Whether you’ve been listening to records your whole life, or it’s a recent interest you’ve picked up, it could never hurt to reconsider vinyl care and best practices. This goes double for those of us living in the valley of the sun. In case you didn’t know, heat is a common culprit when it comes to damaged vinyl. But we chose to live in this city for all the great things it has to offer (including our winters). So, like drinking enough water, dressing in light clothing and maintaining your cooling systems, there are measures you can take to ensure a long life for your vinyl. These precautions shouldn’t discourage you from participating in the century-old tradition of buying and enjoying records. Like anything that’s worth a damn, a little thoughtfulness and education can make for a better, rewarding experience.
So, let’s talk about some basic vinyl care tips. Once a record leaves the store, it’s our hope that you are making the right choices to ensure that your vinyl makes it home safe.
Although they may appear to be, vinyl records are not 100% solid objects. They are quite susceptible to the elements; mostly heat, gravity, hard surfaces and time. We’ll touch on all the possible dangers your vinyl may need to avoid, but this being July in Phoenix, our main focus is on heat.
Warping and Heat Damage:
Warping is a distortion of the shape of your records caused by heat and/or gravity. Anyone who has tried to play a warped record can tell you that it doesn’t always work out so great. The misshape of the record can affect the speed of the record, slowing down the needle, giving the music a “warbled” effect, or, if bad enough, can cause the needle to jump right off the record. You can find home remedies to correct the shape of your record, but the sad truth is the sound will never be the same. While they will still play, there may be some distortion. But, maybe you don’t mind that so much.
Warping from Heat:
If you search for an answer as to what temperature vinyl warps, you will likely not find a single right answer. When asked this question at the shop, I’ll tell our customers that if you’re uncomfortable, then your vinyl is uncomfortable. Only, you can recover from the heat. So basically, do your best to keep your records out of it. You can, of course, take measures to protect your records. People have been buying and enjoying records in this city before the days of air conditioning. So, we’re not totally hopeless. There are simple measures, such as putting your records in a bag, keeping them out of the sun, running the air conditioner. But, I would urge you to think of your vinyl as a beloved pet or child. If they are in your car, it would probably be best to not forget about them and make sure they are safe and comfortable at all times.
Once you get them home, they should be fine. If your house is a temperature that you can tolerate through the summer, your vinyl should make it, as well.
If you’re storing your records, I would recommend finding a unit with some sort of climate control. Most storage places have this and it is more than likely sufficient. The main thing you want to look out for with storage is the gravity factor.
Warping from Gravity:
Vinyl does something that we call “sweating.” This refers to its tendency to travel in the direction of the earth’s gravitational pull, most commonly referred to as “down.” Now, like actual sweating, this is greatly exacerbated by the element of heat, but even in a climate controlled room, vinyl will still tend to want to travel a bit south. There are two main things that you can do to avoid this potentially hazardous tendency. First, pack your records with care. Store your records upright and as upright as possible. While you don’t want your records to be packed tightly, side by side, you should try to keep them at a 90° angle to the surface they are on. If they are leaning they will eventually begin to slouch. You’ll also want to avoid stacking. Stacking your records for long periods of time can cause them to warp, since the center of your vinyl is thicker than the outer ring. Second, and this should go without saying, you should listen to your records! Records love to be taken out of their sleeves and put on players and rotated back into their sleeves and shifted around, here and there. They don’t like to sit on your shelf, ignored, or worse yet, left in a garage. Show them some love every now and then! This will ensure that the forces of gravity will not take hold for too long.
Other Damaging Factors:
If you want to see your vinyl keep its quality and be appreciated for generations to come, the only things that should ever touch your records are the sleeve its stored in, the cloth, brush and solution you clean it with, and the needle it’s played through. Your fingers should only touch the very outer rim and inner label of your records. Think of it like a painting. The reason we’re not allowed to touch classic works of art is because our fingers leave oils that degrade the original work of art. Think of the groves on your record as all the instruments, musicians, recording engineers and expensive recording equipment used to make the album. I’m sure they wouldn’t want you touching any of that stuff. So hands off!
Beauty would not be so appreciated if not for the ephemeral nature of life. Like all things in life, vinyl ages, and with age, it looses a little luster. However, like life, we can slow this aging process and squeeze more than a few lifetimes worth of enjoyment out of our collections. Much like our human bodies, this is done by taking time with your vinyl, being mindful of your movements and trying to keep it clear from all the gross things in the world. Keeping your record and your needle clean will ensure a much longer life for your records. We would also recommend changing your needle every once in a while. You’ll get a different answer from different people on how often to change your needle, but if you’re playing your records on a regular basis, I wouldn’t go any longer than a year before changing your needle.
If this all sounds like a big pain in the ass, you’re not wrong! But, as we often preach at Stinkweeds, the things you love shouldn’t be convenient. If you love music, then it is worth the time and effort. This effort isn’t without its payoff though. A well maintained, tangible collection of music will add a strong presence to your living space that will continue to remind you to occasionally slow down and give a little time to the things that enrich your life. And, just like any relationship, the more attention you pay, the more reward you will receive.