Vinyl Record Collecting For Dummies
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Record collecting is easy. In fact, if you already own a few records, you already have a collection. But what you do need to know is how to care for it. This cheat sheet will help you keep your records in the very best shape.

The ten cardinal rules of record collecting

In no particular order, beyond a reproachful look at anyone who is, or has been, guilty of one or more of these things, and whose records still bear the scars. Whatever happened, that is the most is the most important rule of all.

  1. Do not expose records to heat.

    Any heat. Not even for a moment: “Oh, I’ll just prop this up against the radiator while I look for something else to play.”

    Do not leave them lying in the sun — heck, don’t leave them standing in the sun, either. Wherever you decide to store your collection, be very certain that it is forever in the shade.

    Don’t leave records in the car on a hot day, and don’t pay any attention to the scientific fact that vinyl doesn’t start warping until it reaches 140 degrees. It’s true. But even less than that can set the process rolling.

  2. Do not wipe a record clean with your favorite t-shirt.

    It doesn’t matter how fresh someone’s laundry, how clean their t-shirt, how luxuriously soft their socks might be. Unless they routinely wear an outfit made from microfibers, preferably impregnated with an anti-static fluid, clothing (or anything else) should not be allowed anywhere close to an unsleeved record.

  3. Do not drop records on the floor. (or anywhere else, for that matter).

    It’s like the line from old Superman comics. “Superman can bounce. Records can’t.” Or, in more technical terms, “CDs are indestructible (allegedly). Vinyl is not.”

    Records might be shaped a bit like a frisbee, but they cannot fly.

    They might be round, but they cannot be used as a drinks tray.

    They should not be used to swat insects, to push thumbtacks into the wall, or as fans on hot days.

    In many ways, a record is like a newborn baby, except it never stops needing to be treated like one.

  4. Do not handle records by anything but the edge.

    Fingers are as bad as clothing when it comes to harming the playing surface of a record. Worse, in fact. At least clothing can be dry. Fingers, though, are positively torrid with sweat and goo and microscopic flakes that are irresistibly attracted to those the deep dark valleys that are grooved across a record. And once they get in there . . . eww. You don’t want to know.

  5. Do not wash records with soap and water.

    Yes, cleaning fluid costs money that could be better spent on buying more records. But it is also deliberately formulated for the purpose. Even those cleaning machines whose contents are primarily H2O with just a couple of drops of proprietary cleanser demand distilled water, which the cleaner then treats even further. Whereas the stuff that comes out of the tap . . .who knows what’s in there?

    Well, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, there’s sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc, and that’s only the stuff that’s meant to be in there.

    Fish go to the bathroom in water.

    None of this should be poured over vinyl, and when you add whatever ingredients go into the average bottle of dish soap . . . that might leave the dishes sparkling, but vinyl’s more likely to dry with a sticky, icky sheen.

  6. Do not blow dust, hair, and so on off a record.

    Although probably everybody does it. Just think, though, about all the microscopic whatevers that can, or will, be exhaled with that cleansing puff, from saliva to tiny fragments of food. Does anyone really want their breakfast splashed all over their record collection?

  7. Do not play records with an old needle.

    It should be clear by now that the only objects that should come into contact with the playing surface of a record are a) the turntable mat on the underside, and b) the stylus on the other. Remember, however, that even the most expensive styli have a recommended lifetime, usually measured in the number of hours playing time they deliver.

    Few people faithfully log the duration of every record they play, every time they play it, but it’s reasonably easy to guesstimate how close a stylus is to the end — if its lifetime is 200 hours, and the average album is forty minutes long, then that’s 300 albums, give or take.

    Someone plays three or four albums a night, three or four times a week — let’s say 40 albums a month. Lowball the total and round things up. Then get a new stylus. And do remember to clean it with a reputable stylus brush after every play.

  8. Do not leave the dustcover off the turntable, whether it’s in use or not.

    They’re called “dustcovers” for a reason. Because, if they’re not used, everything will be covered in dust — plus hairs, flakes, tiny insects, and whatever else is floating through the air at any given time, in search of a suitable place to land.

    That alone is a good reason to keep one on at all times — it’s a lot easier to take a duster to a flat plastic shell than it is to get into all the tiny, fiddly crevices that make up the top of the average turntable.

    But dustcovers do more than deter dust. Think of the havoc certain pets could wreak on an unguarded turntable. Or worse, on a revolving record. Or an ornament, vibrated from its shelf because, for example, someone is playing their Def Leppard album very loudly indeed.

    Or any of the myriad other calamities that one can imagine befalling a delicate piece of precision engineering in the event of someone accidentally bumping into the furniture.

    That’s what the dustcover is for.

  9. Do not stack your records on top of one another.

    Well, not unless there is a very good reason for wanting the vinyl to warp, the covers to wear, and the spines to collapse. If there is, they should be piled as high as possible.

  10. Do not leave records out of their sleeves unless they are actually being played.

    In the same way that an uncovered turntable is a recipe for trouble, so an unsleeved record is effectively walking onto the set of a disaster movie and announcing, “Do your worst.”

    Drinks spill, food falls, cats scratch, dogs chew, people stumble, elbows fly. . . . Correctly sleeved, a record at least stands a chance of surviving some of these. Correctly shelved, the odds in favor are even higher. But propped against the wall, as naked as the day it was pressed . . . the poor thing doesn’t stand a chance.

    And finally, do not . . .

    . . . allow any of this to put you off. Just go have fun.

The vinyl timeline

Knowing a little about our hobby’s past is a great way to understand its present, and maybe predict its future. Here are some of the key developments in the history of recorded sound, and the kind of records (and other things) that you can expect to find.

1860 Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville successfully captures the first ever intelligible recording of the human voice on his Phonautogram device.
1889 The first wax cylinders enter production.
Early 1890s Emile Berliner experiments with the “gramophone plate” — the first flat record — using a variety of different materials.
1894 Berliner settles on shellac as the most reliable format for his plates. The same material will remain in use for the next 50 years.
1912 Thomas Edison introduces the Edison Diamond Disc, a “hi-fi” rival to shellac. He abandons it in 1929.
1930s RCA and Columbia begin developing the “long-playing disc.”
1941 Big Joe Clauberg opens the Jazz Record Center in New York, probably the first store ever to cater exclusively to record collectors.
1941‒1945 World War II forces record companies to look for alternatives to shellac. They settle upon vinyl.
1948 RCA launch the 45 rpm 7-inch single, and Columbia introduces the 33 rpm 12-inch-long player.
1955 The rock’n’roll boom begins, largely fueled by the popularity of singles.
1965 8-track cartridges are launched in the US.
1966 Bob Dylan releases the first rock double album, Blonde on Blonde. The first cassettes appear on the market, among them Nina Simone’s Wild Is the Wind.
Mid-1970s Vinyl sales approach an unsurpassed 350 million copies a year in the United States.
1976 The first 12-inch single is commercially released, Double Exposure’s “Ten Percent.”
1980 Bow Wow Wow’s “C30 C60 C90 Go” becomes the first cassette single to be released worldwide.
1982 Having spent years in development, the first compact disc (CD) goes in sale in Japan. It is Billy Joel’s 52nd Street album.
1988 Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits becomes the last 8-track to be commercially released in the US.
1989 CDs are now the dominant medium. American record companies begin seriously scaling back on vinyl releases.
Mid-1990s Vinyl held out a little longer in Europe, but there, too, it is now a dying breed.
2000s Vinyl sales hit at an all-time low. Some people call it “the point of no return.” Some people are wrong.
2008 The first Record Store Day — the vinyl revival starts here.
2022 Vinyl sales hit 41.3 million in the US, the 16th consecutive year of growth.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Dave Thompson has been writing about record collecting for 40 years, primarily for Goldmine magazine and the UK magazine Record Collector. He is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Vinyl and More and Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting. He is also the author of over 150 books on music and pop culture.

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