How to Play Vinyl Records on a Turntable

There’s  no getting away from the new vinyl craze. Suddenly, after many years, we’re seeing new albums come out on vinyl and players are in every music shop. The question is, do you know how to actually play vinyl records?

In a world of digital music, MP3s and CDs we’re all pretty used to our music being plug-and-play. When you want to play vinyl records, you have to pay a lot of attention or you risk damaging the record, player or both.

Unlike the laser, that reads data from a CD, the needle (or “stylus”) of a turntable actually touches the record. It’s a mechanical device that wears out over time due to friction and other forces.

That doesn’t mean your new record player and records can’t stay in great shape for a long time. With the right care and operation, you can keep enjoying the warmth and nostalgia of the vinyl experience.

It’s a good idea to get to know the different parts of the turntable, as I’ll be using some of those terms in this article. This great guide from The Vinyl Factory will get you up to speed in no time.

Keep it Safe

play vinyl records handling

Before we get to the point where you try to play vinyl records, I want to go over some key tips for taking care of the vinyl records themselves.

When storing and handling your vinyl records, keep the following in mind:

  • Always store your records vertically. Don’t stack them or they may warp from the weight.
  • Moisture and heat (such as from direct sunlight) will mess your records up. So steer clear.
  • When you play vinyl records the scratchiness is mainly caused by dust, so keeping dust off them is a priority.
  • For a little extra money, anti-static sleeves can reduce how much dust your records attract.
  • Your record should either be within its sleeve or the player, this minimizes the time dust can collect in the grooves.
  • Make use of your record player’s dust cover if it has one.
  • Consider getting a carbon fiber brush to directly clean the records from time to time.
  • A record washer is also a good idea if your records get a lot of mileage.

Licensed To Play Vinyl Records

With your records now safely taken care of, I’m going to move on to the actual things you have to do after you’ve taken your music out of its sleeve.

Pre-Trip Inspection

Just as with a car, before you play vinyl records you should make sure everything is good to go first.

The record player should be on a level surface. It should not be close to sources of heat like radiators or fireplaces.

While you play vinyl records, any sort of shock or vibration will cause skips and jumps, so a shock damping table might be a good idea. People who live next to a rail line or highway often need these special turntables stands to get through a song without problems.

Putting on the Spin

play vinyl record place stylus


The first thing to do before you play vinyl records is to remove the turntable’s dust cover. Not all players have this and they can be hinged or loose.

If it’s a hinged one, you can safely replace it while the record is playing, but if it’s a loose model it’s better to just leave it off. Otherwise, you run the risk of bumping it during playback.

Don’t put the record on to an already-spinning turntable platter. Check your manual to see how your turntable platter is set in motion.

Different records have to be set to different RPM levels. The record will usually show the right RPM setting on it.

Now lift the tonearm or flip the switch to start the platter up. Next, we have the most delicate part of the operation: placing the needle.

It’s Your Cue

Depending on the model, you may have something called a “cue lever”. All this does is lift the needle arm up so that it can’t touch the record. Cue levers make it easy to place the needle on the record in a controlled way.

All you have to do is lift the arm up with the lever, wing it over the starting portion of the record and then gently lower it with the lever again.

If your turntable doesn’t have a cue lever, you’ll have to do it all by hand. Don’t get too freaked out, just be confident and precise. You might want to practice with a record you don’t care much about at first.

If all goes well, the music will start to play. Listen to that side of the album and enjoy your jams.

We have Liftoff

When the album’s current side comes to an end, one of two things will happen.

Either the tonearm will automatically lift itself back to its cradle or it will bang against the spindle and make a terrible noise until you lift it back manually.

Most turntables sold these days do things automatically, but make sure of that in the manual that came with it.

Another Side of the Argument

Once the tonearm is back in place and you’ve stopped the platter from spinning, you can flip the record over and do it all again.

When you’re done with the record, put it straight back into its cover. Make sure all the controls on the turntable are in the right starting positions as well. Turn down any volume knobs so that pops don’t get sent to the amps and speakers when you next play vinyl records.

Put the dust cover on the turntable and you’ll be ready for the next time you feel like having a jam.

Forewarned is Forearmed

Apart from operating the turntable right, here are some more general tips:

  • Get a needle cleaning kit, the needle also accumulates dust so it needs maintenance sometimes.
  • Never brake the turntable by hand. Always let it stop naturally.
  • Never push the needle while playing vinyl records. Always lift it clear of the surface.

Play it Again Sam

Analogue music is back in a big way and a whole new generation of people have the chance to enjoy those warm tones when they play vinyl records. Whether they really sound better than CDs is a debate for the ages, so do you think vinyl records are the pinnacle of audio pleasure? Let me know in the comments.



All Images are Public Domain

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