well as from surrounding environment. So, it needs to be cleaned properly from time to time. Originally, the needle has a polished and smooth surface, in order to produce natural and crystal clear sound. However, it can become rusty and rough, if you do not keep it clean.
A rough needle can easily damage the record and creates unpleasant noise. To get high-quality sound, it is recommended that you should wipe clean the needle or stylus every time after playing the record.
You can purchase the cleaning solvent which is meant specifically for the record player needle.
- Use brush with soft and small bristles to apply the fluid.
- Apply the fluid onto the needle with stroking motion.
- Don’t exert to much force while cleaning; otherwise, it can get bent or damaged.
- If the needle fails to work properly even after frequent cleaning, you need to find its replacement.
- Problem with the Power Cord
Your record player can suddenly stop working, or there may be power losses during record playing. If that happens, check the power cable for broken or damaged wires. The power cord used for the record player has normal electrical outlet. So, it should be inspected like other cables in the household.
- The outlet of the power cable may have loosened and it needs to be fixed properly. If the problem persists even after reseating the plug in the socket, it’s time you should find a replacement cord for your record player.
- People having pets in their houses face a common issue of chewed cables. So look for those tooth marks and inspect the condition of the cable. A simple taping might do. Otherwise, you need to replace the cord.
- Perhaps, the cable got old enough to function properly and needs to be replaced.
Record Caring Tips
Well, you must have not noticed the problem as it started. If you think you’ve already played some of the records from the collection with all those sound issues, inspect all the records carefully. After cleaning and removing the issues in the record player, inspect performance of the recently played records, and eradicate any dirt issue in them. Here are few more things to consider.
- Cue Correctly
It’s too tempting to cue the records manually, but manual handling may damage your valuable vinyl album. Always use the cueing lever which is attached to the tonearm. With manual placing of tonearm, you wouldn’t judge the amount of pressure needle exerts on the record, which may result in a permanent damage.
- Place the needle onto the empty sections of the vinyl’s grooves. These are not part of the song.
- Do not lift the needle during record playing, in between the song. It will create imbalance in the grooves, or cause scratches.
- Store Properly
There should be a proper storage place for the records – a place where records are not directly in contact with the sunlight. If you don’t want to see warped records, follow these tips.
- The storage space should be away from the electric source or heat source as heat and electricity are the enemies of vinyl albums.
- Records are not your books. Therefore, be very clinical about their placement:
- Do not stack your albums. Instead, place them upright.
- Leave a little breathing space between the covers of two records. In this way, the records will not stick to the internal surface.
- Put the records in their sleeves and jackets, to keep them from dust and dirt.
- Handle Carefully
Do you know, your fingers have a small amount of body oil that can be transferred easily to the vinyl surface? It can smear and smudge the vinyl surface, and you don’t want it since you care about the sound quality.
- Do not touch the main part (with grooves) with bare fingers.
- Hold the records with outside edges.
- If, by chances, you happen to touch the playing surface, use isopropyl solvent or record cleaning surface to remove oil traces.
- Clean the record with carbon fiber brush and lint-free cloth, before and after playing. Do not use your shirt, a handkerchief or any other cloth to wipe clean your albums.
- Avoid using baby oil or lighter liquid to clean the records.
- Some people recommend vacuum cleaning, but use small vacuum cleaners meant for removing dust on records and other smaller items.
To make the most of your record players and record collection, you have to take care of both. A damage in one can easily damage the other. So stick to these two rules:
- Be gentle with records
- Be careful with the record player
- Replace the components of the record player from time to time.