The vinyl countdown: Old-school scratching still soothes the ears
Dave Mello remembers the first record he bought on vinyl – “Fonzi’s Favorites.” It had a pop-out cardboard illustration of the “Happy Days” television character that you could stand up.
Mello, co-owner of Mad About Music in South Lake Tahoe, said vinyl records, new and old, make up about 12 percent of his sales these days.
His customer is either a young DJ looking to spin the latest hip-hop hit to get that warm, sharp sound that vinyl provides. Or it is an older collector or someone who just landed a turntable and is anxious to buy a bunch of music from the 60s and 70s for the cost of a single CD.
Hundreds of records line the attic of Mad About Music. Most cost about $1. Mello said he ends up with the records when someone moves and cleans out their house, or someone dies and leaves their record collection behind.
“It’s got to be nostalgia I would think,” said Darrell Shue, owner of Accurate Audio Video for 33 years. “They are too scratchy for me. You hear the pops and the cracks and that’s part of the experience.”
Shue said he special orders about six turntables a year for customers who ask for one. The average price for a basic model is about $199. Turntables for DJs cost about $800.
Most newer receivers don’t have a phono output. So turntable owners have to stomach another $100 to buy an adapter. For some it’s worth it.
“They have a different sound, a little warmer sound,” Shue said. “There is some noise with it, but its not quite as shrill and that tends to sound better to a lot of people’s ears.”
To tap into that sound you need a needle. Today they cost between $20 and $40 and usually have to be ordered through an electronics store or over the Internet.
“We sell about one needle a year,” said Bruce Brown, manager at Frank’s TV and Electronics in South Lake Tahoe. “People give us old turntables and we will service them, change the belt, put a balance on it, and give it a new needle and cartridge.”
Brown said he charges about $75 to rehabilitate a turntable. But only a few people go that route because working turntables can be found for next to nothing at garage sales and thrift stores.
Ray Hadley, owner of Keynote Used Records & Books for 18 years, has four turntables; two at work and two at home. He loves vinyl because of its sound and its opportunity for discovery.
“To me it sounds fuller,” Hadley said. “CDs sound a little too thinned and cleaned up in a way.”
The opportunity for discovery is always there. Albums are relatively inexpensive and can be dug out of basements, record shops and thrift stores from around the country.
“I recently got into salsa music,” Hadley said. “I listened to it, I liked it and got turned on to it.
“I used to go out to thrift stores and buy a bunch of records, come back home and break open a couple of beers and listen to them. Of course most of them were awful.”
To maintain vinyl, Hadley says don’t leave your records on the ground and don’t stack them.
“Put a paper sleeve on each record and make sure they don’t get wet,” Hadley said. “Put them on a shelf that has backing.”
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at email@example.com