Help and advice

How to buy second-hand records that work

For many vinyl fans, the best part of the medium is hunting through flea markets and second-hand shops for amazing finds at bargain prices.

The only downside to this (other than the risk of sore feet and an empty wallet) is that your records may not always be in the best condition. Here are some ways to work out what can be salvaged, and how.

In the shop

Ask if you’re unsure, but most shops and stalls won’t have a problem with you taking a second hand record out of its sleeve to check it’s in passable condition. Just be careful, because vinyl is fragile, or you wouldn’t need to check in the first place.

The first thing to look for is whether the label on the record actually matches the sleeve. If it doesn’t, make your decision based on the sticker attached to the vinyl, as sleeves and discs can easily be mixed up by accident.

Secondly, check for any major scratches, or any cracks whatsoever. These mean that the record cannot be cleaned or rehabilitated. However, it could make a great base for some vinyl-themed crafts (bowls and clocks are popular choices), but make sure you negotiate a suitable discount first!

At home

Playing a dirty record can cause permanent damage to the vinyl, so it’s best to clean your discs before the first play.

As previously stated, records are delicate objects, so caution should always be your guiding principle when it comes to cleaning. Avoid using any solution or fluid that could leave a residue on the vinyl, and never clean them with rubbing alcohol: it will damage the surface, permanently affecting the sound quality.

Specialist brushes are available for cleaning records, and are relatively inexpensive. Just remember to use a light touch to minimise the potential for damage. You can even get dedicated record vacuums! However, these can be quite expensive, and are best left for the fully committed vinyl fan.

It’s also important to make sure that the stylus and turntable are clean, as dirt on these areas can easily scratch the record beyond repair. However, styli and turntables are less inherently fragile than vinyl discs, so a quick wipe-down with a soft cloth should be all that is required.

If you’re uncertain about the state of your needle, it’s always better to go to the expense of replacing it than risk damage to irreplaceable vintage records. That said, the action of the stylus running over the grooves of the record will naturally cause it to pick up dirt and debris, so it’s a particularly crucial area to clean.

An important thing to consider is that the oils and sweat that your hands naturally produce will chemically erode the surface of a vinyl record over time, so do your best to avoid touching the playing surfaces with your bare hands.

While it’s best to give your records a quick dust after every play, this is a counsel of perfection. If one starts to crackle, skip or make popping noises, this is a sure sign that it is in need of a deep clean.


© Axonn 2015