Vinyl is back, and its return to prominence is one of modern music’s greatest comeback stories. Over the last decade or so, the platform has resurrected from the ground like a Phoenix. It’s been a delight to watch vinyl come back, and hopefully, this resurgence lasts for many years.
I’ve been indulging in vinyl for a few years now, and I don’t know why I waited so long to get on-board with it. Far from being a gimmick, using the old-school records comes with a host of benefits.
For one, the sound quality is just awesome. I love how the record comes to life after the needle hits the vinyl, the sounds of long-gone artists emanating from beyond the grave. There are new albums available on vinyl; sure, however, there’s a kind of magic about listening to old school records the way they were intended.
However, I must admit that when I got my first vinyl player (many moons ago), I had some issues playing the records. After spotting my first mistake of playing the records the wrong way round (which almost broke the whole thing), I then noticed that the records were playing too quickly.
The art of pitch control was my next discovery. I never realized what a delicate balancing act pitching records really was. It was really frustrating listening to records and discovering they were either too fast or too slow, and the issue was made even worse when I tried to spin records during DJing events.
My face when…
Luckily for you, I learned these lessons, so you don’t have to. If you’re wondering why your turntable isn’t playing your records correctly, I’m gonna share my sage-like insights into the importance of pitch control and how to adjust it if your records sound irritatingly out of tune.
What is Pitch Control?
A pitch control slider can be found on most turntables, tape recorders, and even CD players.
It allows DJs and beatmakers to alter the beats-per-minute (BPM) of a record and change its tempo to suit their needs. Pitch control is also vital in the sampling world as it allows producers to manipulate music and use it in entirely different ways.
Pitch control is also a key part of beatmatching’s storied art – a process DJs use to line up two songs together.
Pitch control is an essential part of the DJ experience and is one of the first things you must master before you take to the decks publicly.
However, the importance of pitch control isn’t just limited to DJs and music professionals. It also plays a part in the listening experiences of everyday listeners. If somebody’s favorite song doesn’t sound quite right, they’ll let you know, and they’ll be blaming your turntable.
How Much Can I Speed Up Or Slow Down Songs?
Around 8%. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but even a tiny alteration to a song’s BPM is enough to render it a completely different-sounding track.
This 8% applies in the opposite direction, too. You’ll be able to slow down songs according to your musical needs.
Some turntables offer a 16% setting, which will considerably alter the BPM and allow you to beatsmatch two widely differing songs.
Figuring out how to master beatsmatching is a different topic in itself. Still, it requires a baseline understanding of your turntable and how much leverage you get from its pitch control.
Ever Wonder Why Your Records Sound Faster or Slower Than Usual?
This is most likely a pitch control issue.
Well, either that, or you’re going mad. It’s probably the pitch, though, so don’t check yourself into the asylum just yet.
Having to listen to your records even a second delayed or rushed can ruin your listening experience and leave you frustrated and confused – especially if you’re brand new to the world of vinyl.
If you’re having this issue, then don’t panic. It’s very common with turntables, and pitch issues are most likely to happen at some point. Help is at hand!
Test Your Turntable’s Speed
It’s worth checking that your turntable really is playing up. Our ears can deceive us sometimes, and we can be easily tricked into thinking something’s not right with our music. Mind control’s a powerful thing, after all.
To test the speed of your turntable, you’ll need to buy a strobe disc. These little things have been around for decades and will help you determine whether or not your turntable is out of sync.
You can get strobe discs easily, and they’re often free. Although they’re shaped like regular vinyl discs, they’re actually made out of cardboard. The idea is that you use the markings on the discs as an indicator of your turntable’s performance. If the markings appear stationary, you’re good to go and have no issue. If, however, the markings move erratically, then your turntable is out of sync, and it’s time to do something about it.
My Timetable is Definitely Playing up – How Do I Fix It?
Don’t be tempted to run out and buy a new record player if your one is out of sync. It’s ok; we should be able to fix it.
All it usually takes are minor internal adjustments, some accurate measuring, and a good cleaning. This will remedy the majority of turntable pitch control issues.
Let’s dive right in:
Make Sure the Belt Isn’t Overstretched
This is a common issue with turntables, especially the older models.
If you’re feeling confident enough to try and fix it yourself, make sure you consult the owners’ manual (if you still have it!) that came with your turntable. It should have some instructions regarding the speed adjustment screws found on the bottom (not all turntables have these, however). Turning the screws clockwise will speed up play, and ant-clockwise will slow it down.
If that still doesn’t work, then you may want to consider taking the belt out entirely. You’ll have to shrink it down to its original size, and this includes boiling it in water for 5 minutes before leaving it to dry. Hopefully, the belt would have shrunken down enough to revert its playback speed to normal.
This may sound unorthodox and a little over the top, but it’s a common tactic that DJs use when the belts of their turntables begin to show signs of wear and tear. It’s become a rite-of-passage for them to take out the belts in their turntables and then submerge them in water. It shows experience, after all…
Give it a Good Clean
A good ol’ fashioned clean never hurt anybody. There’s a chance that your turntable is out of whack because it’s got a little dirty over the years.
Make sure to clean the area around the belt, along with the nooks and crannies that hide around the needle.
Sometimes a bit of maintenance is all it needs, and you should definitely clean your turntable before sending it off for an expensive professional repair. You could save yourself a fortune by applying some TLC.
Take it to a Professional
If all else fails, then it may be time to take your turntable to a professional to work their magic.
Although this comes at a monetary cost, it may be the only way you can bring your decks back to their former glory.
Hopefully, a professional will investigate the innards of your turntable and be able to perform DJ-surgery to restore that pitch back to its former state.
It may be a last resort, but it’s sometimes a necessary one.
Will My Turntable Ever Be Perfectly Synced?
As much as it pains me to say this, there’s a good chance your turntable will never be 100% perfect.
If you’re blessed with a great ear for music, even a 1% difference in pitch can be endlessly frustrating – especially if you’re spinning your favorite songs. However, a large majority of people will most likely never notice the slight discrepancy.
Nothing’s perfect in this world, but music comes pretty close. If you’re genuinely passionate about turntabling, then you have to accept it with warts and all.
We’ve learned that pitch control is indeed a delicate balancing act, and most turntables will give you the ability to increase the pitch by around 8%. This is ideal for beatsmatching and sampling and will help add a new dimension to old songs.
We’ve also learned that pitch control is often problematic and is a common fault point for most of it all, turntables at some point.
It’s a question of ‘when’ not ‘if,’ unfortunately. However, when your turntable’s pitch control begins to take on a life of its own, you’ll know which steps to take to help return it to its glory.