You know what I love?
That moment when you cue up the needle on an old favorite album that you haven’t listened to in a long time.
You sit back and get ready to enjoy the album in its entirety, something we rarely find the time for anymore. Everybody listens to single songs. No one listens to albums.
The first track starts playing and right when you lose myself in the music, it happens.
And the moment is ruined. Unfortunately, record player skipping is the one major annoyance with vinyl, and an unavoidable one at that. There are a number of reasons it can occur and luckily, most of them are fixable.
Let’s do some troubleshooting, find out why your record might be skipping, and cover what you can do about it.
Why Is My Record Skipping?
The most common cause of record skips is also the easiest one to fix. And that is a dirty record. If that is not the issue, it may also be down to an improperly balanced tonearm.
Dust And Dirt
The little grooves on your record make a nice home for dirt and dust. It’s only natural it ends up there. How susceptible your records are to becoming dirty enough to skip really comes down to how they’re stored.
The paper sleeves don’t help much and if you keep them in a dusty area, they’re going to get dusty. Properly storing your records goes a long way toward protecting them as much as possible from dirt and dust.
Other contaminants, like oils from your hands, can also cause skipping. Bottom line: even if you think you keep your records in immaculate condition, dust, dirt and oils can still find their way into the grooves and that may very well be the reason your records are skipping.
Balance Of The Tonearm
If your record isn’t dirty or dusty, the issue might lie with your actual record player – the tonearm may be out of balance.
How you rebalance this depends on your record player, and it’s advised that you check your manufacturer’s guidelines, but there are steps later on in the article that will help you rebalance it, regardless.
If your arm is off balance, it could cause two issues. If the weight is set too low, the needle might slide across the grooves in your record, which makes the music jump.
However, music jumping is the least of your concerns if this continues to happen over time. This skipping could damage your record.
If the weight is set too high, the needle presses into the grooves of your record with too much intensity and distorts your music. This can also damage your record over time.
It’s good to be hopeful, but if your record is scratched or damaged, it might not be possible to fix. Try every method listed here first to rule out every other option before deciding your record is damaged.
How To Fix Record Skips
As mentioned, the easiest problem to fix is a dirty or dusty record, so we’ll begin there.
Getting Rid Of Dirt And Dust
Cleaning your record should always be your first task. It is the easiest fix and something you should be doing anyway, so it makes sense to start here. If it doesn’t fix the skipping, move on to other measures, like rebalancing the tonearm.
Cleaning The Record With Glue
Odd as this may sound, a good method to start with is using wood glue.
With your tonearm off the record, spin the record.
Starting at the edge of the inner label, lightly squeeze your wood glue bottle and move the nozzle along the record until you reach the outer edge. Your record should have a covering of even wood glue lines.
With the record still spinning, use a small piece of cardboard to spread the wood glue. Start from the outer edge and move slowly inwards, to create a thin, consistent film across your record.
Stop the record from spinning and leave it as is for 24 hours, so that the wood glue dries completely. Once it’s bone-dry, remove the layer of wood glue, starting at the outer edge. Try to remove it in one go.
If you can’t pull it all off in one go, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just easier if it comes off all at once. Once it’s off, use a lint free cloth to wipe down your record in a circular motion.
Now try playing your record again. If dirt and/or dust was the issue, it should play without skipping now.
Using A Cleaning Solution
If your record is still skipping, you’ll need to clean it a little deeper using a record cleaning solution and a cloth. Check the label on the solution to see if there are any specific instructions to follow when applying it.
In general, you just need to apply the solution to the record, let it sit, and then rinse it off with distilled water. Be careful not to get the label on the record wet.
Wipe the distilled water off with the cloth and then let the record dry completely before trying to play it again. Read more about this cleaning method.
Find Individual Grime
If the record is still skipping, you’re going to have to get nice and close to it and examine it with a magnifying glass. This should hopefully help you find any little pieces of grime that could be causing your skipping issue.
If you find any, use a record cleaning brush to get into the deeper nooks and crannies. If that doesn’t do the trick, carefully use a toothpick to dislodge it. Then try playing the record again.
If it still skips, you can be fairly certain at this point that it’s not as case of your record simply being dirty.
How To Balance The Tonearm
You’ll always need to balance the tonearm whenever you change your cartridge, because cartridges have different weights, and this affects how firmly the needle presses against your record.
But you also might need to rebalance the tonearm occasionally, if it becomes unbalanced and you end up with a skipping problem as a result.
Your best bet is to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. If you don’t have any, follow the advice below. But if you do have them and your manufacturer’s guidelines differ from the following advice, please follow your manufacturer’s guidelines – there might be a very important reason for the difference.
If this is the first time you’re balancing a tonearm, be patient and take your time. Don’t rush through the process. Balancing the arm is one of the best things you can do for the quality of sound your turntable produces. So be methodical. It’ll be worth your while.
That being said, this is the general approach that should work for most record players.
Step 1: Set the anti-skate control
The anti-skate control could look one of two ways: a circle with numbers on it, or like a piece of fishing gut with a weight hanging off it, that rests on a bar either on or around the arm. Once you’ve found it, set it to zero.
Step 2: Set the yoke
Halfway down the neck of the arm, you should see a plastic hook or latch. That’s the yoke. Unhook it, making sure you support the arm so it doesn’t smash into the platter. Slowly lower the arm and gently let it rest where it hangs by itself.
Step 3: Level the arm
Move the rear-mounted counter weight along the length of the arm until you find the sweet spot: where it lifts up and hangs perfectly level in the air, without any support.
When this happens, tighten the locking nut – tight enough to stop the weight from moving freely, but not so tight that you can’t make small adjustments. By locking your turntable’s arm in this position, you make sure that it’s held at a tracking weight of 0 grams.
Step 4: Adjust the arm tracking weight dial
You should now find the arm tracking weight dial. It could be at the back of the arm or possibly be attached to the counter-weight you just adjusted. Wherever it is, move it to zero.
If your turntable arm doesn’t have an arm tracking weight dial, you can use a tracking weight gauge to check if you’ve balanced it at zero grams.
Step 5: Balance the arm
Now that you have the tracking weight dial set to 0 grams, you need to adjust the counterweight again. By either adjusting the counterweight itself (this is where the degree to which you tightened it earlier will come into play), or the screw thread (which is attached to the dial), move the dial until you feel the tracking force.
This tracking force is generally dependent on the turntable cartridge you have loaded. Check your cartridge’s specifications. Usually, it will be between 1 and 2 grams.
If your counterweight doesn’t have a dial or screw thread, you’re going to have to use a tracking weight gauge. Place the tracking weight gauge on the platter, and then place the stylus on the gauge.
Then, just like you did earlier, move the counterweight backwards and forwards, until the reading on the tracking weight gauge tells you that you have the right weight.
Step 6: Reset the anti-skate control.
Now you can put the arm back into position. Secure it with the yoke. Then, set the anti-skate control to the same weight you set for the tracking weight.
This is essentially the pinnacle point in stopping your records from skipping. By setting the anti-skate, you add downward force, which stops the arm from skipping the grooves.
Play the record now. If it’s not damaged, it should play without skipping. But if it does skip…I have some bad news. You’ve probably got a broken record on your hands.
Fixing A Broken Record
Unfortunately, once a record is damaged, it will likely never play the way it used to. There are a few “last resort” type techniques out there on the internet that you could try, like this one that asks you to sandpaper your record. It is unlikely to be successful, but if your record is already damaged, what do you have to lose?
Record Player Skipping: Final Thoughts
Most cases of a record play skipping are easily fixed. Hopefully that was the case for you.
But if your skipping problem was due to a record broken beyond repair, I am sorry. I’ve been there, too. It hurts.
That’s why I encourage everyone to do what you can to prevent damage to your record collection. Treat your albums like they are irreplaceable, because in many ways, they are. Even the best record player turntables sound bad if the record is damaged.
Handle and store your records properly and you will hopefully never again find yourself trying to figure our why your record is skipping.