Cleaning Vinyl LP's
Part II: Additional Hints & Tips
2013 July Audio
In the previous article
we looked at some DIY cleaning methods for vinyl LP's.
The basic conclusion was that nothing can surpass the wood glue method
for cleaning. It's slow, it uses up a lot of glue, but it just
works. In the best case, it can make a crackly, noisy LP sound
almost like a new pressing.
Here are a couple reminders and additional considerations.
Oil = Fail
I said it before, but it bears repeating: Don't apply the wood glue
to an oily or greasy record. (This substance is probably plasticizer
or mold release compound). First you must degrease it with alcohol.
Use 50 to 70% rubbing alcohol (don't get it on the label) and let it
dry. Use a lint-free cloth to apply the alcohol, or use a spray
bottle. The vinyl should be totally dry before applying the wood glue.
Bubbles = Missed Dirt
While the glue is still wet, use a wooden toothpick to work the bubbles
out of the glue. It's alright if the bubbles are at the surface, as long as
the glue can get underneath them. The problem happens when the bubbles are
right up against the grooves of the record. Wherever the glue is not
touching, that place can still have dust.
It won't hurt to do two applications of wood glue if you're really picky.
One application might not get all of it, so a second one could help.
Static Electricity = Noise!
When you peel off the dried wood glue, it generates quite a bit of
static electricity. Pretty much no matter where you live in the
modern world, you should probably have a HEPA filter in your room
anyway, but this is especially true in your music room. Dust is
not good for electronics. After you peel off that glue,
dust could cling to the vinyl again and get in the grooves.
That's no good. Hence, a relatively clean room is necessary for
the peel step. If your room is not that big, I'd grab one of these air purifiers for sure. (If you have a bigger area to filter, get one of these.)
Many people don't think about this, but whatever is in your air will
end up in your lungs, and a lot of it never comes out again. If
you ever saw what your household dust looks like under a microscope,
you would get a HEPA filter right this second. There are creatures in there. Totally serious here.
So anyway, there's another problem with all that static electricity
that builds up when you peel the glue. Your turntable needle is
an electro-mechanical device. It turns a mechanical signal into
an electrical one. That means anything that introduces stray
voltage is going to cause noise. If your LP has a lot of static
buildup, the sound will be full of crackles and pops just from the
electricity. It's not difficult to generate a couple
thousand volts. That's probably not good for your equipment,
either. The static can persist for hours, if not days.
Here's a very simple solution. (A.) Don't peel the glue in the dry of winter, and (B.) after you do the peel, let the vinyl sit for a few days to dissipate the static before you try to record the LP.
Another thing you can do is to blow on the vinyl LP as you rotate it on
the turntable. The moisture in your breath will help dissipate
the static charge, as well as blowing off any loosely-attached dust
that may have found its way onto the vinyl.
These steps make a huge difference. (Actually, static electricity is a nuisance no matter what cleaning method you use.)
I've said it before, but it bears repeating here: make sure your
recording levels are not set too high. Clipping will destroy your
audio quality. It will embed that crummy sound right into the
recording! A good piece of software, such as ReZound, will
actually tell you how many clipping incidents you're getting when
recording. If you get more than a few isolated ones, turn down
the recording levels just enough to get rid of them, and start the
recording over again. Isolated pops will cause clipping that
can't be gotten rid of; don't concern yourself with that.
It just so happens that once you clean your vinyl with wood glue, the
record will play "louder". The same recording level settings on
your software will (usually) yield a stronger recording. If the
recording was just below the clipping level before you cleaned the LP,
expect it to be well above that level after you clean it!
I had recorded an old LP before I knew about the wood glue method, and
after I cleaned it I of course went back and recorded it again. I
couldn't believe the difference. It was clearer... and
louder. Think of it this way. If there's a layer of dust
and crud between the needle and the grooves, it's not going to transmit
the sound as effectively.
Use Your Head
I might have mentioned this before, but make sure you don't get wood glue
on the center label. This kind of glue will not stick permanently
to vinyl, but it will bond quite permanently to paper, wood (duh),
cardboard, MDF, and just about anything else porous. Just so you
know, it will (sort of) stick to wax paper. Don't expect to peel
it off the wax paper neatly if you use that as a backing while you're
applying the glue. (Since I couldn't think of anything better for
the purpose, wax paper is actually what I use, though.)
I do not know of any damage that could be caused to vinyl LP's by wood
glue. It's probably much more damaging to keep playing your
records with dust in the grooves. That said, you're on your own
as far as what may or may not happen. I accept no responsibility
if you wreck something in the process of cleaning your vinyl.
Start out with some really cheap second-hand vinyl and listen for an
improvement. If everything works out, then work up to your better
Just know that wood glue will not correct mechanical problems with the
LP. If someone went ice skating across the surface, glue is not going to fix that.
So far, the glue brands that I know will work are Titebond and
Elmer's. Do not use Gorilla Glue or any kind of all-purpose
adhesive. It has to be wood glue, the traditional kind used by carpenters for many decades. I would just go right now and buy a gallon of the Elmer's,
and you'll know you have the good stuff. (Some people say
Titebond is a better glue, but I think that's a matter of personal
preference. Besides, we're not putting together a cabinet here. )
One more thing: you should know that some modern vinyl pressings may have noise embedded into the LP
because they were either stored in excessive heat, shipped in excessive
heat, pressed from a dirty batch of vinyl, or something else
that is beyond your control. This happened sometimes with LP's back in the 70's
and 80's, too, but today there is not as much industry push behind
vinyl LP's as there used to be. With the resurgence of interest in LP records, maybe that will improve.
This has been just a quick addendum to the main article on vinyl cleaning.
Mainly, I wanted to talk about the static electricity problem and how
to deal with it. Once you get into a routine, cleaning the vinyl
is pretty easy. If you are into audio, you will notice a big
difference between vinyl LP's and more modern forms of music
(especially MP3's). This difference is greatest when you're
listening to LP's that were made from analog masters.
I used to think the vinyl people were exaggerating when they talked
about the "presence", "warmth", and "air" of vinyl. Now, after
listening to some wood-glue-cleaned LP's from the Sixties and
Seventies, I can positively say I agree with them. There
really does seem to be a difference, and even though we may not be able
to measure it with precision instruments, it's there.
It would be nice to see (er, hear) more bands doing multi-track tape
recording as their first step. Where that's not available,
a high bit depth / high sampling rate is more likely to capture the
subtleties of the audio. Today we have 24/96 mastering, but after
listening to old LP's, I still think I like 4- and 8-track tape
Anyway, keeping your vinyl clean is the best way to get close to that "vintage" sound.
I hope you liked this article. It really helps me out if you shop
for your stuff (pretty much anything) through the links on this site.
Thanks for reading!
o.t o .1 2 0 s t u d i o.. c o m
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