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Bring Ruined Records Back to Life

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If you're an audiofile purist, don't read any further. What follows is not for the faint of heart and beyond anything you've seen before. If you decide to continue, please don't comment about how you think it will ruin records until after you try it. Then, if you still feel my method is flawed, I'd love to read your critique.

If you follow my instructions, you'll have to work hard to screw things up. It's really not that scary once you get into it.

I've spent an entire career designing, developing and patenting metal, engineered plastic and vinyl products. I know plastics, their strengths and weaknesses. I also know how to fix things. This is one of those fixes.

I'm also not responsible for any disasters that might befall you.  If you try this and somehow manage to screw it up, don't blame me. Use caution and common sense. It works for me and that's all I can attest to.

That being said... Let's begin:

Hopefully, most records you pick up at yard sales, Goodwill and flea markets can be brought back to new using standard cleaning methods. This is only for those discs that still have elevated levels of pops and clicks due to physical damage due to accident, neglect or abuse.

The record in the first photo is one such case. When I pulled it from the jacket, I could see immediately it had gone through a rough life. Under the microscope, the grooves were embedded with crud and the lands (the space between the grooves) showed signs of extreme wear with hundreds of vinyl "deflections" along the edges of the grooves.
 
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strongsong212 months ago
There is only one groove on a 12" record.
bfk (author)  strongsong212 months ago
True, but in one of my comments, someone brought up the fact that many years ago, Monty Python made an album with 2 grooves on a side. The idea was, whenever the record was played, the odds were 50/50 the listener would hear one track or the other. Pretty funny.
twocvbloke bfk2 months ago

Just out of curiosity, you wouldn't happen to know what Monty Python record that was would you? I wouldn't mind trying to find it just for that rather novel feature... :)

bfk (author)  twocvbloke2 months ago

Matching Tie & Handkerchief

twocvbloke bfk2 months ago

Cool, thanks!! :D

mafields3 months ago

I just did some math based on very loose estimates and came up with the groove length on one side of the album to be 4480 ft. Probably way off, haha.

bfk (author)  mafields3 months ago
This question is more than 2 years old and I'm glad people are still getting a bit of joy out of it... And you're correct about one thing... You are way off. The published length for a 22 minute album is between 1,500 and 1,700 feet. That averages about 72.75 feet per minute, so an album a bit longer than 30 minutes on each side could be in your wheelhouse if both sides are considered.

I'll consider your answer to be close enough and I haven't given anything away lately, so I'm sending you a 3 month pro membership just because you did the work and brought a little joy into my life. Thanks for the comment.
psp1107 months ago
Hi, I don't know if this has been answered before but I have a copy of good trouble by reo speedwagon that I bought off ebay for $3 with free shipping(yes I said free shipping. great deal if I do say so myself) and It skipped on the last track. So I tried the method where you put pressure on the needle cartridge and it wasn't fixing it so I ran it over the scratch a lot lot of times and it wasnt fixing it. so I played it without the pressure on the needle and found out that maybe I had ruined the grooves at the end of the track I was working on which by the way is the final track. Whenever I play the song at the point of skip the needle gets to a point and completely skipps over like 2 or 3 grooves and skips part of the track. After that the song plays fine but the sound goes in and out of perfect and quieter sounding. Next thing i did was try the sandpaper method. First I tried it out on a really crackly album and found out that it does in fact work. Next I try sanding the Reo speedwagon album that is messed up. after that I played it and got nothing. so I sand a little bit and play and repeat. Then eventually the sound started to sound better in some spots but the needle keeps skipping over the grooves.

Is there any way for me to fix this. Because I don't want to have to buy another copy of this album.
snowgoat11 months ago
Interesting idea. I've got an old Grand Funk Railroad that I'll try it out on.

BTW, I think the length of a groove is about 2181 feet.
bfk (author)  snowgoat11 months ago
A 22 minute album is about 1,500-1,700 feet. Let me know how Grand Funk turns out.
Dolphace11 months ago
I have a VERY old home-recorded record that I am trying to get any recording off of to convert to digital. It has my grandfather and my mom when she was like 5 singing on it. The problem is that the black part is starting to flake off. I am trying to find something that I can secure the edges of the black part so that it will not flake off, long enough for me to get something recorded. Any suggestions? I can send a picture if needed. Help please.
bfk (author)  Dolphace11 months ago
Hi Dolphace. Sorry for the slow reply, but I've been out of pocket for a few weeks.

I don't know if I can be of any help, but first I'd like to ask a few questions. I'll make the assumption that these are home-made recordings, popular before wire and tape recorders became affordable? Of those, I know of those records, made from paper with a thin plastic coating and metal with a thin plastic coating. There may have been a hard, masonite-like material that could have been celluloid as well. Is your record any of these?

To help save time, I've pulled a couple of records that fit your description. The first,
I'll call "stage 1 deterioration" and the second, well... pretty bad.

Do either of these look like your records? (these are an aluminum disc covered with what looks like vinyl. Paper discs were usually lighter in color, with graphics printed on them and a clear coating over that)
Screen shot 2013-08-22 at 12.16.36 AM.jpgScreen shot 2013-08-22 at 12.16.51 AM.jpg
Rafter2421 year ago
Hey sir, great article. I can't wait to try out this procedure on my extreme condition albums. Seeing as you have decided to utilize the manual operation, would you be willing to sell the "auto sander" that you devised? I'm certainly interested.
bfk (author)  Rafter2421 year ago
Thank you Rafter. The albums I tried this out on all seemed to have the same, slight concave curve across their face, leaving the center portion untouched, I removed the rubber, intending on replacing it with a softer block, but never got around to it because I decided doing it by hand gives me more control.

I'm sorry I don't have that piece any more. You're comment has me thinking of looking for a better way to do the sanding however, so when I ( if I ) get through with my current time-eating project, I'll do the instructable and pm you for your address.
bkp, I have a Frank Zappa bootleg that I just bought. Mint condition and while handling it, I damaged one side towards the end of the disc. Really upset. I know bootleg vinyl may not be the best quality so will sanding work? 1500 or finer? Glue instead?
bfk (author)  bigpete077551 year ago
Hi Pete: Any answer I can give you about this is going to be subjective. If you damaged the vinyl by scratching it, then glue won't work. If the damage you're referring to was caused by dirt or grease from you're hands (being a Dental Floss Tycoon can be a dirty job), then glue will work well for that (I love Zappa).

Now, if the damage is a scratch, and you hear it over and over, then sanding may work, but I have 2 caveats for you:

1. If the scratch is deep, you won't get all of it out. Sanding is a compromise between hearing the clicks and pops and the sound quality. Sanding records as I describe in my Instructables will not hurt sound quality one bit, but once you begin to significantly reduce the depth of the groove, the bass will suffer and your music will begin to sound like MP3s on cheap speakers.

2. If your damage isn't scratch related, but you dulled the finish of your album, then sanding will only make it worse. A sanded album will never have the high gloss of a pristine record. What sanding does is sacrifice the surface sheen in order to remove the rough edges of the grooves. Messed up edges are the culprit for 90% of the clicks and pops that remain even after cleaning.

That being said, I've never ruined a record by sanding it's surface (other than those I used for destructive limit tests). I've also improved the sound quality of every record I've sanded, but when scratches go very deep, it becomes a choice between the quality of the sound and the elimination of the pop.

Oh, and one more suggestion: If the damage is only one scratch, I would lightly sand the area around it by hand. There's no need to sand the entire record for a single scratch.

Good luck. I hope my ideas can help you to enjoy your music.
Awesome idea and I look forward to reading your Blog!
bfk (author)  softenersreviews1 year ago
Thanks Softenersreviews... No blog on this, but I would be interested in hearing how it's working for people. For me, it's not about the look of the record (shiny or dull), but the sound. I'd still like to hear other ideas on how to improve the looks of a sanded album and a blog would certainly be a good place to do that.
jenssen1 year ago
Thank you for taken the time to answer my questions so extensively.

I order two pieces of 1500, 2000 and 2500 grit of sand paper and ordered a 40x magnifying-glass. I will start with 1500 for the first time and maybe finish with 2500 to keep a better shine on the record, but that is something I have to try. Normally when I buy vinyl, the first thing I will do is wash it and put it in new good jackets. I am really looking forward to test the sand procedure, I will first try it on old vinyl.

I will post an update once I have results.
bfk (author)  jenssen1 year ago
Thank you... I'm looking forward to it. Good luck.
jenssen1 year ago
Hello Bfk,

I was reading your recovering methods with a lot of interest because I have a record that has a pretty scratch on it, that I would like to try to repair. The scratch is vertical on the record (so I mean from the inside (label) to the outside) but cause a pop each time the needle is hitting the scratch (see image).

Since there are no postings here lately I was wondering if you have any new good/bad experiences lately? Maybe with 2000 or 3000 grit sandpaper? If I understand correctly, the nice polish shine of the record is gone at the place where you sand it? Is it possible to get it back somehow?

If I read correctly, this is the short summary for cleaning records:
1. Good cleaning of the record (washing)
2. Try it, if the sound is ok, do nothing more. If there are pops/cracks on places where also a scratch is located, try to sand them. After sanding, wash them again.
3. If sound is ok, do nothing more. If sound is not ok, and there are still cracks during listening, but not only on the places where there is a scratch, try to deep clean, for example with glue.

Thanks and keep up the good work!
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bfk (author)  jenssen1 year ago
Thank you for your kind words, Jenssen.

As far as I know, I'm the only person who's ever proposed and promoted the wet sanding of vinyl. It takes nerve to attack a record, so I doubt that many, if any, others have actually tried it.

The scratch on your album looks serious, with the inner part being the worse. If it goes very deep, you may not be happy with the results of sanding, though any sanding you do would most likely reduce the loudness of the pop. The run-out looks horrific, but the recording itself doesn't look as bad. if that's true, sanding may be an option. I don't see individual songs, so I'm guessing this is classical, or something like "Thick as a Brick" or other continuous piece. Saving a couple of songs at the outer edge where the damage is lightest doesn't look like an option. If the scratch is too deep sanding it out may begin to impact on the sound. If that's the case, it may be time to look for a replacement album.

Here's what I know... I hope it helps:

• There isn't any data on the subject other than that what's been presented in my Instructables.

• I have experimented on what over-sanding can do. It takes an incredible amount of sanding to ruin a record.

• But if your scratch is really deep and much of the track wall is removed, the sound will suffer. The first to go will be the bass, then other low frequencies, moving up the scale as more and more vinyl is removed. With enough material removed, the record will sound like an early Edison cylinder recording.

• Theoretically, if you keep your sanding to an extremely narrow area around the scratch, deep sanding would only distort the sound in the time it take the needle to move across the sanded part. The loss of sound, repeating over and over may or may not be as distracting as the sound of the deep scratch.

• On my records, I'll sand until the scratch disappears and the pop becomes indiscernible to my ears. Removing a thin layer of vinyl has caused no noticeable loss of sound quality.

• Another detail to note is the volume of the pop reduces gradually as the scratch is sanded down, so if your scratch is deep, you might be able to sand just enough to reach a reasonable compromise between loss of sound quality and reduced scratch noise.

• The finer the grit of paper you use, the less coarse the surface will look. Fine paper will also take longer to remove material, so balance your choices.

• As far as cleaning goes, your description seems about right. You should only need to deep clean your records once to get rid of that random static sound. After that, they'll be safely stored in jackets.

• As far as which method to use, wood glue is probably better at pulling out imbedded dirt and oil than power washing, but it isn't very efficient, requires lots of drying time and it uses up a ton of glue. I've only tried it on a couple of records and have decided to reserve it only for those finds that don't respond to power washing or blue tac.

I know I haven't answered all of your questions, but I hope I've been able to give you enough information to allow you to come to a decision. The first time you try sanding is the scariest. You may want to take an old record you don't care about and try that first. Just to prove to yourself it works.

Good questions and Good luck.
bfk

Whew! I'm exhausted :)
swander2 years ago
Can I try and translate the above? tub of water at 68F, 1 1/2 oz (?) or 1 cup (?) of grain alcohol heated to 158F. Combine and stir in shallow pan, place record in pan atop 1" pedestal at the center of the label so as to expose all the vinyl surface to the solution. Let soak 2 hours, agitation the solution a few times. Remove and let air dry. Enjoy clearer sound of clean record! Solution can be saved for future use in a airtight container to prevent evaporation of alcohol. Works on vinyl and CD/DVD. Hope this translation helps or can be amended by original poster if wrong.
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-ijNPdg-6FxM/TltOLV5Rr8I/AAAAAAAARVU/83p22JGa0As/s1600/196755_460s.jpg :-)
It's really easy to get 2000 and 3000 grit sandpaper on ebay. I found a guy selling 18 pieces for less than $6, with no shipping.

I've spent a few hours tonight reading several of your posts on cleaning records - very cool stuff, and I can't wait to try it out.
bfk (author)  petrushka16112 years ago
Thanks for your information and kind words. If the 2000-3000 grit paper removes the scratches and restores the shine, that would be a significant discovery. Please keep me informed of your efforts.

I spent a career designing vinyl products and can attest that the material isn't as delicate as the "experts" would lead us to believe. It is possible to restore the original sound from many "destroyed" records, and if your ultra-fine grit paper works, it may be possible to restore the pristine look as well.

I have a tendency to think outside the box on problem solving and have a number of instructibles that could be classified as unconventional.

If your'e into mp3 music as well as vinyl, I've recently published a couple of instructibles that show how to dramatically improve the sound of ear-buds.

I'll be adding them to my free iPhone app shortly, which can be downloaded at:

http://app.cat/apps/d575ee7f2f8150f541d0480ae5baa566/

(sorry, can't link in the comment section... It'll have to be cut & paste)

No ulterior motive. The app is an experiment, pretty geeky and a work in progress, but It should work on all smart devices. The good thing is, it automatically updates every time you open it, so all my latest instructibles will be on it and you don't have to do that stupid App Store update thingi :-)
My App.jpg
tonybuono2 years ago
Since you opened it up to Internet searches:
I started to do the math myself (33 1/3 would create about 2300/3 revolutions - radius about 5 3/4 inches) but the reducing circle part of the equation kicked my behind... on the other hand there are smarter folks than myself out there - 2181 feet, 727 yards
(http://128.192.17.191/EMAT6680Fa06/Fox/EMAT%206600/Length%20of%20Phonograph%20Groove.htm)
jjrt2 years ago
Hi bfk... i´ve tried your method, with no results, i have 1500 sandpaper, a really bad record, i cleaned it first, then sanded it, then washed it again, and it sounded just as bad, can you give me any tips of what i might be doing wrong?

Thank you very much.

J.
bfk (author)  jjrt2 years ago
What does the surface look like and what does it sound like?
jjrt bfk2 years ago
the surface lost brightness due to the sanding and the schratches still remain, and it sound like frying potatoes
bfk (author)  jjrt2 years ago
You may have stuff stuck in the bottom of the groove. That "frying potatoes" sound (great analogy, btw) is usually static, the needle bumping past debris, or one other issue I'll touch on later.

Scratches will make a loud "pop" or "tick" and you'll be able to see where they are. If you sanded the surface (and it's dull) and don't hear pops or ticks where the scratches are then you've done a good job of sanding them out, even if you can still see them.

Now, for your potato sound: Check out a couple of my other instructables:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Power-Wash-Your-Vinyl-Records/

A lot of garbage can sit in the bottom of the groove after being "melted" in by the needle, or held in by oils and decades old crud. It takes an expensive machine dragging thread through the groove, wood glue or a high pressure power wash to work that stuff out. I like the power wash route since it's cheap and doesn't take overnight for glue to dry.

I have a video of an album I brought into the house with that static, frying potato sound (maybe not as bad as yours), a deep scratch and lots of gunk in the groove. Washing got most of it out, but there was still some noise, even after several washes:
http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Get-Perfect-Sound-From-Your-Ruined-Records/.
Pay special attention to the last step, where I use a citrus based product called "Goo Gone" and a static removing carbon fiber brush (just make sure you ground yourself out when you use it).

Also... Examine your needle. Years ago, I had a needle that had been bent sideways without my knowledge. All of a sudden, every record I played sounded exactly as you described. Terrible. As soon as I switched out the needle, all was good again.

Good luck and please keep me informed of your progress. And thanks for your comment. I love problem-solving.:)

I hope you get your album back.
jjrt bfk2 years ago
Thank a lot for your advice, i havent been able to test anything yet... since im changing to a new aparment, im grateful for your help and i´ll post later when de job´s done.
webofsound2 years ago
Sorry to bombard, i just thought up a follow up question to ask bfk or anyone who has experience with the glue technique. I just wondered if you've had any success with removing quite visible (but non audible), scuffs and grazes, using the glue or any other technique.
bfk (author)  webofsound2 years ago
No bombardment recognized... Glad to have the attention.

I haven't tried razor blades yet, but anything that can smooth out the point where the flat land meets the 45º wall of the groove will eliminate the pops from scratches. The other difficult thing is getting the ground up dirt and vinyl out of the bottom of the groove. That's what the glue method can do.

I tried it and it works extremely well for pulling gunk out. I don't know if it's better than other methods I've detailed in my instructables, but it certainly takes the longest to do and uses up a lot of glue. Peeling it off is fun, so that kind of makes up for the negatives.

As far as repairing physical damage, that's not going to happen with glue. If you have a scratch before glueing, it will be there afterwards, albeit, a lot cleaner.

The only way to remove scratches that I'm aware is via mechanical means. Glass fiber pens are a good idea, but you have to be certain that they don't slip into and alter the groove. I use them for polishing hard to reach places in metal things, and I'd be nervous about using them on vinyl, but it sounds like you've already tried it so I'll probably do the same, just to see what happens.

I've found (in my experience) that Goo-Gone is as effective as wood glue in cleaning the grooves. It's quick and seems to leave the vinyl nice and slippery. A carbon fiber brush does wonders for static and those lint rollers pick up everything else. I Use those 3 items the most.

Thanks for your input. I don't have that many records, but I'm adding to my collection every week. I've only come across a couple that were too far gone for me to bring back. And I'm re-discovering jazz, as that seems to be the type of music that shows up most at GoodWill.
webofsound bfk2 years ago
Great, thanks a lot for all the extra info. I've only done a few records with the glass pen - need to do some more testing, but have not noticed any degradation during playback. As with sandpaper, it's pretty much a last ditch effort, and i guess there's some element of risk you could damage the grooves. The last record i used the pen on, i didnt do a "before and after" compare, because it had some seriously NASTY looking, and feelable scratches, and to be honest, i was a bit scared let it anywhere near my turntable! It most definitely would have been very noisy in the scratched area (if it actually played through!). After using the pen, it plays now with very minimal noise, no whooshing or anything. So far, so good!
webofsound2 years ago
Fantastic Instructable...well done bfk!! i haven't tried sandpaper or glue, but will give them a go soon. I've read about people using razors/magnifying glass etc, sounds a bit fiddly. One thing that's worked for me (it just sprang to my mind, when i saw them online oneday), is a carbon fibre glass eraser pen (faber castell). Can be bought around $10-15. I guess it's much the same as sandpapering, as you're cutting a fine layer off the Vinyl. The good thing is, it's quick and easy, done in a couple mins. I haven't used it much, but have had good result with the ones i've done, some scratches i've removed have been downright SCARY! It'll leave a haze around the area you've worked on. It might be worth try as an alternate to sandpaper...if you have a record thats pretty decent, but has one or two BAD scratches you can easily hone in on. Be careful though, i believe the glass fibres can be quite irritating if you get them on your skin.
First, I just have to say thank you, thank you, thank you! You saved my records and they thank you as well!

Second, I have a guess for the second question for the 6 month membership.
1,500 feet or about 500 meters.

Cheers!
bfk (author)  America_scarface2 years ago
Yay! Congratulations America_scarface ! A 22 minute LP's track ranges between 1,500 and 1,700 feet or there-abouts.

Your gift pro membership is on it's way (I raised it to a full year... Hope you forgive me:). I need to find out how easy it is to give these things away, so if you would tell me how it goes, I'll appreciate it.

This has been fun... I'll have to come up with a more difficult question.
Khodabear2 years ago
I've been told that if you put a warped vinyl record between two plates of glass that have been warmed - I'm not sure how warm - it will take out the warp and leave you with a flat, playable, album.
I've not tried it. What do you suppose would be a good temperature?
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