Collecting Vintage Vinyl Cheap

dog listening to records

One of my Cheapist thrills is collecting vintage vinyl.  I enjoy hunting for albums and selecting which to take home (based on the nebulous and contradictory criteria understood only by the deepest corners of my subconscious).

I enjoy the artwork and the conversations sparked when others peruse them.  I enjoy discovering music that can no longer be found any other way; some recordings are simply not available in either print or download.

Collecting vintage vinyl cheap is great fun.  Here is how I do it.

Collecting vintage vinyl need not be expensive or complicated.

I am proof that you don’t need to be some kind of aficionado or savant to enjoy a vintage record collection.  There are plenty of guides out there if you want to go full A Beautiful Mind on this issue, but this is not that type of guide. I don’t spend much time or money.  I don’t obsesses over technology, cleanliness, or condition. Collecting vintage vinyl cheap is neither an investment nor a raison d’etre; it is an enjoyable hobby.

Don’t be this guy.

killer sound system
Creative Commons photo by Phil John 

Vintage vinyl cheap set-up

You can easily spend thousands of dollars before ever hearing a record.  Some people geek-out over their set-up and buy only the best, but you don’t have to. “How to Get Started with vinyl” by James Lynch of Popular Mechanics explains different options for players, receivers, speakers, etc., but spending thousands of dollars on a setup was not for me.

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My simple set-up

I wanted my set-up to be neat, compact, attractive, and cheap.  I wanted decent sound but knew I would never need it to be very loud.  I found a old, heavy record player at a yard sale, made sure that it would turn on and took it home.  Since this type of player sends a passive single, I needed a pre-amp bump up the signal so that the receiver would recognize it.  I combined the two RCA cords into a typical mini cord so it could plug into the little sound system.  That’s it!

Vintage vinyl cheap set-up cost:

  • Yard sale record player (United Audio) with ruined needle: $5
  • Cheap pre-amp: $20
  • New needle (Shure replacement stylus): $30 (This required a bit of research for my model, but a specialty store online helped me out.)
  • RCA cables and RCA-to-mini adapter: $5
  • Used “reciever” and speakers: $10 (It’s actually a clock radio; don’t judge me.)

TOTAL: $70

cheap pre-amp for record player
Cheap pre-amp

This vintage vinyl cheap set-up works great for me.  I love how small it is, and I can also listen to MP3s, terrestrial radio, etc.  The little speaker set-up actually sounds pretty good. I got lucky with the record player as it is old and very well made.  If it is heavy, looks like a Swiss watch underneath, and responds to electricity, it is a good bet.

Three issues with my record player set-up

1) You can’t plug the record player directly into the “receiver” as the passive signal sent by the record player is too weak to be recognized.  I didn’t realize this, but a friend of mine was able to see the problem immediately. A cheap pre-amp will boost the signal just fine.

2) The movement of the player creates a static charge that will interfere with the signal (pops and crackles).  You need to provide a way for the charge to get from the grounding wire on the player to the earth.  I fixed the problem by connecting wires from the grounding terminals (one on the player and one the pre-amp) to a radiator pipe using a random, copper wire from the garage.  I scratched the paint off of the radiator pipe at the contact point because I thought it would work better, but I don’t know if that made a difference.

3) I broke a switch off.  I couldn’t get one of the levers to move, and I tried to force it.  I later realized that it moves easily when one of the other settings is changed.  If a switch won’t move, try adjusting the other settings and try it again.  Don’t use the force.

4) You may have to make some adjustments.  My record player has an integrated strobe feature to adjust the speed of the platter; you just look through a little view finder and when you get a steady line reflecting off the bottom of the table, you are good.  You may need to use a strobe plate or even an app to check the speed.  You may also need to adjust the anti-skating setting if the needle is jumping groves.

How to grow your vintage vinyl cheap

Now that you have a way to play records, it is time for the treasure hunt. Depending how wide your taste in music is, finding vintage vinyl cheap is easy.  Once you start looking, you will find some great sources.  Different regions or neighborhoods will have different offerings, so be on the look out when traveling.

Make sure to give records a visual inspection before taking them home.  They may be scratched, warped, or even in the wrong cover.

Three main sources of vintage vinyl cheap

Don’t bother with buying new or ordering records online unless you have a special reason for doing so.  It is too expensive, you can’t check the merchandise, and it takes much of the fun out of it.

Record stores have great albums that are (usually) carefully checked before going in the racks, and you can find some good deals depending on your interests.  I usually only go to record stores when I am traveling, as the offerings differ by region and records make excellent souvenirs that fit easily in your luggage.  Buying Motown in Detroit or bluegrass in Kentucky adds to the fun.

record store
“Inandout Records” by murdelta

Yard sales and thrift stores are where I generally look to buy cheap records on my home turf (Philadelphia area). I would rather buy eighteen mysterious albums and discover them than spend eighteen dollars on one particular album on eBay.  I am not sure why, but I get a special thrill when I find albums that have carefully documented return information pasted on them. Turnover in record bins like the ones shown below is very slow, so I only go through them once in a while.

thrift store records
This thrift store (Heaven’s Treasures in Montgomeryville, PA) sells albums for one dollar on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
discounted vinyl records
New Life Thrift (Abington, PA) sells albums for a dollar every day.

People want to give their vintage vinyl a good home.  You will be amazed how many people have stacks of records squirreled away.  Records (even ones that haven’t been spun in decades) inspire a sentimentality that precludes chunking them in the garbage. Once people know that you have a collection, they will be thrilled to unload their vinyl on you and free up that attic space.

Related post: Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale.

Cleaning your vintage vinyl

There are many products out there to help you clean up the records that you collect. You can even spend $700 on a record washing machine, but a clean microfiber cloth and a bit of dish soap and water will do the job. If you are more of a stickler for clean records, there are many options for you.

  • Replacement record jackets
  • LP outer sleeves
  • Spin-clean record cleaning system
  • Record cleaning brushes

Being selective in collecting vintage vinyl cheap

Landmark albums

They are quintessential to an era, lifestyle, musical development, or point of view.  These are the albums you might have in several formats because they are that important to you.

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Grateful Dead 1971, artwork like this needs to stay in circulation.  I bought this record on a trip to San Francisco, so it made a perfect souvenir.
Tusk album cover
Tusk 1979, the mix of “I Know I’m Not Wrong” is fundamentally different from the download.  Shout-out to the USC marching band (The Pride of Troy) on this one.

A window in time records

I love albums that make me think about the weird parties that my grandparents must have attended in the 60’s.  What were they talking about? Why were they so obsessed with Luaus and singing along with Mitch? Any titles involving beer halls, Israeli folk songs, polka, or pipe organ (or all of the above!) are going in to my vintage vinyl cheap collection.

Knocker up! album cover
Knockers Up 1960, I haven’t dared listen to this one yet.
Hawaiian holiday album cover
Hawaiian Holiday 1957,  vaguely offensive,  pretty inauthentic, and extremely weird. You will find crates and crates of albums like this.
Persuasive percussion album cover
Persuasive Percussion 1959, This is the music Dave Draper uses when convincing his neighbor to pull out her bongos – actually a really good listen.

Albums that I like but that everyone else has passed over

You will not find pristine copies of Bob Dylan, Sam Cook, Joan Jett, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, or Janice Joplin every day.  Hopefully you also like something that is in less demand.

Here you come again album cover
Here You Come Again 1977, the cover art inspires so many comments I thought you could just insert your own: ____________________________________________________________________________________.
Faster than the speed of night album
Faster than the Speed of Night 1983. Don’t judge me.

Saving vintage vinyl for sentimental reasons

Shown below is one of my mother’s beloved (and abused) Beatles albums.  I just like the connection that it gives me.  She was pretty excited that I wanted them.

revolver album cover
Revolver 1966, a gift from mom.

Closing thoughts on collecting vintage vinyl cheap

I have had hours of enjoyment from this little collection, and it cost me very little.  You don’t have to be a serious archivist to derive pleasure from this hobby.  Now that you know how to collect and enjoy vintage vinyl cheap, get out there and find some gems.  Don’t be afraid to leave the Herb Alpert albums, I will find them eventually.

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