We all know the mind-bending aggravation of a record that keeps on skipping.
In some cases, it can be fixed, but the first step towards fixing the problem is knowing why it is happening in the first place. Fortunately, we’re going to answer both the why and the how…
In short, records can skip due to dust or grime interfering with the stylus in the grooves, an unbalanced tonearm, a damaged record, or an issue with the stylus. These can sometimes be remedied by either cleaning the record thoroughly or by adjusting the counterweight and anti-skate of the tonearm. Unfortunately, a broken record cannot be fixed.
However, this is just skimming the surface of the topic. Keep reading to learn more about what exactly we mean by a record “skipping”, all of the reasons that a record can skip, and the different ways that you can fix each issue.
When people talk about a record skipping, they are referring to a moment when the sound is broken or there is a jump to another part of the record. It is an interference between the contact of the stylus and the grooves of the record, which results in a disturbance of the music that is being played.
Rightly so, it is something that can be extremely annoying and is generally something that you want to prevent or fix so that you can enjoy your records seamlessly.
If your record player itself is broken then we dedicated an entire article on how to repair a record player at home, and we recommend you take a look at that.
There are several reasons that your record may be skipping. Some are more serious than others, but thankfully, most of them can be resolved.
The first port of call when you are experiencing a record that is skipping is to check if it is dusty or grimy. Usually, dust can be seen with the naked eye if you hold your record up and tilt it into the light.
Other bits of small dirt and grime that are attached to your record may or may not be visible at first glance. So, don’t rule out a dirty record as the reason for your record skipping just because you can’t see the dirt. It may well still be the reason.
You can also check for bits of dirt by using a magnifying glass if you find that easier. Sometimes it isn’t necessary to know exactly where the dirt is since you will typically clean a record in its entirety. However, sometimes it is helpful to locate the exact problem area if you are needing to focus more thorough cleaning on that particular spot.
The reason dust and dirt can cause skipping is that it interferes with the connection the stylus has with the grooves. Dust and dirt can disrupt the path of the groove and cause the stylus to jump to a different section when it meets that blockage.
If you are sure that your record is clean, the issue may lie with the equipment. In particular, a tonearm that is unbalanced can cause the stylus to lose contact with the grooves and skip sections of the track.
The tonearm is rather similar to a set of scales with the cartridge and stylus on one end and the counterweight on the other. The aim is to shift enough weight towards the cartridge so that the stylus makes enough contact with the record and doesn’t skip any sections by lifting up.
This downward force is commonly referred to as the tracking force and is controlled by the counterweight. However, one needs to be careful when changing this setting because there is such a thing as too much pressure.
If the stylus runs too heavy on the record, you can damage the grooves, as if the needle is carving into the record, rather than simply tracking the grooves to capture the signals consistently.
In brief, a centripetal force is a force that acts inwardly towards the center when something is moving in a circular motion. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever spent time on a merry-go-round, you’ll be very well acquainted with this strange feeling.
And it applies to your record player in the same way. As the record spins, the stylus is subject to this force, which causes it to skate too quickly towards the center of the record.
If this happens, the stylus can jump grooves and hop inwards, which causes you to experience a skip in your record. Hence why many quality record players have an anti-skate feature.
This feature applies an outward force on the tonearm to counteract the natural inward force as the record turns. And if this isn’t set correctly, your records could be skipping because of that imbalance in the radial forces.
As heartbreaking as it may be, sometimes a record is just at the end of its life. If you have tried to clean your record and you have checked that your counterweight and anti-skate settings are correct, your records may be skipping because they are damaged. This is why it is important to always store your records correctly, to avoid this kind of damage.
These defects could be anything from warping to groove wear. A warped record will sometimes skip since it is no longer flat, whereas grooves that are worn can break or distort the sound momentarily. Unfortunately, a damaged record isn’t always visually detectable.
Of course, you can often see visible damage to a record in the form of scratches but things like groove wear and warping are not so obvious. Often, the damage to a record can be heard before it can be seen.
If you’ve jumped through all the hoops of cleaning your record and checking the tonearm setup, you may want to inspect your stylus (needle). The first thing to look for is a fuzzball of dirt and fluff that may have accumulated on the needle. This ball of fuzz can interfere with the stylus tracking properly along the grooves of the record.
In some ways, one might hope that the only issue with the stylus is that fluffy coat because unfortunately, these needles don’t last forever. At some point, the stylus will become too worn and will no longer be suitable for use. When this day comes, it’s best to respectfully retire the stylus and give it an honorable goodbye.
With luck and knowledge on your side, you should be able to fix most record skipping issues. Indeed, some problems are beyond repair but there is hope with these simple fixes.
Maintaining your records is a time and financial investment that few will regret. If you don’t already clean your records regularly, we highly recommend that you jump on the bandwagon. It can be as simple as giving your record a soft wipe with a microfiber cloth or an anti-static record cleaning brush. Sometimes you may need to spot clean by gently using a toothpick to dislodge the dirt.
For dirt that is more stubborn, you can look into using a record cleaning solution to loosen the grime. These can be very effective at cleaning your record but if you need something even more extreme, you can invest in a record cleaning machine. All of this information is covered in full detail in How To Clean Vinyl Records Safely & Without Damaging Them.
As we’ve explained, an incorrect tracking force can cause the stylus to lift and break the contact with the record grooves. So then how do you control the tracking force? Well, not all setups give you the option to set your tracking force.
Nevertheless, the ones that do allow you to customize this will have a counterweight that you can adjust by turning the dial on the end. The markers on the dial correspond to different weights that are best suited to different cartridges.
Before you jump into changing this dial, you should check the specifications of your cartridge since manufacturers will specify the recommended tracking force. Once you know what the correct tracking force is (in grams), you can turn the counterweight dial to select the matching value.
Similar to a counterweight, the anti-skate setting on some record players allows you to adjust the outward force that counteracts the inward centripetal force on the tonearm. Not all setups include an anti-skate feature but if yours does, you can freely change this force by twisting the dial.
The anti-skate setting can be adjusted to whatever value works best for your system. However, a reliable approach is to first match the anti-skate value with the number you have set on your counterweight. For example, if your counterweight dial is set to 1 (gram), set your anti-skate dial to 1 as well. From there, you can increase or decrease your anti-skate if needed.
If you have come to the unfortunate realization that your record is skipping because it is damaged, you will need to replace the record or simply choose a different record to enjoy. We would love to magically reveal a secret way to fix a damaged record, but that is not the case. The sad truth is that a damaged record cannot be fixed.
In the cases where records are skipping from a dirty needle, you can gently clean the needle and it should be good to go. The stylus is a delicate piece of work so be very careful when cleaning it and do not clean it with just any old solution or brush. There are specific cleaning kits that you can purchase for a stylus that includes a safe cleaning solution and a small brush that is soft enough to clean the needle without causing damage.
What if cleaning doesn’t work? If you are still experiencing an issue, then it may mean that you have reached the end of the needle’s lifetime. Unfortunately, the wear of a stylus is largely unavoidable and at some point, it will need to be replaced. Thankfully, this is an easy fix and all you need to do is buy and install a new stylus for your system to get back in working shape.
In terms of prevention, we like to keep it simple and recommend a consistent maintenance routine. If you keep up with cleaning your records regularly and cleaning your stylus, you will have already eliminated several causes of record skipping. Also, whenever you purchase a new system or upgrade parts of your turntable, ensure that your initial setup is correct so that you avoid any issues down the line.
Records skipping is a frustration that many can relate to and thankfully, it is often something that can be fixed. Whether the issue is related to the record itself, the tonearm balance, or the stylus, you can confidently troubleshoot the problem by checking each potential issue one at a time. And besides a damaged record, you’ll be happy to know that the majority of the reasons your record is skipping can be fixed.
- Hands On: Victrola Premiere V1 Music System Review
- How to Clean a Record Player (& Needle) – With Photos
- Vinyl VS Record: Are They the Same Thing? What About an LP?
- How to Fix a Warped Record: Is it Possible to Unwarp Vinyl?
- How Much is a Record Player? Are They Worth the Cost?
Trent is a music lover, musical instrument player and passionate audio afficionado.