Yearning to go back to the vinyl days? Here are the six rules of record collecting



So you want to get into records but you don’t know where to start. And your motives are pure, not merely a nostalgic pining for a weathered copy of “Mothership Connection” or that Linda Ronstadt record with her on the beach at twilight.

Well, it is about that – and so much more. For me, being a record guy is about not having to worry about failed downloads and scratched CDs, uncharged iPhones or liner notes you couldn’t read without the Hubble Telescope.

I still do digital. How else can you quickly hear “Erotic City” as you’re about to hop on the train and terrible news rolls in? But vinyl remains an important part of my musical life. So if you’re already on board, forgive me. But if you’re looking to put the needle down for the first time, these simple guidelines should help you take that leap forward into LPs.


1. Never throw out your semi-embarrassing teenaged records (even when they include Ozzy Osbourne’s “Speak of the Devil.”)

Yes, that is probably raspberry jam and not the inside of a bat’s head. But give the man credit for trying. Some records aren’t high art. They’re postcards. I always get a shiver when I hear Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” or Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” Suddenly, I’m 13 again and Jenny Geracht is just barely tolerating a stiff-armed slow dance.

If you scour my collection, you’ll certainly find all the stuff I’m proud of – Joni Mitchell, the Clash, Thelonious Monk, Fritz Wunderlich, D’Angelo (white vinyl!), the Kinks, Public Enemy – but you’ll also find the core of my Columbia House Record Club acquisitions. Some Def Leppard, Tears for Fears and, yes, Oingo Boingo.

2. Buying a turntable: Beware of cute record players that look old.

You’ve seen them at Urban Outfitters. Those cute, little, brightly colored Crosley turntables. And they’re only $79! Only one problem: They’re terrible. They don’t just sound bad. They are built so poorly that you’ll find your records playing slightly slower or faster before long. And what’s more, record geeks tell me the tonearms on the players are so heavy they’ll wear down your vinyl. You wouldn’t cook your Thanksgiving pies in a Holly Hobbie Electric Bake oven. Don’t let your records get ground down on a toy turntable. If you want portable, look for a used Califone, which you can find online for as little as $50. (Audiophiles will complain about these as well, but I think they’re being too picky.) If you want a separate turntable that plugs into a receiver, go retro. My Dual 1219 ($160 from a Russian dude I found on Craiglist) works perfectly fine and it has a wood-grained finish.

3. You’re a collector, not a hoarder.

No music lover wants to find the skull of his missing cat behind a stack of John Denver records. So unless nostalgia applies, let go of one-hit wonders and pap with no connection to your past. You don’t need Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” or Men Without Hats. That’s what Spotify is for. Be willing to set some vinyl free. Because Captain & Tennille and the Feelies just can’t live together.

4. Storage. No milk crates. This isn’t your dorm room.

If you believe that every proper home needs bookshelves, this should be easy. Make the bottom shelf the record space. Organize them alphabetically for convenience. (Though you don’t need to separate by genre. That’s anal.) You also don’t need every record on display. Take the B-level vinyl – yes, Bad Company and anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber – and maintain a neat, portable shelf in the basement. My main vinyl supply is in two spots. That aforementioned bottom shelf in the living room and a pair of thick shelves made of rough-hewn pine and iron brackets (for the excessive weight) in my office. Keep your records off the floor because there is nothing more painful than a Staple Singers LP that’s been spoiled by a burst pipe.

5. Art matters.

There isn’t much I need to say here. Just sit back and stare.

Lambert/Hendricks/Ross: “Sing a Song of Basie”

The Cars: “The Cars”

Miles Davis: “Bitches Brew”

The Clash: “London Calling”

Robert Craft and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra:Berg/Webern/Schoenberg

6. The super-geeky record-cleaning machine.

Remember when I said you don’t have to spend a lot on your turntable? Well, here’s my irrational flip side. You’ll pick up records that are dusty or look like they’ve been smeared by a Quarter Pounder With Cheese. The best solution? A record-cleaning machine. I’ve been told/lectured that soapy water does just fine, but does the sink have a special vacuum arm that lowers itself on your vinyl and sucks off the special alcohol-cleaning scrub? I think not. The VPI HW 16.5 isn’t cheap. It can run you, new, close to $750. But if you’re lucky – and I was – you can find a used model that’s perfectly good for half that price. Happy listening, kids!

thanks to Chicago Tribune

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  1. If you really are starting out, please remember to keep your vinyl vertical, don’t use it as a shelf, and don’t keep it near a heat source such as an old amplifier or radiator (warped records make great ashtrays though).

  2. Wow–a VPI record cleaning machine for $375, and add a turntable with arm (and an undamaged cartridge, I presume) for $160? Oh, man. I want to take care of my records, sure, because they’re not making any more of the originals. But if I follow this advice, I could wind up spending more time cleaning my records than listening to them.

    There must be a viable alternative. Let’s see. I have a $460 budget.

    OK, get lucky with the VPI. The rest of us, who got there late, will have to wait a good long time to follow that advice. $450 is more like it… if you’re lucky. Guess I have $10 left for the turntable.

    How about turning the advice around? Turntable first, this time : a Thorens TD166, for under $200 with a functioning Pickering cartridge and a bran new stylus from Jico. And a Spin Clean record cleaner, for $85 last time I looked.

    Now I am set up, for _way_ under that $460 budget. But I won’t have any trouble finding a Spin Clean. So if I can’t find the Thorens, I could go for a used Rega, or maybe put a few more pennies aside and get a new Pro-Ject.

    There. Clean records, and money put where it buys the most music.

  3. The first three Bad Company albums definitely do not belong anywhere but on your main shelf and I’m a Rock, Classic Jszz, indie, punk and pop music fan.

    • I agree. What is he thinking the early Bad Co are classic rock and deserve a place in anyone’s collection.

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