Vintage View: How to care for vinyl records

Vinyl is back, taking the market by surprise. Let's go for a spin to see what we need to know to preserve records for posterity
Vintage View: How to care for vinyl records

A record collection really is a peek through the beaded curtain into a person’s private club where they over-bite, groove and grind without fear of being seen. It also can contain some emotional landmines, so I treated the slightly damp fins of my family life, listing in collapsing boxes, with tender fingertips.

Danny Kaye tells 6 Stories from Faraway Places (1960, Golden Records) — infant treasure. In The Court of the Crimson King (1969, Golden Records) — we thought we had personally discovered this surreal stew in the 1982 reissue. With the Beatles — well that delivered a gloss of unspeakable cool to my parents in our teenage confusion. Whipped Cream & Other Delights, a jaw-dropping image buried in dad’s joy of jazz chops, showing a booby woman frolicking in whipped dairy.

SWEET MUSIC

Sliding the naughty minx to the back of the Bang & Olufsen cabinet with whispers and blushes, we had no idea that trumpet player under the name — Herb Alpert (1965, A&M) was utterly fantastic. Anyway, winnowed down for sentimental ballast, the whole lot was auctioned for charity and the 800 odd albums rescued just in time from an outbuilding raised a tidy sum. Sweet music.

Vinyl is back, taking the market by surprise in an era where the Cloud delivers most of our collection unseen and untouched by the human hand.

SOUND QUALITY

The special quality of sound picked up by stylus humming through materials remains a metaphysical mystery.

There’s also something in the ritual of teasing out an iconic title, letting the record slide softly to an arresting palm from the inner sleeve, and taking it to the deck suspended by its edges that’s pleasurable, mindful and far from out-of-date. It’s a matter of respect.

MEMORIES

Board-covered records are vulnerable to rough handling, and when buying, furry edges are commonplace. Records bend, records break and records scratch — we’ve all had a tragedy or two.

So, what’s the best way to protect your memories and investments?

First of all, all stored records should be held lightly in the vertical position as close to completely upright and unmoving as is possible. A group in the right furniture will be self-supporting without being tightly jammed.

Adding records will put strain on an inappropriate shelf or cupboard bottom — which could cause it to bow — load-bearing matters. Each record is only 140-220 grams, but in groups with a few gate-sleeves thrown in, they can be hefty, and out of sight, can be left to warp.

A dedicated cabinet (vintage or new) with good braced support beneath the bottom boards is ideal. IKEA Kalax gets a lot of play for storing records, as divided into cube shelving it prevents long runs and is deep enough for a standard album cover. Shelving units start at €25, with individual, build-out boxes from €10, ikea.ie.

STORAGE

Any timber in a storage unit, new or old, should be very smooth, sealed and inert — not capable of staining or filing down the cover’s edges as you pull out or replace them. Speaking of handling — one of your best defences against damage is to know exactly where your favourite albums are in the runs of records with proper filing techniques. Youtube is thrilling with pop-eyed music nerds to show you how.

CHANGES

Changes in heat and humidity can ruin the covers. Penetrating deeply enough, damp, flaking, sticky materials and mildew can cause the protective coverings to challenge the condition of the record itself.

Paper sleeves tend to have enough synthetic fibres in them to create static, and the little tug of war to strip them off the record can lead to you

DROPPING THE RECORD

Now, breathe. That said, any sleeve may contain important information like pressing dates and other studio secrecy, so don’t throw printed paper sleeves away even if you’re replacing them due to deterioration or upgrades.

COLLECTIONS

Store them in an archive quality acid-free box unfolded and indoors. Some prefer to replace paper or very cheap inner sleeves with polyethylene or paper-lined in polythethylene sleeves as they don’t cause the same friction damage or static cling as paper.

RIGID

They are also more rigid, so don’t collapse and float off while you’re revealing the record for playing. Known as Mofi by collectors, Mobile Fidelity Inner Sleeves are well regarded in the music industry - three-ply, anti-static, premium sleeves (similar to rice paper) and work with both LPs and laser discs. It’s essentially a paper layer sandwiched between two sheets of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) with a translucent HDPE front.

Fifty 12” sleeves for around €35 on ebay and Amazon. To protect the cover, you can use an outer record sleeve — ensuring the artwork on 7, 10 and 12-inch titles remains pristine and the corners and edges of the cover free from dings, stains and dog-ears.

Handling a record, think oil-dust-dull sound. When your fingertips, however clean touch the vinyl’s surface, gunge from the tiny canyons running over your hands gets into the record’s grooves. Once waved out in the air on the way to the deck, dust will settle on this sticky surface. This will not only impact that essential sound, but can damage the stylus lessening its life (not cheap). If the deck has a cover use it, and once you have played the record, put it away immediately. You can also balance a record on the inner label, an audiophile talent that can go wrong if you’re not totally in tune with what you’re doing.

CLEANING

Use a dedicated velvet pad or carbon fibre record cleaning brush before and after playing the record. Pressure is important — even velvet used improperly can scuff the surface of a record.

Cheap gadget can carve away at your record over time — buy quality and stick to manual cleaning if you’re a record rookie. A full cleaning kit is a great gift for a vinyl collector — a cleaning pad (on which to place the record), a fine microfiber cloth together with a good branded cleaner like GrooveWasher. This US firm dates right back to the 1970s, and their products now contains modern, safe surfactants and wetting agents.

Their popular kits include a coaster style label-protector to stop over-spray. GrooveWasher kits start at €42 online with other brands at half that price. Spin up some reviews before you buy. True believers will replace their inner sleeves after a deep clean — cool.

  • See our guide to buying a new or vintage player here: irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/arid-20409459.html

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up