As with every good thing, specific issues can come up when playing vinyl records. One of these issues is record skipping.
Imagine playing your favorite song and having the record skip forward or backward seemingly randomly. This can be extremely annoying and a big vibe-killer that interrupts the natural flow of otherwise awesome music.
It’s essential to understand what skipping is, how it occurs, and how to fix it. This article provides all the information you’ll need.
- 1 What Are Vinyl Records?
- 2 What Is Record Skipping?
- 3 Why Do Record Players Skip?
- 4 How to Fix Record Player Skipping
- 5 Record Player Issues That Can’t Be Fixed
- 6 Conclusion
What Are Vinyl Records?
Let’s start simple. Vinyl records, also known as gramophone or phonograph records, are analog sound storage media that take the form of flat discs. These discs have inscribed, modulated spiral grooves on them. The groove starts at the outer areas and spirals towards the center.
Vinyl records are exceptional products from what some might call a bygone era. However, it’s not up for debate that they offer a fantastic sound quality.
Many vinyl fans even claim that the sound quality is better than digital recording formats, as vinyl preserves the original recording as it was meant to be heard.
What Is Record Skipping?
Vinyl records are designed to be played on record players. Records spin on the platter and a stylus attached to an arm on the record player runs through the grooves on the disc, starting outside and progressing inwards.
With the vinyl record rotation, the stylus picks up the recorded sound waves on the record, amplifies them to the listener through speakers. Record skipping occurs when the stylus makes non-continuous contact with the record.
This can make the stylus jump to another groove and continue from there. If the stylus moves on to an inner groove, the player will skip a section of the music entirely. However, if the stylus moves to an outer groove, it will return to the same point and keep repeating this motion.
This will lead to an endless loop of the same sound section over and over again. It’s from this occurrence that the common expression “like a broken record” originated.
Why Do Record Players Skip?
Now that we know what record skipping is, why records skip at all is a question that comes up. Record skipping can be caused by various reasons, ranging from very simple causes that are easy to fix to complex causes that may be impossible to fix.
Some common causes of record skipping are the following:
Dust and Dirt
When a record is kept in storage, it’s quite natural for the dust to settle on it. This isn’t helped by the default cardboard sleeves that vinyl records come in. While a special dustproof case can be used to store records, there are still other ways that a record can get dirty.
Handling a record with dirty hands or in a dusty environment can also make the record grungy. Oil from your fingers which may come in contact with the record grooves, can also be an issue.
In some cases, the record may have been accidentally smudged at the point of production. This can cause skips when the record is put into the record player.
Another common cause of record player skipping is the build-up of static charge. Static is an imbalance of electric charges on the surface of the record. Vinyl records are very susceptible to static issues, as the vinyl material is a very suitable medium for the build-up of static charges.
Static charge is widespread in dry areas with low relative humidity, and this can cause two types of issues.
The first is an audible popping sound, and a slight record player skip when the stylus gets to the point of the static charge. The other problem is that static charges attract dust particles and cause them to adhere to the record.
Damaged or Warped Records
Vinyl records can be damaged in various ways, and these can cause the record player to skip sections of the grooves. A typical incident of damage that affects records is scratching.
Often, the scratching of a record is the result of improper handling and storage. Scratches around the grooves of the vinyl record can distort the previously recorded sound waves. Scratches that cut across the grooves can also make the stylus jump to another groove and continue from there.
Records can also be warped, and this affects the record player output. Warping occurs when the vinyl disc is bent. This could be an apparent defect, or it could be a subtle one.
Vinyl records can be warped due to heat, pressure, or a production error. A warped record means uneven pressure is put on the grooves by the stylus. When it gets to areas with extremely low contact pressure, the stylus may skip to another groove.
Wobbly Surface and Stray Vibrations
Record players should be on a firm, flat surface that won’t shake easily and disturb them. If mounted on an unstable or shaky surface, for example, a table with uneven legs, there will be a tendency for the player to skip.
A table that’s too lightweight and on a floor that easily conducts vibrations can also be a problem. When the table shakes, the movement and impact can cause the stylus to move out of the groove or jump to a different groove.
Mounting other equipment on the same table as the record player can also cause it to skip. If vibration-generating equipment is mounted on the same table, there’s a likelihood that the stylus will be affected by those vibrations and miss a groove. Be cautious with external speakers and fans for this reason.
Tilted or Unbalanced Record Player
It’s essential to keep the record player horizontally level. If the record player is tilted and not leveled horizontally, the stylus can be pulled to a different groove by gravity. The chances of this occurring may increase if the record player is placed on a crowded surface or around other equipment.
Stylus Wear and Age
The process of wear and tear comes naturally with use. As the record player is used for more and more records, the stylus can get worn out and may no longer perform as expected. It’s a bit of a challenge to observe stylus wear with the naked eye, so a magnifying glass should be used.
Generally, the stylus should be checked for areas of one-sided wear, dullness, or jaggedness.
Stylus age, on the other hand, isn’t dependent on how often it’s used. Whether a record player is used or not, the stylus tends to harden with age. An old, hard stylus will not track effectively and is more likely to skip groove sections.
While the stylus may only be lightly used, its age may dictate that a replacement is necessary.
Stylus Pressure and Tonearm Balance
Sometimes, the setting of the record player is what’s responsible for the skips. The stylus may be pressing against the grooves with too little pressure, causing it to lose contact with the vinyl or even switch grooves periodically.
The stylus may also be applying too much pressure and distorting the sound from the record. Always try to make sure that an even balance of pressure is placed on the record grooves.
How to Fix Record Player Skipping
Fixing a record player’s skipping depends on the cause of the problem and fixing it accordingly. However, please note that not all issues may be fixable, and in such cases, it’s best to replace the damaged record.
Get Rid of Dust and Dirt
The cleaning of dust and dirt is best done on a record cleaning mat to avoid the record player’s recontamination. Cleaning can be done in the following ways:
- Clean with a lintless cloth: For simple cases of visible dirt or dust that has settled in thin layers and isn’t hard-fixed, a lintless cloth can be used to wipe down the record. This should be done with care, and attention should be paid to the grooves. A soft material that won’t cause damage to the grooves is preferred. The reason for using a lintless cloth is to prevent the lint from contaminating the record. If the fabric used isn’t lintless, the lint can rub off on the record and have a similar or worse effect than the dust causes.
- Use wood gum: If the dirt has settled in areas that may be hard to reach with just a cloth, wood gum can be applied to clean the record. To do this, apply a thin layer of gum on the vinyl record’s surface and leave it to set. When the gum sets, it will adhere to all dust particles present on the surface. Once the gum has set, it can then be peeled off carefully, pulling along with it the dirt and dust particles. It’s best if the wood gum is peeled slowly and in one whole piece to prevent scratches.
- Use a cleaning solution: Alternatively, for a deeper cleaning, a special record cleaning solution can be applied and used to clean the record. The solution should be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions to obtain the best results. Cleaned records may then be rinsed with distilled water, with care taken not to damage the record label.
- Locate and clean individual dirt patches: Sometimes, there may be a visible dirt or dust patch where the player keeps skipping the record. In cases like this, attention can be given to just that portion for cleaning. A firm brush that won’t damage the vinyl can be used to carefully rub off the dirt before reinserting the record.
Get Rid of Static
There are several ways to combat static build-up on records. Some of these methods are preventative, while others are corrective. They are outlined below:
- Use an anti-static record sleeve: The default cardboard boxes that vinyl records are sold in do little to prevent static build-up. If anything, they may even encourage the build-up of static. Cardboard sleeves can be swapped out for purpose-built, anti-static sleeves that will discharge the record as it’s being removed from the sleeve.
- Treat with an anti-static solution: Specially-formulated, anti-static solutions also exist to eliminate static from vinyl records. These solutions are usually sold as sprays and mists, which are easy to use. The standard procedure is to spray the vinyl with the solution and wipe it down with a lintless cloth.
- Use an anti-static brush or cloth: There are also anti-static brushes and cloth materials designed to discharge the static electricity on the record. Sometimes, the cloth material’s effectiveness can depend on the net charge of the person doing the cleaning, so try to discharge any static on yourself first.
- Use an anti-static gun: Anti-static guns are a non-contact method of static removal. These guns work on a piezoelectric principle and emit positive and negative charges. A charge is generated inside the anti-static gun, the trigger is pulled, and the gun is brought into the record’s proximity. The charge from the gun neutralizes the charge on the record and leaves it static-free.
- Get a humidifier: Another way of getting rid of static is with the use of a humidifier. Since static is typical in dry environments, using a humidifier to create artificial moisture and humidity will help to prevent static build-up on the records.
Use a Proper Turntable Setup
The proper setup of a turntable can prevent many issues with skipping. Some good practices that will reduce the chances of your record player skipping include the following:
- Setup on a firm table or surface: Sturdy tables that are well balanced are the best choice for setting up. The setup should also be kept away from other sources of vibration. This will ensure a steady playout and less disturbance from external vibrations.
- Utilize padded flooring: Using padded flooring materials like rugs can lessen the chance of vibrations being transferred across the room and the record player. The material will absorb most or all of the vibration and allow the player to function undisturbed.
- Ensure that the record player is horizontally balanced: It’s important to keep the player horizontally leveled. The surface on which the record player is set up should be even and uncrowded. Many vinyl record players come with individually adjustable screw legs that can be adjusted until leveling is achieved. A spirit level can be used to confirm that it’s perfectly horizontal.
- Avoid setting up vibrating equipment nearby: We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Do not place vibrating equipment on the same table as the record player. These equipment types can interrupt the functions of the player, and their vibrations will cause it to skip.
Replace a Worn or Old Stylus
Once the stylus has been confirmed to be worn out or hardened by age, it’s finally time to head to a store and purchase a replacement. Replacing the stylus prevents record skipping and improves sound quality, and prevents damage to the records.
Keep in mind that replacing equipment can get very expensive, so always try to keep your record player in the best shape possible.
Adjust the Tonearm and Stylus
The tonearm and stylus may need adjusting to press against the record with just the right amount of pressure (not too much or too little). In classic record players, when the pressure was too low, a coin was used as a weight to hold down the stylus.
Newer models of record players have adjustment mechanisms to set the placement of the tonearm and stylus. The procedure for adjusting both the tonearm and stylus will vary depending on the turntable, so it’s important to review the manufacturer’s instructions before making any changes.
After adjusting the stylus and tonearm, the anti-skate control mechanism, if your turntable comes with one, should also be set to the same weight as the tracking weight on the tonearm.
Record Player Issues That Can’t Be Fixed
The warping or bending of records is often permanent and not fixable. Attempts to forcefully straighten out the record can cause it to sustain even more damage or get broken entirely.
It may also sometimes be the case that none of the above fixes will work, even if the record isn’t warped. In those cases, it might be that there’s permanent damage to either the record or the record player itself.
To confirm whether it’s an issue with the player or the record, try playing other records on the player. If they all play without issues, then the original record is damaged. If the player continues to skip with different records, the record player itself is likely damaged.
There’s nothing more annoying and frustrating than a record player skipping on some of your favorite songs. Be systematic and try to figure out what’s causing the skipping first. Then you can use some of the strategies in this article to get your player back on track. Good luck!