The thing with hunting for vintage vinyl records is that, even if the record is in pristine looking condition without a scratch on it, there is still a chance it will skip. Unless you spend time examining records under a microscope, trust me I’ve seen it done, you take your chances when looking for old for vinyl records. If however the record is a great score from the 1950 – 1960s, with a few minor scratches, sometimes just buy it and hope for the best. Now if you had a sense of what to look for under these circumstances you’d be a lot better off, but we’ll talk about that later.
I’ve learned a lot of tricks while hunting for vinyl records over the years and still once in a while I get caught with my pants down because I didn’t examine a record properly. This tends to happen when you discover several great vinyl scores all at once and the pile quickly grows, you begin to overlook things because you found so many and get distracted. The other day this happened, I had bought several great records from a bin at a Thrift Store for fifty cents each however when I got home, Gordon Lightfoot’s first album from 1966, the one I was wanted to listen to, had a surprise inside.
I noticed the cover was a bit rough, to be expected if the record is from 1966, however as I pulled the vinyl out of the sleeve, as perfect as it looked, the sticker on the vinyl said “K-Tel: Gordon Lightfoot Favorites”, I must have forgotten to check this one. Oops. This type of thing happens when people put records back in the wrong sleeve and it can mess up your whole record collection. I was at least glad it was a Gordon Lightfoot record inside and not a Sesame Street record. That would be weird.
Just so the same thing doesn’t happen to you, I compiled a general list of what to watch out for. That way the next time you’re digging through dusty records, if you remember these rules of thumb you won’t be caught off guard like I was with Gordon Lightfoot:
1. Examine records in bright lighting. Most thrift stores have fluorescent lighting which is ideal for seeing scratches. If you are in a dark room however go look for a window or find a bright light so you can examine it in reflective light. Nothing worse than hearing that ‘POP’ when you get home.
2. Not all scratches will skip a record, some of them are just surface scratches. If the vinyl has a visible scratch, run your fingernail over it, if your nail catches there is a good chance it will ruin your needle when you play it, walk away – if it’s a score, this can be hard to do but don’t worry keep the faith, you are sure to find another one soon enough. If your fingernail doesn’t catch, there’s a good chance if you clean it it is simply a light surface scuff which is typically inaudible.
3. Be wary of records that don’t come with an internal dust-sleeve inside the cover. What tends to happen here is that dirt gets inside the cover accumulates over time because the record is completely exposed. These pieces of dirt get pressed into the vinyl itself causing bumps and scratches and each time the record shifts, more scratches again! Not a good thing and not a record you want to own, doesn’t matter how vintage the vinyl is. So be sure to examine the record thoroughly, if it doesn’t have a sleeve.
4. Check that the record is the right match for the cover – don’t get tricked like I did!
Keep an eye out for great vintage vinyl, if it has a scratch on it that’s bad however, you don’t want it. We know how painful this is when you find a great score to let it go, but keep on looking you are sure to find it again. And good luck finding that next vintage score!