I bumped into my friend Roy at the Soil & “Pimp” Sessions gig at the Hare and Hounds last week. He’s a DJ and knows a thing or two about records.
We were talking about the vinyl I picked up in Colombia when I was there a couple of months back. He was appropriately jealous, of course, and I told him he’d get to hear them when I DJ at Shambala Festival next month.
They’re pretty old records, and Roy asked if I’d given any thought to deep-cleaning them. He’d heard of a method that involved coating the records with PVA glue, waiting for it to dry, then peeling it off. Here’s a link.
Anyway, I thought I’d give it a try.
The first thing to do is to give yourself something to grab onto in order to lift the glue off the record. I folded a couple of pieces of sellotape in half and stuck the ends on the edge of the disc.
You can see from the picture above just how grubby the record is when I started. It was on the floor of a second-hand books and record store in Medellín – and probably had been for at least a decade.
Then, the thing to do is to cover the record evenly (on one side) with PVA (wood glue). I tried to do this on a flat surface, because I wanted to avoid getting glue on my turntable. That turned out not to be terribly practical, and my first attempt was patchy as a result.
You want an even coating – so put some plastic down over the slipmat, and get it running. I chose 33rpm. 45 seemed like asking for trouble.
Then get yourself a credit card, and without pressing too hard – make it smooth. Like this:
Once you’ve done that – put it somewhere to dry. I placed mine on an old teatowel. But here’s the important bit: You have to let it dry thoroughly. It goes completely transparent, but it takes at least 12 hours. More is better.
If you do what I did, and think just 6 or 7 hours would do, then you’re going to run into the problem I ran into: bits left behind.
Glue residue is a pain. It will come off with washing (the tried and true lukewarm, soapy water trick) – but it’s not nearly as satisfying as peeling off a single, whole vinyl facemask.
As you’d probably guess, the magic ingredient is science. There’s a reason that PVA glue doesn’t bond with records – but grabs hold of all the bits of dirt and grease that the records contain. It’s something about it being poly-vinyl something-or-other. At any rate, it seems to mostly work.
And the results, I have to say, are pretty impressive. However… a couple of things.
First, you use a lot of glue. I’ve been able to do about four records with one 98p bottle of PVA. I’m going to need a bigger bottle, and I’m going to have to apply it even thicker than last time…
Second, unless you’re very lucky, you will have to struggle a bit with the odd spot of glue that doesn’t come away properly. Make sure you get enough glue on there so you get a decent thickness that won’t tear too easily, and leave it on to dry far longer than you would expect. I’m going for 24 hours next. Anything less will potentially lead to spotty results.
But when it works properly – it’s pretty amazing – and far more thorough than just washing the record. A little nerve-wracking, fiddly and messy – but it made the difference, in more than one instance, between an almost unplayable record and one that sounded pretty great, actually.
Obviously, scratches won’t come out this way – and there are still plenty of those on these old records – but there is a measurable improvement. Best of all, there were noises that I thought were due to scratches that turn out to have been the result of grit – and that’s now all gone.
Try it on something expendable before you dive right in – but if you have dirty old records, then a bit of wood glue might be just the thing.