Saturday, February 10, 2018

When I'm cleaning records*

(*To be sung to the tune of George Formby singing When I'm Cleaning Windows, first heard in the 1936 film Keep Your Seats, Please.)

I don't usually advertise products on this blog, but for Christmas I was given a record cleaning machine called Spin Clean Record Washer MKII. It has mostly** good reviews online. It's pretty rudimentary, basically a plastic cleaning bath with two rollers on the ends; distilled or deionised water (£2 for a large bottle from Halfords; tap water can cause limescale build-up on records) is placed in the bath, along with the cleaning fluid; the record is then placed in the bath, in between two brushes; the record is manually turned a few times clockwise and anticlockwise, taken out and dried. That's it. Not exactly state of the art. I didn't even use it for weeks, afraid it wouldn't work.

But I did need one. Regular readers will gather that the majority of my four hundred records come from charity shops (and cost no more than £1 or £2). Most of them are covered in grime, dust, dirt and fingerprints from over forty years of (mis)usage.

Previous attempts at cleaning vinyl had been with a carbon filter cleaner and a Cambra Discmaster – both small, brush-like, anti-static and dust cleaners, and both completely useless. They'd get rid of static but the dust would just go round and round the record. And they didn't go deep. I had tried cleaning records in the sink, with warm water and washing up liquid. This was cumbersome and messy, but worked, until I was advised not to use tap water.

I had toyed with getting each record professionally cleaned at a record shop at £5 a record. But having only paid £1 for each record in the first place, this seemed a bit counter productive. A professional record cleaner can cost up to thousands of pounds to buy, as this list shows.

Anyway, being at a loose end these dark, cold, winter evenings, I embarked on the cleaning process with the Spin Clean (being just one of a variety of vinyl washers; other good ones include the Vinyl Style Deep Groove Record Washer and the Knosti Record Washing Machine). Aside from anything else, I was surprised to find a therapeutic reward in the manual process. It was extremely satisfying taking a manky record, spinning it round a few times and ending up with a lovely, shiny piece of vinyl.

But the sound? Well, I had albums such as Blood on the Tracks, Blue, Nebraska, Horses, Bitches Brew, Music for 18 Musicians and Kaya, to name just a few – all of which had previously sounded muffled and sometimes didn't play at all, the needle skipping over all the tracks to the end of the record with a kind of zzzwwwipppp sound (the kiss of death) – totally transformed after cleaning and sounding clear and crisp, just like new in fact. It can't perform miracles and remove scratches – Nick Cave's Murder Ballads will unfortunately always be heard with crackles and pops – but 95% of my records now sound fantastic.

(**Giving people a chance to voice their own opinion was never a good idea. It's called the internet and everyone has their belief. Reading online reviews for anything – a pub, vacuum cleaner, album or film, say – is utterly pointless, seeing as even reviewing something as seemingly objective as a vacuum cleaner, or indeed a record cleaner (as opposed to something more subjective such as a film or restaurant) results in a one-star review ("crap") next to a five-star review ("amazing") for the same product. Which do you believe? Neither, probably.

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