Proper Care and Operation of Vinyl Turntables for DJs

Setup your new Turntable

Follow this and only this guide. This is the best vinyl setup video on the internet as of 2021:

A lot of DJ turntables are based on Technics OEM clones, and so you will need to set the tonearm height, which is the only thing not covered by the above video:

The Basics

Once you’ve setup your turntable:

0) Should go without saying that I always use a velvet dust brush on my records just before I play them. Only takes a couple of seconds when you’re used to doing it.

1) I always use a stylus guard or record player dust cover when not using my decks.

2) I regularly clean my stylus/needle either by blowing or (how you’re supposed to do it) with a stylus cleaning brush.

3) I highly recommend you get one of these tracking weight scales: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Precise-Digital-Turntable-Backlight-Cartridge/dp/B08DKR87ZC/
and a small 10cm or so spirit level.

4) If you are dealing with expensive records, records you care about, or records that you think one day might become expensive, I do think it is a worthwhile investment to get a set of good outer covers for the vinyl jackets and some good quality inner sleeves to replace the inner sleeves (often printed paper) that come with the record. You typically put the old sleeves next to the record in the outer sleeve so they don’t get worn down by use. This will cut down the amount of dust and static that accumalates also. Take the digital download cards out of the records when you open them – if you leave them sealed with your record for years they can cause compression marks on the vinyl. I usually redeem them online once I buy the record and then rip up the digital download card.

5) Vinyl is an analogue medium. Occassionally things are going to go wrong – you’re going to get some fluff on your stylus and the record will stop tracking properly, or the record is going to skip, or there will be crackling from surface noise, dust, dirt, whatever. You will have to take action, usually involing lifting the needle from the record, often in the middle of your set. Be prepared, but you can always remind the audience jokingly that you are actually playing real records – they will (hopefully) understand it’s not like pressing a button.

6) Needle drops. I do not recommend beginner DJs start dropping the needle manually onto their records. On every record deck there will be a lever that gently lowers the needle into position on the record, and raises it when reversed. It IS possible to bypass this and drop the needle manually and gently on the record without using the lever, and lots of very experienced DJs can do it so well that there is no long-term damage to the needle and they are faster and often more accurate than using the lever, but doing it this way there is much more of a risk when starting out that you will scratch your records. Scratch DJs and old timer vinyl DJs drop the needle all the time, and good for them. Until you are more used to everything I recommend you use the lever.

7) Flight cases. You can get cheap second hand flightcases that have lasted decades and probably will last decades more. You’re looking for something sturdy and mostly metal but as light as possible. Make sure there are no dents and the catches operate like they should, and your decks and mixer snugly fit in without any movement. Coffin style flightcases are a popular option for vinyl DJs as they reduce setup time, but they are pretty heavy. Remember to check with the venue how much space you will have and will they have a table or booth you can put your entire setup on. A lot of venues are used to much smaller controller setups so check first.

8) Record boxes/bags. There are lots of different options here. I would recommend a secondhand metal flightcase style record box which is as light as possible, opens up at the front so you have plenty of space to shuffle through the records, and has wheels and a handle so you can pull it around like a suitcase. A full record box can be VERY VERY heavy! Only take the ones you know are going to go down well. There is a lot less manouvering space in your set for real vinyl DJing as opposed to just turning up with a controller and 20k songs to choose from, so you have to plan things more. Get a good idea what type of music you are booked for, and what people are likely to like. Make sure the records you have are good quality and will not skip or cause you problems. Remember to keep records away from direct sunlight – they will warp. A good habit is to put them back in the box once you’ve played them. They should always be kept standing up vertically, never stack them horizontally as the weight can cause problems for the bottom records. You may opt to leave behind all the outer sleeves and inlays etc and put each record in your record box only in a paper inner sleeve where you can write the artist, the track, the position on the record, and the BPM, and anything else you want to make selection easier. Colour coded stickers can be useful. Don’t assume you will have light in a darkened environment to read your inner sleeves, and I wouldn’t rely on your mobile phone torch – it uses up battery and you might need it for other things. You can get clip-on battery powered lights or keyring pencil torches that last for ages on a single battery.

Monthly Maintenance

Once every month or so, I do this:

A) Check the spirit level on the platter of your turntable without a record, to make sure that from top to bottom, from left to right, and from the center to the outside of the platter, everything is stable. If anything is off, use the adjustable feet on your decks to make sure everything is level, or put some cut up cardboard under one of the legs to lift it, if you don’t have adjustable feet.

B) Use the scale recommended above to check the tracking weight, again without a record on. Make sure it is within your cartridge acceptable weight range, but relatively low within that range unless you’re doing a lot of scratching. Higher tracking weight = quicker burnout of needle and record, but closer tracking when you scratch.

C) If you are using DVS, use some vinyl record cleaner to clean the DVS timecode records you’re using, and wipe them clean.

D) If you are using DVS, recalibrate the decks using the DVS software so that it uses the right sensitivity after any adjustments you have made.

E) Check all the connections on the back of your turntables, make sure they are tightly plugged in, occasionally they become loose over time and with knocks, and that can cause problems.

F) Check the speed of your platter is stable and spot on at different speeds – most OEM Technics style clones have a small strobe light and a number of dots. Learn how to use those to quickly check that all is in order.

That’s it. That’s all you need to do to make sure your equipment is reliable and lasts a long time.

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