It’s hard to think of an afternoon better spent than buying second hand vinyl – whether that’s digging through crates at a record store or flea market! Although we’re currently witnessing the second coming of vinyl, what with all of the recent re-issues and the like, there is a certain charm and pleasure in finding an old gem.
Unfortunately, not all vinyl is treated the same way during its lifetime, so if you are buying second hand vinyl it’s important to bear a few things in mind and look out for red flags to ensure an enjoyable listening experience with your purchase. Here are a few tips and tricks from us at Vinyl Wings to help you out:
1. Judge the record by its cover
The condition of the record cover can be a good indicator of the condition which the previous owner kept it in and whether it was looked after. Look out for creases, tears and general damage to the cover. You will likely be able to tell whether it was stored well, and handled with care or if it’s been accumulating dust in an old basement over a long period of time.
2. Take the record out and inspect it before buying
Even before looking for scratches, just have a first look at the record – first impressions when buying second hand vinyl can often times be telling of all you need to know rather than an in-depth inspection. Is the record shiny and glistening and beautiful, or is it dull, faded and dusty?
Next, look for any bends or warps in the surface of the record – is it perfectly flat or is it uneven? Keep in mind that an uneven record won’t play well and may cause the needle to skip, so that would a no-go for us unfortunately. It’s no use buying a bent record because as much as you try to bend it back in to shape you are more likely to damage it further so unfortunately those will have to go into the “avoid” basket!
Is the record clean or dirty? If it’s dirty, is it just dust or is there grime and dirt that has accumulated over the grooves? Is it grime and dirt, or are they really concentrated scratch zones? Let’s start from the top – dust can be removed quite easily and in fact we always recommend running a dry brush over a record before playing it. Dirt and grime may be more challenging to clean up, but it is not impossible – you could use a wet cleaning set for that.
Unfortunately, scratches are the great equalizer when it comes to records – it’s very difficult to keep a record in perfect condition without any scratches at all so when buying second hand, the question is how much are you willing to put up with? Narrow, shallow light scratches won’t ruin the entire listening experience, in fact they may cause those little “crackles” that we’ve grown to love when listening to vinyl. Deeper, diagonal scratches which stretch across the width of the vinyl unfortunately may be a deal breaker and will cause the needle to skip or to keep repeating the same part of the song so we would look to avoid those as much as possible.
3. Give it a spin
Finally, if you are in a record store, most shop owners will allow you to listen to a record and test it out for yourself. If you’re not in a hurry, why not hear the quality for yourself and make an informed decision based on that. Skip around the record and try different parts of it to get a feel for the overall quality. If you’re in a flea market, that of course is a different matter and you are probably left to trust your instincts!
As with all things, buying second hand vinyl is something you will get better at with time and practice. You may make a few mistakes on your first purchases but as you learn what to avoid and what is acceptable, this becomes much easier over time and will help you build up your collection!
Now, remember that whatever you pick up likely needs some cleaning and caring – so be sure to check out our ultimate vinyl care guide for a few tips and pointers as well!
Happy crate digging!