Learning how to play a record player correctly is not hard.
But if you’ve never done it, there are a few things to look out for. A few common mistakes that could lead to permanent damage to your turntable or your record collection.
Of course you could follow the instructions that come with your record player. They can be very detailed and easy to follow.
But more often than not, they are anything but.
Many manufacturers provide the bare minimum in terms of a user’s manual. Often they are written in indecipherable English. Other times, there are no instructions whatsoever.
That is why we decided to write this article. We wanted to make sure you know exactly what to do the first time you use your new record player, so that you do not inadvertently damage your precious vinyl record collection.
How To Play A Turntable The Right Way
Playing a record on your new turntable may seem simple enough, but there are a number of mistakes that many beginners tend to make. Mistakes that end up damaging the stylus, platter, or their vinyl records.
Below, you’ll find basic tips that walk you through the process of setting up your turntable and playing a vinyl record the right way. IF you follow these tips, you will avoid damaging your player or your vinyl discs.
Plastic Dust Cover
The first step is lifting up the turntable’s dust cover, if it has one. I realize this is obvious but I want to be thorough. And it may not be obvious to everyone.
Most models come equipped with a plastic dust cover that protects the platter and other components from dust, dirt, and any other type of debris that could cause record player skipping and impact performance. If you own a model with a hinged cover, raise the cover to place the record on the platter, then lower it again as your record spins.
If you have a cover that isn’t hinged, then place it somewhere until you’re done playing vinyl. This type of cover should not be placed on the turntable when you’re playing a record because it can damage the vinyl.
Some models have an additional dust cover, that’s specifically designed for the platter. These covers are made out of felt and fit perfectly over the platter. They are designed to provide further protection against dust. Remove this cover and place it on a clean surface.
The Platter Should Not Be Spinning
You’re almost ready to start playing some music. But first, make sure the platter isn’t spinning. Some models have a separate switch you can flip to start the platter spinning, while others automatically start to spin once you’ve lowered the tone arm.
When you’re placing a record on the platter, make sure it’s not moving and the tonearm is still raised and out of the way. If you place a record on a platter while it’s spinning, it will scratch the surface.
Placing Vinyl On The Record Player
Now you’re ready to play some vinyl. Carefully place the record on the platter. Make sure you’re only holding the vinyl along the edges.
Place the spindle through the center of the disc and continue to lower it until it’s resting on the platter. Avoid touching the grooves of the record, since the oils on your fingers can interfere with the needle and have an impact on sound quality.
That’s why you should always only hold a record by the edges. Even when you take it out of its jacket, you should try your best to avoid making contact with the playing surface. If you need to touch the surface to remove it from the jacket, try to only touch the vinyl’s outer portion where there are no grooves yet.
Most models have a metal turntable with a rubber mat or foam mat placed on top. The mat provides much-needed protection for the disc. Never play a record if you don’t have a mat.
Spin The Platter
Flip the switch to cause the platter to start spinning. The controls vary from model to model, but most have a switch to engage or disengage the motor that drives the platter.
With some setups, this switch also controls the record’s speed. If your turntable has these controls, then you’ll have two or three speed options in addition to the off position. With other models, the record speed options may be controlled by a separate switch.
If you have an automatic unit, in which the platter starts to spin once you lift the tonearm, then you won’t need to turn on the platter with a separate switch before lowering the tonearm.
Cue The Tonearm
Next, lift the tonearm. Most models have a cueing feature. This feature allows you to turn on the switch that lifts the tonearm and places it on the vinyl automatically.
Other models have a cue leveler which is used to lower and raise the arm. If your model doesn’t have a cue switch, then lift the tonearm off the rest and put your finger under the handle.
Make sure that the cueing lever is up. This lever raises and lowers the tonearm. You need the arm or switch to be up so that the tonearm doesn’t accidentally fall straight onto the vinyl as you move it from its resting spot.
Place the tonearm above the first groove. The stylus on the tonearm must be directly positioned over the outermost groove. You’ll notice three or four widely spaced grooves located along the outer perimeter. These grooves indicate the place before the music begins.
If your model has a cueing lever, then you can simply push the tonearm into place using your fingers. The tonearm will stay hovering above the vinyl until you disengage the lever or switch.
Let The Stylus Make Contact
Next, you’ll carefully lower the stylus onto the vinyl. Gently lower the tonearm onto the outer grooves. The needle will engage the grooves with a small clicking sound. After that, the record should start to play.
After Playing Your Vinyl
When you’re done playing vinyl, place the tonearm back into its appointed resting place. You can lift the tonearm manually or by engaging the cueing switch. If you have a fully automatic turntable, then the tonearm will return to its resting place on its own.
Before you stop the platter from spinning, make sure that the tonearm is already back in its resting spot. The tonearm should never be left resting on the vinyl since this can apply pressure to the grooves, which can lead to serious damage.
If you want to listen to the other side of the vinyl, just flip it over and use the same process. If you’re finished playing music, replace the felt dust cover on the platter (if you have one), and then the permanent plastic dust cover.
Check The Needle At Least Once A Week
To prevent a dip in sound quality or damage to your vinyl collection make sure that both the platter and needle are free from dust. Both components tend to be dust magnets, especially the needle.
The needle on the tip of the tonearm tends to easily collect dust. If it has a dust cap, make sure you place it over the needle after you’re done playing vinyl for the day.
If you do find dust on the stylus, you’ll need to do some basic record player maintenance. This involves using some rubbing alcohol, or another type of safe cleaning solution, and a brush designed specifically for needles. Dip the brush in the solution and use it to gently wipe off the needle using a front to back wiping motion.
Make sure you always carefully follow the steps I’ve included here to operate your turntable properly. While it may seem like a lengthy process, it is worth it, because it can lengthen the lifespan of your turntable.
To sum up:
- The dust covers should be removed before use and replaced after each use.
- Never begin spinning the platter before you place the record.
- Wait for the platter to come to a full stop before you remove the vinyl.
- Operate the stylus and needle correctly.
- Avoid abruptly removing or dropping the needle
- Always use the cueing arm.
- Avoid touching the surface of a record when possible.
- Records should be stored in a dry spot, vertically
- The turntable should be placed on a level surface to prevent uneven wear to your vinyl
Become Familiar With Your New Turntable
If you don’t know how to properly use a record player, make sure you’re familiar with all the different controls and components of your turntable, before you begin playing your records. Reading the user’s manual from cover to cover is the best thing you can do to familiarize you with the different controls and how they can impact your playing experience.
Even before that, you want to make sure you know how a record player works and that you purchase the right type, based on your budget and playing needs. If you’re a casual listener and on a budget, choose a reasonably-priced beginner-friendly model.
There are a few good options that are equipped with top of the line components and a durable design to ensure your record player lasts a long time. I recommend this model from Jopostar.
How To Play A Turntable: Final Thoughts
Learning how to play a record player is simple, if you follow the instructions I’ve included here and take the time to read the turntable’s user manual. Learning how to use it correctly can prevent damage to the platter, needle, and your vinyl collection.
Once you become familiar with the process, it will feel like second nature. Also make sure you check the components on your record player every time, before you play a record. This includes inspecting the needle and the platter for dirt, debris, and damage. This goes a long way towards preserving the condition of your vinyl records.