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How to repair vinyl records

Duffed your wax up? It happens. Not much you can do about it most of the time, but here are a few things you can try before splashing out yet again on that essential bit of your vinyl collection that you just can't live without.
How to store vinyl records | How to clean vinyl records | How to repair vinyl records

Repairing a warped or scratched vinyl record

Even the most careful vinyl lover will occasionally find themselves with a warped or scratched record.

Sometimes they arrive that way. If you buy second-hand then even that prized 'Mint' label can be deceptive. And, of course, some brand-new records arrive factory-damaged - which is where our no-fuss returns policy will stand you in good stead. We only sell new, so if you ever receive a damaged or faulty record from Norman Records then send it back and we'll either replace it or refund it.

But the vast majority of physical damage suffered by vinyl records is caused by accident or neglect. Over the course of its life, yer average disc will be exposed to all kinds of physical factors that threaten its health - from dust to sunlight to angle of storage. Prevention rather than cure is key. It’s important to take care of your records. If you both clean them properly and store them properly then you'll find that vinyl is an incredibly durable and long-lasting product.

We're not here to lecture you on all that though. Not this time anyway. Read our articles on how to clean vinyl records and how to store vinyl records if you haven't done so already. Otherwise, read on for our take on what to about damaged and defective vinyl.

But a word of warning first: don't get your hopes up. Vinyl is a great format for all kinds of reasons we don't need to go into here. But it's also an unforgiving one when things go wrong, and most of the time a warped or scratched record is simple going to be beyond feasible repair.

Give it a good, deep clean

Sometimes it's the case that the popping, skipping, crackling, etc. isn't actually caused by whatever physical damage or blemishes you are seeing but, instead, by the usual dust and grease that accrues to a record when it hasn't been properly cleaned for a while.

Even quite bad scratches are sometimes tolerable on the ears (if not on the soul) once a record has been cleaned to near-clinical perfection.

So, unless you know it's a hopeless cause, give our step-by-step guide to deep cleaning a vinyl record a read before doing anything more drastic. Grab yourself a kit from the AM Clean Sound range and get cleanin'.

Record cleaning fluid Record cleaning fluid with lint-free cloth, from AM Clean Sound.
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Record cleaning kit Record cleaning kit (fluid, cloth, brush, stylus cleaner), from AM Clean Sound.
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Record cleaning kit Record cleaning kit (fluid, two cloths, vinyl brush, pickup brush, stylus cleaner), from AM Clean Sound.
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Fixing a warped record

Let's admit a fundamental fact: the whole process of pressing vinyl is inexact - basically a case of pouring molten plastic into a metal cast and then letting it cool in a busy, mucky factory that is probably churning out thousands of units an hour.

So until the day the perfectionist engineers at NASA or CERN decide to start reissuing Aphex Twin LPs or whatever then a small amount of warping should be considered part of the deal.

Similarly, vinyl is a physical product with a relatively low melting point. Warping can occur simply when a record gets too hot and the vinyl softens up, leading to it becoming bent out of shape, leading to that Sleaford Mods sound now resembling Connan Mockasin. Not ideal.

Most of the time, mild warping is not noticeable and still produces playback that would please all but the harshest purists using the highest-end equipment available

But sometimes it is noticeable, and affects playback to such a degree that even someone who listens only to music via Spotify on a tinny bluetooth speaker would find impossible to live with. For new records bought from us, our returns policy will see you right. For everything else, you are faced with two choices: buying the record again, or attempting to correct the warp.

Loads of cash? Buy a machine

As ever with vinyl, money talks.

If cash is no object then there are a bunch of pricey, brilliantly-engineered machines that will ever-so-sensitively warm your record, press it gently back into shape, and then carefully cool it back down.

Furutech Vinyl LP Flattener Furutech Vinyl LP Flattener. £2k or so.
Orb Vinyl LP Flattener Orb Vinyl LP Flattener. Also £2k or so.

We can all dream.

Pay a specialist

There are places where you can send a warped record and they will, at your risk, send it back to you having been pressed back into correct shape. Most of the places will be using one of the pricey machines mentioned above. Economy of scale, innit.

The DIY approach

Pure fear will put many people off this method. The pure faff involved will put off many more. But if you've got the nerve and the patience to experiment, try this:

  • procure two sheets of blemish-free, smooth, flat, overproof glass (big enough to cover a 12" record, small enough to fit in your oven)
  • put your oven (yes!) on a very low heat: absolutely no higher than 50C (120F) or so
  • sandwich your vinyl record between the sheets of glass
  • leave your weird record sandwich in the oven for ten minutes, just enough to make the vinyl supple again
  • take the record out of the oven
  • place it on a perfectly flat surface
  • place a heavy, flat object on top
  • leave it to cool right back down again (at least an hour)
  • remove the vinyl and inspect it.

If you're lucky, the result will be a flatter record.

Obviously, though, it goes without saying that this method is fraught with danger. If your oven is too hot then the heat will make the grooves collapse, and all it will then be useful for is as a stark reminder that you should've used the lowest oven heat possible. If the glass sheets you use are themselves warped, you'll place a warped record in and take a warped record out. Etc.

Repairing a scratched record

Again, it's time to face up to some fundamental truths. First, vinyl scratches easily. Second, scratched records, in our long experience, cannot truly be repaired.

Just to show that not even we are perfect, here are some photos of customers who received records from us that, um, weren't up to scratch. All were refunded without fuss, naturally.

A vinyl record with scratches A vinyl record with two clear scratches. Nightmare.
A vinyl record with scratches Ouch. You ain't repairing that, sorry.
A vinyl record with scratches Coloured vinyl too.

Think about what a vinyl record is and how it works. A vinyl record is nothing more than a brittle plastic disc with deliberate scratches - AKA grooves - carefully etched into it. A stylus reads these scratches and transforms them via magic into sound.

In other words, a vinyl record is basically a big scratch and a turntable is basically a big scratch-reading device. Add new scratches to a record and you fundamentally change its original scratch. It's not quite at the same level of physics as unscrambling an egg, but you get the gist.

So if you really cannot live with your scratched copy then there is only one surefire solution, and that's buying a new copy. It's tempting to stop writing at this point, but there are a few 'folk remedies' that might be worth a go before shelling out again. Please note that, as with the DIY warp flattening approach detailed above, Norman Records absolutely does not endorse any of these methods, which risk not only damaging your record more but may also risk damaging your equipment, worktops, carpets, sanity, etc.

Try a good, deep clean

If you haven't done so already then returning your record to a pristine state of dust-free cleanliness might be enough to make it playable again. Might. Refer to our step-by-step guide for help.

Use a wooden toothpick

Look, this probably isn't going to work - certainly not for deep scratches, and almost certainly not for mild scratches either. But it's worth a go if you've already reached the 'what have I got to lose?' stage.

  • Grab a wooden toothpick. Not plastic. Not metal. Wood.
  • Grab a magnifying glass and a clean anti-static cloth.
  • Isolate the scratched section. Play the record, and when you hear the skip lift the needle and visually inspect the area of bother with your magnifying glass.
  • Watching all the while through your magnifying glass if you can, gently but firmly push the toothpick back and forth along the affected area, feeling for any 'unnatural' bumps.
  • Clean away any debris raised with your cloth.
  • Play the record again. Repeat the above steps until you're satisfied that you've fixed the issue or are simply wasting your life.

Use a stylus to 'recut' the groove

Some people claim to have repaired a scratched record by playing it whilst applying downwards pressure on the stylus, effectively using the needle to cut through the scratch.

Some people claim this method works even better if you play the record backwards.

We're including this one here only to say: don't bother. You're more likely to damage your stylus and turntable arm / motor than you are to repair your record. Given that repairing scratches is something of an act of desperation anyway, it's just not worth the risk.

Fine-grade sandpaper

File this one under 'not for the faint-hearted', but if you're willing to risk the complete and utter destruction of your record in a final attempt to bring it back to playability then take a very deep breath before reading this article on using sandpaper (!) to bring a ruined record back to life.

Sugarcube™

The first time I heard of this remedy for dealing with knackered vinyl, two thoughts immediately sprang into my head. The first: when did twee Icelandic pop ever help anything? The second: given that vinyl folk will seemingly try everything from wood glue to sharp knives to fix their records, why the hell not try a cube of Tate & Lyle's finest?

You wish it was as cheap as a cube of actual sugar. Here's what we're talking about:

Sugarcube™ Sugarcube™ SC1. A non-destructive click & pop removal device for vinyl records. Yours for the price of my car.

We're not a hi-fi specialist so we're not gonna pretend to know the ins and out of this one. But it's basically a hi-fi component that, we gather, takes the analogue signal from your dodgy vinyl, cleans it all up digitally, and then converts it back into that warm analogue sound you pay your money for.

Voodoo, basically. But the results are apparently very good indeed. And all you need is £1500 and, we hear, a degree in engineering to understand the setup instructions.