Saturday, 22 April 2017

An Introduction to Vinyl

I've been collecting vinyl for many years now. Being in my late 20s, vinyl was already on it's way out when I was a small child so before I began collecting it for myself I had no prior introduction to the format. I first began collecting vinyl around 7/8 years ago, and back then secondhand was the only way to go as modern repressings didn't exist which I'm incredibly grateful for as it's a trap I never fell in to. However I fully appreciate how intimidating collecting second hand vinyl can feel, so as I've transitioned from hobbyist to serious collector and have had to learn everything myself the hard way, I thought I'd share some tips for any new collectors or people wanting to get more serious about the hobby!

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I really want to point out that record collecting should be fun first and foremost! It should be a hobby you enjoy and not something you feel intimidated by all the "rules" for. Some people (particularly middle aged men in my experience) will act like gatekeepers to the hobby and act quite aggressively towards younger members of the community for "doing it wrong" and presume all younger people are automatically hipster posers. Pay them no mind and you do you, as long as you're practicing basic care of your records then there's no right or wrong, and remember that everyone had to start from somewhere! There's a difference between teaching someone how something's done, and trying act like the hobby is something "exclusive" that others are unwelcome to, and it's really unfortunate how prevalent that attitude is. Just because you weren't born in time to experience something the first time round doesn't mean you can't enjoy it now!

First up, a pet peeve of mine I just want to put out there immediately: the plural of vinyl is vinyl. Not vinyls. You don't go shopping for vinyls, you don't have a collection of vinyls, it's always vinyl whether you're referring to one or twenty.

When you first begin looking at vinyl you'll see that they come in a variety of sizes and play at different speeds. Your standard records and most of what you buy will most likely be 12 inch LPs (albums) which play at speed 33.3 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute). Most records will state which speed they're supposed to be played at, but not all will and unfortunately you can't always tell by the size alone. Most singles and EPs are 7 inches and play at 45 RPM (which is why they get called 45s), but you can also buy 12 inch singles which usually also play at 45 RPM. You can also buy 10 inch records but they're much less common. Some records play at 78 RPM but these are pre-1950s, and shellac not vinyl, so probably not something you'll ever have to worry about.

Most vinyl is black, but it can come in just about any colour imaginable and some even have pictures on the disc. They can also come in all different shapes, but these are usually singles only as the shape will make it difficult to fit on your turntable otherwise. Colour and picture vinyl is very pretty, but the standard black is what actually sounds best which is why it remains the most common and some people can be a bit snobby about coloured vinyl.

Sometimes when you buy 7 inch records you'll see that they have a massive hole in the middle and might wonder how the hell you're supposed to play that. This is something that really perplexed me when I was starting out, and didn't understand why they differed as some of my 7 inches were normal sized. It's to do with the different record companies originally wanting you to use their machine to play it, and you'll also see jukeboxes require records with the larger hole, but the bottom line is it isn't something you have to worry about at all - you just use a 45 adapter which looks like this:

Just pop it into the centre of your record and it'll fit on a regular spindle!

Speaking of which, lets get on to the basics of record players. If you've looked around the internet you'll of no doubt seen that there's a lot of hate for Crosley record players, and I'm sorry to say that this hate is entirely valid. Crosleys can genuinely cause your records damage. You can't change the weight of the tone arm, and because it's too heavy it will gradually wear away at the grooves of your vinyl. Also, please believe me when I say that they do not sound good. I know, I used to have one! On many of my vintage stereo records the stylus (needle) couldn't pick up both channels of sound. So for example, when listening to A Day In The Life by The Beatles, I'd only be able to hear John's vocals and the drum beat, I couldn't hear Paul's vocals or any guitar...and that sucked! What's the point in even listening to vinyl if you can't hear it properly?

There's a myth that buying a Crosley is the cheap, affordable option and the usual defense of them is "but it's all I can afford!" They're really not that cheap though, the cheapest model is around £60-£70. For a little over £100 you could get a good vintage turntable, receiver and speakers for second hand and it won't sound tinny and will pick up all stereo channels. If you're going to do something, it's worth saving up that little bit more and doing it properly.

Please don't pick your record player on how "aesthetic" it is, it just isn't worth it and you'll really regret paying so much for it when you're listening to only half a song! Scout out car boot sales, your older relatives attics, eBay, and secondhand electrical stores (I bought my receiver from one of these stores for only £10!) You can still purchase brand new stylus' from places like Amazon. If you want to buy a brand new record player Audio Technica are the best brand to look at and cover a wide variety of budgets.

When it comes to storing your records, you've probably seen that most people store them on their side. It's really important never to store them stacked on top of each other, as the weight of the records on top of each other will put pressure on them and bend them out of shape, and if they're out of shape then your turntable won't be able to play them. Warping doesn't have to be drastic for it to seriously damage your record, so it's best to do all you can to avoid it.

Another care tip is to clean your records - even if it's a brand new one, it still needs cleaning! Even if it looks clean it still needs cleaning! Dust is the devil, and if you play a dirty record the pressure of the needle can embed the dirt into the grooves which will affect the sound. It's also important to never touch the grooves for similar reasons - your skin has natural oils, and you really don't want to spread that all over your record. Hold your record either by the centre label, or around the very outer edges where the grooves haven't started yet.

Cleaning records is really simple. It's best to use an actual cleaning solution - I use and recommend this stuff. It lasts for ages as you don't need to use much - just spray directly onto your disc a couple of times, and use a soft microfibre cloth to wipe around the disc. It's really important to go around the disc in the same direction as the grooves than across which can be damaging. There's all kinds of fancy tools you can get for cleaning records, but this is really the basics of all you need to do, anything else is optional. I also have a special little brush that I use to keep dust at bay, and I also have a little brush (which is actually a clean makeup brush) which I use to clean the stylus, but the cleaning solution and cloth are the most vital.

I'm going to create a Part 2 to this post which will be all about actually collecting records; what to look for, how to get started, where to buy it, how cheap it can be, matrix numbers decoded, and all of that good stuff. I didn't want to overwhelm and confuse this initial post with too much information, and I feel it's a broad enough topic worthy of a blog series.

If you have any questions about vinyl or record players/turntables, if something I've said isn't clear and you'd like me to expand on it, or if there's anything you'd like to see covered in a future post on vinyl, please feel free to ask! This can sometimes be a bit of a dry topic and I want it to be as accessible as possible. Vinyl is my absolute passion, and I love getting to share it with as many people as possible! ♥

(And happy Record Store Day!)


  1. Hi Sydney, great post, I collect records too. I've actually found a total of 7 this week, which I'm so thrilled with. I'd love to find one of those suitcase-type album holders, I wonder if they exist. :)

    1. Thanks! That's a lot of good finds! I love when I find a good bundle like that :) Do you mean an LP box? They still make those and you can find loads of vintage ones too, I have two small ones for my 45s that I picked up on eBay.

    2. Yeah, I was meaning an LP box. Are vintage ones available? I'm struggling to find them. :)

    3. Yeah I often see them at antique centres, and they're all over ebay and etsy :)

  2. This is very interesting! I have always been fascinated by records. The fact that the grooves in the vinyl actually create the sound is so amazing to me. I think I could definitely get into vinyl collecting, but I have so many hobbies and collections already, haha.

    1. I know, it amazes me too! I totally understand having too many collections, I had wanted to begin collecting for a few years before I actually began but put it off for that very reason!


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