When you’re new to vinyl hunting, you are likely to make some mistakes. Inspecting used records can be tricky if you don’t know where to start.
We list our 12 tips on how to inspect used vinyl so you don’t have to make the same mistakes as us.
The 12 tips are:
- Collect covers at the crate, don’t inspect yet
- Go to a bright, quiet spot
- Observe the innersleeve
- Don’t ignore the first impression
- Assess the cleanliness
- Scan for scratches
- Investigate the edges
- Eyeball for warps
- Look for heat damage
- Roll The Record if possible
- Consider upcylcing the outcasts
- Throw back the leftovers
Let’s take a look at all the tips in more detail.
Before the first look at the vinyl record
1. Collect covers at the crate, don’t inspect yet
As long as you’re at the bin, pull records out, then flip and inspect the cover only. If you like it, grab ’em by the cover and continue scanning.
Don’t start to assess the quality of an LP in a full crate-digging area. If you are in a popular section of a record store or yard sale, you could miss out on a lot of good stuff. Others are getting the favorite records while you are inspecting one only. At the same time, you’re blocking others to scan through the crate you’re parked at. In short, it would be a rookie mistake.
If you find multiple copies of a record you like, make sure to take all of them. This increases your chances of taking a good vinyl home.
2. Go to a bright, quiet spot
Look out for the most intense, bright light you can find in your surroundings. Ideally, it should be a quiet part of the place, without distractions. Bonus points if there is a listening station.
Now make sure you are relaxed and focused. Make sure you don’t have immediate time pressure. (Which is a requirement in general record digging!). It will take at least some minutes per vinyl record.
3. Observe the innersleeve
First things first. Look at the inner sleeve of the LP. If there is no inner sleeve over the vinyl, that is regrettable. Chances are high the record is damaged due to the absence of proper protection. If you’re not an expert, I wouldn’t bother looking too much at the quality anymore.
Next, look at how the orientation of the inner sleeve is. It is common but not optimal to see that the orientation of the opening is the same as the opening of the cover. This indicates the record has already been pulled out and in a lot. Don’t write these records off though.
If the inner sleeve’s opening is opposite to the cover opening, that is a great sign. The record has not yet been played a lot or the previous owner did know what he was doing.
Scan the inner sleeve to make sure there are no clear rips, scratches, or dust particles. If you pull out the vinyl from the sleeve, check if the record wants to hold onto the sleeve. This is a good sign that the record hasn’t been pulled out a lot.
Inspecting the vinyl record
4. Don’t ignore the first impression
What is your first impression of the record? Is the luminescence bouncing of the groves in the wax? Looks the record elegant with a sense of depth? Those are promising signs.
If your first impression is that the record is grey and colorless, chances are it has been played a lot already. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater though.
5. Assess the cleanliness
Is the record dusted or dirty? This could be a minuscule sign that the previous owner did not regularly care for its collection. But, with a good cleaner, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Make sure to check that a little dirt is not simply little scratches in the vinyl wax. This could happen where particles of dirt have scarred the record due to friction. You could try to get a couple of water drops on your finger and gently clean it. Then blow it or lightly pat it dry with your shirt.
6. Scan for scratches
Unfortunately, if you see fierce scratches at first glimpse, this most likely means a no-no. Fortunately, the cover and inner sleeve can often already signal problems with the vinyl before.
Now it is time for the less obvious micro- scratches. Start with bringing your record close to the light source at 45 degrees -shifted angle to make the scratches clear. Shift the record orientation to make the whole wax go through the test.
If there are deeper scratches that cross the dead wax, proceed with caution. You could get “pops”, audible noise. The deeper the scratch, the higher chance of getting problems after.
The scariest scratches are the ones that run almost parallel with respect to the grooves. They are only a couple of degrees shifted. These are the infamous gouges that will damage the needle or get stuck in a loop.
The genres you are digging for also determine what level of scratchiness you should take. If the dynamics of the genre are rather tranquil, such as ambient, be very picky about the scratches.
Gently check micro-scratches with your nail or fingertip. If you can’t feel it, you probably won’t hear it.
Considering all the above, get a feeling of the scratchiness of the vinyl and make a judgment call. You will get better at this.
7. Investigate the edges
Typically, a lot of the damage to LPs happens in the first minute of the side. That is where the stylus hits first. Make sure to pull the record out all the way and check up the perimeter.
8. Eyeball for warps
It could be that a record will have a distorted look or a wrong feel. If so, hold the LP horizontally at eye level and look over the surface from one edge to the other. If the edges wave above or below the spindle hole, you probably got a warp. Rotate the record in a vertical position and try again.
Luckily, few turn out to be warped. Still, do intend to do this with every record you buy.
9. Look for heat damage
Records that have been exposed to a heat source could exhibit damage. Again, check the wax for bubbly, pockmarked surfaces. Another sign could be a local warping at the edge. Typically, this starts at the edge and extends a couple of cm towards the middle.
This isn’t too common though, but it never hurts to be vigilant.
Closing off your (vinyl) record
10. Roll The Record if possible
There is no better way than assessing the quality by giving the record a spin.
Hopefully, you’ll have a listening station around you. If you happen to go to a yard sale, you could consider buying a portable turntable.
Some records that pass the visual test could still have been played to death.
11. Consider upcycling the outcasts
Look at the pile that didn’t pass your quality test. Are there cheap 0.5 euro records that could be considered as trashed beyond play-ability? Save less-experienced selectors from damaging their needles by upcycling the records.
You could transform the records into vinyl bowls by putting them inside the oven. Do they have a cool cover? If yes, consider buying them to use as decoration for your wall.
12. Throw back the leftovers
We know it can be heartbreaking. Still, throw back the other records that didn’t pass the previous steps in the crate. You’ll meet again one day, in better condition.
Inspecting vinyl can be quite tricky when starting out. We hope with these 12 tips, you have a better grip on how to approach the process and get better at this.