You’re laying back relaxing to your favorite vinyl record, then part of the chorus gets stuck on repeat—we’ve all been there. When records skip, it can throw your ears for a spin. Despite the annoyance, it’s a pretty common occurrence that is easy to diagnose and fix—no fancy equipment involved. In this article, we’ll explain what causes a record to skip and how you can fix a skipping record and keep the music playing smoothly.
How Vinyl Records Work
Before we dive into how to fix skipping records, we’ll walk you through the basics of how record players work. With a solid understanding, you’ll be able to pinpoint what might be causing the record to skip.
Vinyl records are imprints of sound, similar to an inked fingerprint left on paper. Each side of a record contains a single groove full of microscopic hills and valleys—imagine a long, narrow canyon. As the stylus runs through the groove, it vibrates and produces voltages within the cartridge. The small changes in voltage are sent through your home audio system and reproduced as sound.
What Causes Records to Skip?
As a record spins, the stylus needs to stay locked in the center of the groove to play the music accurately. Whenever the stylus is unable to stay centered or something is caught in the groove, your records tend to skip.
But what’s keeping the stylus from staying in the groove? Record skipping can result from turntable setup issues, record defects or debris. And this can happen even in the most advanced hi-fi setups, but it’s no reason for alarm.
How to Fix a Skipping Record
With the basic knowledge of how records work and what makes them skip, you have everything you need to fix a skipping record without replacing any critical components on your turntable. Let’s get started!
Choose a Flat Surface for the Turntable
When it comes to good playback, placing your turntable on a flat surface is the first step. Record skipping might occur if the turntable is off balance.
If you notice record skipping, make sure the level is consistent across the entire platter. The best way to check is by using a bubble level. A regular 3-way bubble level from your local hardware store will do just fine.
To determine if the surface is even, place the bubble level on your turntable’s platter and measure the results. As long as the bubble is dead-center or close you’re good to go. Otherwise, make height adjustments by rotating the turntable’s rubber feet up or down. If your turntable doesn’t have adjustable feet, and neither does the surface it's resting on, consider moving it to a flatter surface or putting shims underneath the base to balance it out.
Adjust the Stylus Tracking Force
Adjusting the tracking weight of your stylus can significantly improve playback and prevent record skipping. The record may skip if the stylus doesn’t have enough weight to stay pressed between the walls of the groove.
See that big round weight on the back of your tonearm? That’s called the counterweight, and our House of Marley Stir It Up Turntables allow you to adjust tracking force by rotating it forward or backward. The dialed numbers on the edge indicate how much weight is exerted on the cartridge.
Hold up! Before you start turning the counterweight, look up the manufacturer’s recommendations. Every cartridge has a recommended tracking force specified in grams. As long as you keep it dialed on the proper weight, record skipping is less likely to happen. Too little weight can cause skipping, but too much weight can damage your record due to the excess pressure on the needle.
Not every record player has an adjustable counterweight. If this is the case, you likely have a more entry-level record player. You may be able to tape a penny or nickel to your tonearm (ask your parents or grandparents about this trick) but the long-term solution is to upgrade your record player.
Adjust the Anti-Skate Setting
See that mysterious, dime-sized dial towards the rear of the tonearm? That’s the turntable’s anti-skate setting, and it keeps the stylus from jumping out of the groove while the record spins.
Anti-skate applies outward force on the tonearm to pull the cartridge away from the center of the record. As the record plays, the tonearm may “skate” towards the center of the record too quickly, which causes the stylus to skip all over the place. The anti-skate setting helps the stylus stay centered in the groove.
So what anti-skate setting is best? It’s simple—just match the anti-skate setting with the tracking force. For example, if your counterweight is set to three grams, you should turn the anti-skate dial to “three” as well. However, if you notice the stylus skipping towards the outside of the record, you should lessen the amount of anti-skate.
It’s totally fine if you don’t get it right on the first try! It might take some trial and error until the anti-skate is set perfectly. If you can get through a full side without the record skipping, you’re in business.
Clean the Stylus
After playing a record, have you ever noticed a thick coat of fuzz covering your stylus? The stylus isn’t bundling up for the winter—it needs to be cleaned. When dust and dirt cover the stylus, it has a harder time sitting in the groove properly. Instead of giving you a laundry list of cleaning steps, we’ll give you an easy method that works like magic.
Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are your best friend. We know, it might sound a little odd, but hear us out. Drop your stylus on the surface of a Magic Eraser, and all the dust and debris will cling to the hundreds of tiny fibers. After you lift the stylus, it’ll be spotless. Trust us, it works like a dream!
If you prefer a more traditional method, you can invest in a stylus cleaning kit instead. These kits consist of a small brush with soft bristles and a special cleaning formula, usually made of an alcohol mixture. Either way, cleaning your stylus regularly will keep your records from skipping.
Replace the Stylus
To quote Prince, “All good things, they say, never last.” Your stylus has a set lifespan, and that’s usually around 1,000 hours of record playing time. For most folks, that means your stylus should last a few years, but if your record is still skipping after adjusting the counterbalance, anti-skate and after cleaning, it could be because the stylus has dulled and reached its limit. Just remember to thank it for its service.
Examine the Record for Defects
So what if the problem is the record itself? Physically defective records will always skip, even if your turntable is set up properly and the stylus is completely clean. If every other record in your collection plays perfectly but one is a constant problem child, it might be that particular album. Record defects come in a few different flavors, but warping and groove wear are the most common issues.
Warped records refer to records that aren’t flat, and they’re the bane of many record collectors. If your record looks like a ramen bowl, you have a problem on your hands. Fixing a warped record might not be possible, but you can purchase a record weight to even it out. Record weights sit on the center of the platter to stabilize the record while it plays. It’s not a permanent solution, but it will keep the record from skipping.
On the other hand, your record might have groove wear. Typically, you’ll notice deep, white streaks that run with the direction of the groove, but sometimes groove wear isn’t visible—it’s audible. If the record continues to skip in the same spot, then the groove might be damaged. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to fix this sort of defect.
Clean the Record
Even if your records look black and shiny on the outside, dust still might be lurking between the grooves. Sure, the subtle crackle adds a bit of character to the music, but too much dust can cause the record to skip.
How do you know the grooves are dirty? You already have something a little more practical than a high-powered microscope—use your ears and listen. Aside from record skipping, listen for distortion and crackle. As the record plays, dust and debris can force the stylus out of the groove, which causes the textbook “pop and skip” sound.
Cleaning vinyl records is an easy way to prevent skipping, whether you use a cleaning kit or regular household supplies. To get the best results, clean your records before and after you play them.
Back to the Music
Record skipping is a minor problem that occurs when the stylus loses contact with the groove. Although it’s a hassle, you shouldn’t let it ruin your experience. If you notice skipping, it’s all good—adjusting the turntable and keeping your records clean are the best ways to fix it. When you’re ready to upgrade your system, check out our Stir It Up Turntables for a superior listening experience.