So you eventually get to play your records. This is the fun part – yet there are a few things you should be aware of and try and make a habit of. A few do’s and don’ts:
- We suggest that you handle the record directly from the inner sleeve by sliding it gently out and letting the record rim push against the area on your palm closest to your thumb, and then let your fingers touch the label area. This way you will not touch the groove area of the general record surface, causing any contaminants present to affect the sound.
- Place the record onto the platter surface of the record player only if it is switched off and not rotating, unless you have been spinning records for many years and you feel comfortable with lowering the record onto the platter while rotating. The dangers are a slip of the wrist or hand and the end result is a badly scratched record or even worse, a broken cantilever of the cartridge, and subsequent costly replacement.
- Try and check for unnecessary dust on the record surface prior to actual playing and remove if possible. The stylus will remove certain large particles and hair by gouging it from the groove, but it really is better if the debris isn’t there at all. A build-up of a lot of dust and debris will eventually clot the stylus tip and distortion will be fairly obvious and audible. In sever cases debris and dust build-up combined with dirt in the grooves can even cause the stylus to miss track and skip the groove completely.
- Do not leave your records lying on any surfaces and not stored safely in their protective inner sleeves after playing. It takes a few seconds to perform this menial task – it takes much longer to clean records with gunk stuck on them, and damaged records cannot be repaired. Why risk damaging them at all?
- Don’t play your records wet. This silly practice was believed to be a very fine way of minimizing noise in the 70’s, but there are numerous risks that should rather be avoided. The labels soak up water and this creates bubbles on the label surface. Wet playing might sound like a cool idea, but styli can also be affected by water spluttering. Remember that you are generating an electrical signal to create sound. Water and electrical signals are not exactly good bedfellows.
- One of the silliest inventions of the vinyl world was The Dustbug. This device looked very much like an arm and consisted of a base with a thin spindly metal tube attached to it, with a brush at the end of it. It was attached on the plinth on the opposite side of the actual arm. The idea was to lower this brush onto the record whilst playing, where it would remain for the entire duration of the record side, from start to finish, and it would then very cleverly brush dirt and dust from the grooves. There was only one problem that the inventors seemed to not have grasped during the design phase – where does all the dust go to? So if you sincerely want to be unkind to your records and simply re-distribute the dirt and dust to another area or portion of the record grooves, use one to your own detriment. Even the softest of bristles became hard gritty abrasives once the dust got caught in and on the bristles. The solution? Clean your records properly before playing!
- One of the ironies of vinyl is that extreme heat is used to produce them in the manufacturing phase, yet heat is the prime enemy that will destroy them afterwards. As mentioned before it is wise to keep records stored under reasonable and cool conditions, and heat really should be avoided at all costs. Winter evenings with good music and wine can warm the heart of man, but heaters and fireplaces can be killers. Take care in not leaving records in places where the heat will deform them completely and destroy them forever. By the same token one should be careful of leaving records in the car after purchase or during the way over to a friend. The heat inside a car can be severe and cause irreparable damage if you forget them there.
- Do not stack records on top of each other, even if they are in their protective sleeves. Even though one single record does not weigh a lot, the combined weight of a whole bunch on top of each other will add up and could eventually press uneven paper sleeves and other oddities into the vinyl, causing surface damage.
- Be gentle with records. This applies equally to how you re-insert the record into the sleeve and back into the cover, and also how you remove the sleeve from the cover. If decent inner sleeves are used as aftermarket accessories the record should slide in and out quite easily and freely, but sometimes paper sleeves can get stuck on the inside. Take a deep breath and try again. Remember, once your record is damaged it can not be repaired. And much worse, in many cases it cannot be replaced either!
- Please abstain from using spray-on cleaning solutions. They were usually supplied with a basic sponge. All they used to do was to spread the rubbish in the groove to another part of the record (wow, we hate those Dustbugs!). Contrary to whatever salespersons told customers, the sponge could not reach down into the groove and remove the dirt at all. Marketing and a lack of knowledge can be a dangerous threat to vinyl.
- We believe that records should be played, and the ones that we enjoy the most should be played many times over. Yet it might come as a surprise to learn that vinyl should be given a rest period after playing as well. The recommended rest period is generally 24 hours. When the vinyl is played the surface area is deformed temporarily. The amount of down force is a few thousand pounds per square inch. The vinyl is compliant enough to recover after a restitution period.
Suggestions for further record enjoyment:
- Find yourself a suitable partner – but please check on whether your wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend also enjoys the same music as you do. The best system in the world will still not allow you to get away with playing that awful death metal record your partner does not like, or the sweet and sappy country and western title that should rather not be played. Remember that you might also be doing your partner a favour by playing that one they like (even if you hate it!), and they might feel indebted. There are obviously not many other activities, umm, that are better than listening to records, but hey, you never know when you might just get lucky.
- Music does go very well with various snacks, alcoholic beverages, and confectionary. Just be careful not to spill anything on the record surfaces. Here we might be thinking primarily of alcohol. The First Law of Vinyl Listening states clearly and categorically: “Musical enjoyment is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol used or abused”.
- Playing air guitar will instill a sense of wonder and amazement at how good musicians really are, and make you buy more records.
- Dress code: somebody once remarked that listening to CD was enjoyable. Listening to records was like going to a live musical event and having to dress up. Nothing prevents one from actually dressing up and enjoying the performance. It might even justify that expensive bottle of Bordeaux.
- Make sure that you try and get enough sleep before a marathon listening session. There is nothing as rewarding as listening into the wee hours of the morning and pulling out record after record and just enjoying the music. On the other hand, there can be nothing worse than falling asleep and being woken up by the repeating railroad clickety clack of the stylus stuck in the lead-out groove…
In the next installment we will have a look at the wonderful world of record buying and collecting in general.