Taking Care of Vinyl Records

Vinyl records are a niche market. There is a subculture of record collectors who love vinyl LPs.

I have no particular commitment to vinyl records. I shall now state what I think should be obvious. If digital imagery had been invented in 1850, no one would have invented film. Similarly, if digital recordings had been available in 1880, Edison would not have invented the phonograph record. If the transistor had been available in 1900, nobody would have invented the vacuum tube.

You may own some old albums that you bought in your youth. Or you may have inherited a collection from your parents. I don’t recommend throwing them out. At the same time, I much prefer a CD or even a downloaded MP3. I don’t like clicks and pops. I never have. So, I am not an aficionado of 50-year-old LPs. But I own a lot of them, and I don’t mind listening to them as background entertainment.

Nevertheless, if you happen to go into a thrift store, and you see a bin full of LPs, you might flip through them rapidly. In all likelihood, your time is worth more than any LPs you are going to find, but maybe you’ll find something that you would like to listen to, and you don’t want to spend $10 or $15 on buying a CD. Maybe you don’t even buy CDs anymore. So, you may be willing to spend a dollar to buy an album. Open the album, and take a look at the grooves. If the album is dusty, you may decide to put it back. But if you really like the music, you probably should not put it back. You should take it home and clean it. I am going to tell you how to do this.

From 1956 until 1959, I had a job in a record store. I loved to buy records. I could buy them wholesale: $2.50 instead of $4. LPs were a big part of my life from the mid-1950’s until the mid-1970’s. I spent a lot of money on LPs, and I spent an outrageous amount of money on a high-fidelity system to play them. I described that system here.

I had a great initial advantage. When I worked for the record store, I was taught how to handle records. I learned this: never pick up a record in any way other than to remove the record from the album or sleeve with your middle finger on the hole, and your thumb on the outer edge of the record. Under no circumstances should you ever touch the grooves. Your fingers will leave oil on the grooves, and the oil will catch dust. Here is the correct way.

From the first album I ever bought, I took care of my records. I handled them properly. I had a brush that I would use to brush the record before playing it. I did not play a record that had dust on it. The dust did not get ground into the grooves. I never had a record changer for LPs. I always had a turntable. It was an incredibly expensive turntable. In terms of today’s money, it probably cost me about $800. I was an idiot to spend that much, but my records remained unscratched. The cartridge played well at 3 grams of pressure. That was far less than most commercial record players in the late 1950’s. Even today, 2 grams is just about it. Cartridges don’t play much lighter than this. This meant that the grooves of the records were not damaged. I always used a diamond stylus. It lasted a long time. It retained its curved shape. I occasionally bought a new cartridge, which meant a new stylus.

I have a collection of about 300 LPs. Even the ones I played repeatedly are quite clean. There are very few clicks and pops. I hate the clicks and pops, but I can tolerate them. Also, sad to say, I now have AM radio ears. I just cannot hear most clicks and pops any longer. I cannot hear the high end of the spectrum. No more high fidelity for me. Here is the grim reality of what happens to us, decade by decade.

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