Flick through your illustrious record collection and you will soon find a precious and prized volume that has come to more closely resemble a potato chip than a vinyl record. Cue the curse of the warped record!
Sadly, this is not just a problem with the environmental conditions that a record has been stored in. What with the veritable vinyl boom of the last decade or so, there has been increasing pressure on vinyl record pressing plants to keep up with the new expectations of a western society suddenly into buying and collecting records again.
As a result, the overall quality of records leaving these plants is far below average. I recently received a reissue copy of The Fall’s Hex Enduction Hour that indeed looked more like food than vinyl.
Depending on the severity of the warping, most turntables will be able to play the records still, equipped as they are with a stylus that seeks to follow the various small misalignments of the record. However, repeated use puts real strain on the stylus and can wear out the components of the turntable over time, so proceed with caution.
If you haven’t already guessed, this is a pretty imperfect medium, hence why this resurgence has been so unprecedented. Join us as we try to make sense of it.
How Do Records Warp?
There are several different reasons for a warped record, though many of these tend to circulate around improper storage. This is an imperfect medium, there is no two ways about it. The vinyl record is an incredibly sensitive thing, prey to many debilitating minutiae.
Heat tends to be one of the main factors for a warped record, a vinyl disc so affected as to literally change its shape. This disc tends to be made from vinyl plastic, crude oil shaped like a frisbee. Anyone could tell you that such a material is sensitive to heat, and they would be right! You wouldn’t put a piece of plastic crockery our cutlery on a radiator would you?
The same logic ought to apply here, for this is plastic in the realest sense. Exposed to heat, the plastic becomes softer and thus starts to mould to whatever shape it is being pressed into.
Since they are so thin anyhow, it does not take much to force them into a new shape. Other aspects of the climate of a space can have an impact on a vinyl record disc’s structural integrity too, not least the humidity of a given room.
A vinyl record disc can be sensitive to direct sunlight, also, so it is best to always replace a disc in its corresponding sleeve as soon as possible. The light can play tricks on the grooves of the disc, melting them and moulding them to another shape, or else blunting them entirely and erasing the details carved within.
The same very much goes for the sleeve itself, in fact, as a sleeve’s exposure to direct sunlight or other light sources is one of the main reasons for them being weathered and bleached, such as those you might see at a yard sale or in a second hand store. Needless to say, then, that at every stage proper storage is vital.
The only thing more helpful than methods helping to fix a warped record would be methods for you to prevent the warping of your records altogether. As previously mentioned, the vinyl record is a sensitive and fragile thing, scarcely able to maintain its structural integrity throughout its life time, and certainly not without being kept in the right conditions.
The first step would be to keep the records away from direct sunlight, much like a succulent. The heat, no matter how negligible it might feel to us humans, can have a significant impact on the structural integrity of a vinyl disc.
The sunlight can cause various damages to the sleeve and the record itself, the slow exposure to heat can eventually warp a record beyond recognition. Keep the records away from windows and heating. You’ll also want to make sure you don’t leave your records in the car on a hot day, so much like a greenhouse is a hot car.
Another seemingly obvious method of preventing a warped record which can be easy to overlook is to avoid stacking them. A record on its own might not feel heavy, but their weight certainly adds up (just try lifting a big pile or box of records and you will know exactly what we mean). Not only can this contribute to an excess of pressure on the records, but can also exacerbate the presence of any dust or dirt in the sleeves. Pressure is exerted on these grains of dirt, forcing scratches into the surfaces of these records.
Less common, though by no means less important to consider, is the humidity of the space in which your records are kept. The humidity of a basement or attic room is likely to cause some serious damage to your record collection if left unchecked. Try to find a space you can use that isn’t overly humid, though if a basement is your only choice, you should consider installing a dehumidifier to provide a safe place to store your records.
How to Fix a Warped Record
Whether or not a warped record can be fixed or flattened ought very much to be assessed on a case by case basis. This should thus be obvious to the owner of the record in question. The more radically warped record will of course be unplayable, though it might still be worth trying. By the same turn, those that are not so radically warped and are in fact only the smallest fraction warped should be able to be salvaged from an early grave.
Method 1: Use of Two Heavy Objects
For this method, you will need two large and heavy objects. There ought to be large enough to cover the entire surface of the record and heavy enough to flatten the whole surface back into shape over time. Two over sized books would be great for this, though anything of the sort will do just fine, so long as the entire surface is covered on both sides.
Begin by cleaning the record of any residual dust or dirt before placing the warped record between these two objects, first placing one of the objects on a flat surface like a table, followed by the record and then finished off with the second object. For example, that might be books
If any parts of the record stick out from the bounds of these objects, then they might be warped in the process, so it is vital that both objects cover the whole surface of the warped record.
Be prepared to wait a while. Some sources believe that this process ought only take a few days, whereas some estimate the sum total of time will be measured in months. Certain sources, in fact, believe that you should leave the warped record to its sentence, checking its condition and playability every week.
This will be, by far, the longest method for fixing a warped record, for you are relying on archaic forces to do the job, in applying a constant and gradual pressure to the warped record in question in order to undo this warping and return it to a neutral flattened disc shape.
Method 2: Use of Heat and Pressure
This method will require the use of specialised pieces of glass, so unless you have some lying around the house already it is recommended that you purchase this especially with the following process in mind. So long as the two sheets of glass required are large enough to cover the surface of the record and are thick enough to withstand higher temperatures, you should be good to go.
This method very much uses the same logic as the first, though seeks to use heat to accelerate the process considerably. Place the warped record atop the first pane of glass and then place the second piece atop the warped record, sandwiching the record in question between the glass panes.
Next, you will want to pre heat the oven to 175 °F or 79 °C and then place the glass and record sandwich inside. After 10 – 15 minutes, once the oven has reached the appropriate heat, place the record inside, carefully placing it onto the oven rack.
Since you are going to want to retrieve this later it would be an idea not to push it all the way in, for easier retrieval afterwards. Also, make sure that you are wearing protective gloves for the entire process and that the glass is already at room temperature, to prevent shattering.
Once the warped record has been inside for no longer than three minutes, remove it from the oven. Any longer than this and the record could melt. Keep a close eye on the record as it warms. If you notice any strange smells or noises, remove the record as soon as possible.
Place the record and glass panes on a flat surface, like the table aforementioned. Then place a heavy object on top of the glass pane, to apply a constant pressure which, combined with the influence of the heat, will help to repair the warping of the record.
Remove the record from its bounds once the glass has entirely cooled. Inspect the record carefully. If the record still shows significant warping, try repeating the above steps until it has been fixed. Otherwise, try placing it in a record player to see if you’ve been able to repair the damage.
So, there you have it! Hopefully this has been helpful in working through your own issues with the cursed and dreaded warped record. Proceed gently and with caution and assess your own situation intelligently so that you do not rush into a decision that could potentially destroy the warped record in question.
Certainly check your circumstances and the condition of the record before placing it in the oven in between two wads of glass, heating the whole lot up for several minutes.
FAQs How To Fix a Warped Record
Can a warped record be repaired?
This very much depends on the severity of the warping, to be judged on a case by case basis. If the warping is only relatively minor, i.e. if the record can still safely be spun on most turntables, then it is likely that the records warps can be repaired, either by longer methods of applying pressure or shorter ones involving heat. If, however, the record is more drastically warped, then it might be worth considering instead buying a new copy of the record, as it could be risky to attempt to fix such a warped record.
Why is my record warped?
There are several different reasons for a warped record, though many of these tend to circulate around improper storage. This is an imperfect medium, there is no two ways about it. The vinyl record is an incredibly sensitive thing, prey to many debilitating minutiae. Heat tends to be one of the main factors for a warped record, a vinyl disc so affected as to literally change its shape. This disc tends to be made from vinyl plastic, crude oil shaped like a frisbee. Anyone could tell you that such a material is sensitive to heat, and they would be right! You wouldn’t put a piece of plastic crockery our cutlery on a radiator would you?
Is it OK to play a slightly warped record?
More or less, yes. Most turntables are equipped to play slightly warped records. The stylus itself and the anti skate mechanisms are in place, in fact, to follow delicately the various minute grooves and particularities of vinyl record discs, so they are simply doing their job. If, however, this is done too frequently, it can have a negative effect on these inner mechanisms, including wearing out the very components of which the turntable is comprised.