Perfect Sound Forever

The Vinyl Anachronist

by Marc Phillips
Part CXLVI: Protect That Vinyl!
(August 2022)

I've been collecting LP's for most of my life, well over half a century. In that time, many unfortunate things have happened to my collection.

First, I've moved so many friggin' times in my life. Every time I do I feel like there are just a few more pops and clicks on my vinyl, especially after they've bounced around in a moving van from coast to coast. I've also owned less-than-adorable cats that surreptitiously peed on the spines of my LP covers over long and uninterrupted periods of time (all my doggos, for some reason, were absolute angels around my hi-fi). I've also raised two children who used to leave peanut butter fingerprints all over the dead wax when I wasn't looking. I'm not going to mention giving up significant chunks of my collection during a custody battle or two.

Still, I do my best to store my records properly to minimize the long-term wear-and-tear. I can pull out albums I bought as a teen and still marvel at the relative lack of surface noise, or ring wear on the cover itself. I've probably shared quite a few tips over the 24 years I've written this column, but it's been a while since I told people to keep their LP's stored upright instead of horizontal or even merely slanted stacks. I know I've championed those clear plastic sleeves that go on the outside of the LP covers, and to make sure there's a good quality (usually non-paper) sleeve to go on the inside to protect the grooves.

I don't want to give another lecture on the importance of record cleaning machines and fluids and such. But that's a big chunk of preserving your LP collection as well.

Jason Gross, PSF's illustrious leader, asked me about LP storage a few weeks ago, and I swore I'd written a Vinyl Anachronist column on it long ago. I did however write a few articles on proper storage on my blog about a dozen years ago. My main reason for writing about LP record storage was prompted by the popularity of the IKEA Lack furniture shelves, which were a cheap way to store records because the shelves were sized just right. Problem was those thick, MDF shelves were fastened together by IKEA hardware--the usual screws and dowels--and over time the Lack shelves simply came apart under the dense and occasionally shifting weight of hundreds, if not thousands, of LP's.

Hoo-boy, you would have thought I was dissing the Technics SL-1200 again. The IKEA Lack defenders came out in droves, saying that the stock photo of a collapsed Lack shelf I'd used wasn't assembled correctly in the first place. Didn't matter what was in the photo however, because my first Lack shelf also popped its dowels about three years into its service as a mere bookshelf, which is what it's supposed to be. Others suggested additional reinforcements, some quite substantial, or drilling brackets into the wall. I'm sorry, bargain hunters, but this will not do. LP collectors need something far better.

I do stick by my original suggestion, which was having a custom-made shelf built by a real carpenter. I paid someone $500 back in 2003 to build me a wooden LP storage rack with 2" shelves all around. I told the carpenter I wanted it to be indestructible. I told the carpenter I wanted to have it for the rest of my life, and that I wanted to fill it from top to bottom before I died. I told the carpenter the story about the IKEA Lack, and I said 'DON'T DO THAT.' Yes, that custom rack is still here, adjacent to where I'm typing these words, and it's just as sturdy as the day it was delivered to my home. It's made all those moves with me without a single complaint.

I haven't thought about LP storage in a very long time, mostly because I did find a solution that worked perfectly other than the fact it's a heavy beast and I don't want to move it anymore. But in 2022, collecting LP's is different. We're not talking about the long-time LP freaks like me who have figured out storage a long time ago, mostly through trial and error. I'm thinking about all these people who have jumped on the vinyl bandwagon over the last few years. In other words, their collections might be what I would consider small. When my collection was relatively small, when I was a teen in Southern California in the '70's, I wasn't too concerned about LP storage. There'd be a few on my bed, a few on the floor, and the remaining stacks would lean up against an available stretch of bedroom wall. That only works for so long, unless you hate music.

I have seen a few novel ideas in the audio industry however. For instance, some bookshelf speakers include open stands that are designed to hold--you guessed it--100 or 200 of your favorite LP's. Wharfedale, the legendary British loudspeaker company, might have started this trend with their superb and affordable speakers. Andover Audio, which makes that all-in-one record player system, offers addition modules for holding your LP collection. In general, I've seen quite a few audio equipment racks employed in creative ways to display a small number of LP's.

It might seem that I'm ignoring the most obvious solution for storing your LP's. Yes, many companies do make dedicated LP storage racks. They're all over the place. Many are gorgeous. And, on the average, they tend to be expensive. Part of this, of course, is due to audio's status as a luxury hobby. You have $10,000 to spend on a high-end turntable? Then you have another few thousand to store all your precious, irreplaceable LP's. If that's how you roll, you have plenty to choose from. The other reason why LP storage racks can be so expensive however is that they must be built to withstand a certain amount a weight for an indefinite number of years. That requires bracing and materials and a little engineering, and that doesn't come for free.

That leads me back toward my solution. The price of lumber has skyrocketed recently, so I know I couldn't buy my rack for anywhere near $500 these days. But I do believe the best long-term solution for LP storage, or CD storage, or Laserdisc storage, or Betamax storage, is a custom-designed storage rack. I'm not talking about my rack which, when empty, I can still pick up and carry to the other side of the room. I'm talking about built-ins. I'm talking about even more permanence.

I know. Not everyone can build a bunch of shelves along a spare wall. Not everyone has the carpentry skills, or the room to do it, or the money to have someone do it for you, or the rental agreement that says oh sure, build anything you want on our property. I can't even do that right now. But I want to. It's the only thing that's significantly better than my current solution.

You don't have to go to those extremes of course. But make a minimal effort to preserve the quality of your LP's through proper care. Store them upright, with as little "leaning" from side to side as possible. Buy those clear plastic outer covers because LP covers are fragile little flowers after a few tough years. Never set an LP down on anything but a turntable platter or a record sleeve. And get a storage system that's built like a tank. In other words, if you have a small LP collection you don't have to spend a lot of money for storage if you're creative. But if your LP collection is growing, perhaps over a lifetime, then you need to get serious and come up with a thorough solution so you can have fun for decades, like I have.

As for my beloved record shelf? Late last year, I did fill it from top to bottom. In fact, there's an overflow of a few hundred LP's right now. So where are they stored right now? On an IKEA Lack. Don't ask.

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