Let’s set the scene. You’ve just bought a used record from a sidewalk sale, and you’re excited to give it its inaugural spin. You drop the needle, and everything seems fine at first, but then you hear it—the sound speeds up and slows down. This is what we call flutter and wow, and it’s a key indication that your record is warped.
Warped records are the bane of every vinyl lover. Whether your record collection is old or new, it’s an investment worth maintaining, and you can’t fully savor the listening experience if your records aren’t in pristine condition. But how can you fix warped records and prevent it from happening in the first place?
You have warped records, and we have solutions, tips and more than enough personal experience to help you out. Continue reading to learn how to fix a warped record and take care of your collection so you never deal with the problem ever again.
What Causes a Warped Record?
Warped records are caused by excessive pressure, intense heat or a combination of poor conditions such as improper storage and direct sunlight exposure.
Vinyl records can warp under pressure, especially when they’re stored improperly for long periods of time. Unlike books and CDs, vinyl records shouldn't be stacked on top of each other. Exerting heavy weight on your LPs, or storing them at an angle, will slowly force them to lose shape.
Vinyl is also sensitive to extreme heat. Have you ever seen those funky vinyl record bowls used for decoration? That’s what happens when vinyl records are exposed to temperatures at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. For example, leaving your records in a hot car or out in the sun will cause them to soften and warp.
Is it OK to Play a Slightly Warped Record?
You can play a vinyl record that is slightly warped. However, the record might skip depending on how severely warped it is. For very severe cases, your turntable’s stylus will have a hard time following the groove evenly as the record spins.
If you encounter a record that has a minor warp issue, try using a record weight. Record weights are one of the essential vinyl record accessories for your hi-fi setup. They work by applying a gentle amount of pressure that flattens your records and minimizes skipping during playback.
Although record weights are useful, they can’t fix major warpage. That’s where the rest of our guide comes in.
How to Fix a Warped Record
When you start to notice your vinyl record developing the ‘bowed Frisbee’ look, try one of the methods listed below. Keep in mind that some solutions might work better than others, depending on the weight of the record and the severity of the warp.
Using pressure to fix a warped record is the easiest, yet most time-consuming method. By exerting pressure on a warped record for an extended period, you can correct any warpage and hopefully make them flat again.
Cleaning your vinyl records first will prevent debris from getting forced deeper into the grooves while it’s under pressure. Then place two or more heavy objects (large books, for example) on top of the record, making sure the weight is evenly distributed across the entire surface.
From there, it’s all about patience and time. It might take several weeks or months to flatten out a severely warped record. Although this strategy is pretty straightforward, there’s a chance it won’t fix it adequately. Nevertheless, we recommend giving this a shot before trying the more advanced methods.
Applying a moderate amount of heat and pressure will soften the vinyl just enough to regain its shape. Using heat might sound extreme, but it’s a popular method among vinyl enthusiasts.
This process involves placing the record between two large glass sheets and heating it in the oven. The real challenge is finding two identical glass panes that are big enough to cover the record but small enough to fit in your oven.
After finding the two glass panes, it’s time to cook your vinyl sandwich—very carefully. Unlike the previous method, using heat is more extensive and it’s important to follow each of the following steps carefully:
- Preheat your oven to its lowest temperature. On most ovens, the lowest temperature is probably 100-225 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the record between the glass panes.
- Leave your warped record pressed between the glass for 30 minutes in the oven.
- After 30 minutes have passed, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool to room temperature.
If you still notice any warpage, repeat the process and try a higher temperature or longer duration. Use your best judgment, and be prepared to experiment with this process until your record is flat again.
Using heat to flatten your records is typically effective, but you need to remember to be careful and go slowly. If you use too much heat or leave your record in the oven for too long, you risk irreversible groove distortion.
Use a Record-Flattening Machine
Record-flattening machines are seen as expensive novelties rather than essential hi-fi gear. We’ll save you the Amazon deep-dive and tell you right now—they’re expensive, outdated and extremely rare.
For $3,000 and an ounce of patience, you can try to hunt down the Furutech DF-2, a record-flattening machine that uses a combination of pressure and controlled heat to fix warped records. Cheaper machines, like the Vinyl Flat Record Flattener, promise the same results, but you need to heat the device with your stove first—might as well use the ‘vinyl sandwich’ method and save $160, right?
Bizarre, all-in-one machines like record flatteners introduce the false idea that you need to spend thousands for a premium hi-fi experience. Instead of gambling with a record-flattening machine, try a more cost-effective method, ask other record collectors for DIY advice or visit your friendly neighborhood record store to replace your warped record.
How to Prevent Warped Records
Warped records are frustrating and very preventable. Here’s how to keep your record collection in the best shape possible—and by that, we mean totally flat.
Store Records Upright
Preventing warped records begins with proper storage. You should always store your records vertically, whether you store them on a bookshelf or in a vintage record crate.
Records that are stored at an angle or stacked on top of each other have the tendency to warp, especially if they’re left in the same position for a really long time. Keeping them upright and loosely stacked side-by-side will keep them from warping. Check out our full guide on how to store vinyl records to learn more.
Store Records in a Climate-Controlled Room
Vinyl records are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic that warps at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why you should always store your records in a room that stays relatively cool.
We doubt that the main living spaces of your home come anywhere close to that temperature on a normal day, but what about storage spaces, garages, attics and sheds? Whether you’re moving or trying to save space, your vinyl records need to be stored in an insulated, climate-controlled space that stays at room temperature.
Drastic temperature fluctuations can also contribute to warpage. If you maintain the temperature in your home and exercise caution while transporting or storing your records, you’ll be able to prolong the lifespan of your collection.
You’re All Set
Warped records are common, but as long as you follow the tips above, you’ll be able to fix the problem and prevent it from happening again. Whether you’re new to vinyl or an avid collector, check out House of Marley Stir It Up Turntables to take your listening experience to the next level.