Findingi the Vinyl

For Turntables, an Ongoing Revolution

Turntable repair

Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on December 22, 1999. All rights reserved.

They Believe in Yesterday

So you have spent untold hundreds — even thousands

— of dollars building up a vinyl LP collection through the 1960s,

’70s, and early ’80s, only to have it usurped in the mid-’80s by a

new format, the compact disc. But now you aren’t willing to part with

treasured gems like Bob Dylan’s "Blood On The Tracks" album,

Queen’s "A Night At The Opera," or those rare jazz sides from

that label that has long since gone out of business. What do you do

in this age of the compact disc?

On the one hand, you can’t afford to replace every vinyl title with

a compact disc, and on the other, you still savor those clicks and

pops, and the big liner notes on the back covers, of genuine vinyl

LPs. But your turntable is stashed some place, probably broken,

because

you’ve been spinning CDs at home since the late 1980s.

It’s a bummer, as you might have said when you first purchased these

records, but it’s not hopeless. First you should know that a number

of retailers in central New Jersey still sell vinyl LPs, and others

still sell new turntables and even repair old ones. What’s more,

record

companies are still issuing new and old titles in limited edition

vinyl sets.

Every day at the Princeton Record Exchange, Bill Paquin, the store’s

vinyl appraiser, has the unenviable task of telling unsuspecting

customers

who have schlepped heavy boxes and bags of old vinyl LPs into the

store that their collection is not worth all that much.

"I’ve been collecting vinyl for 21 years and working here for

15 years," Paquin explains while confidently flipping through

a stack of 100-odd LPs. Paquin is a man who likes to do two and three

things at a time, so he continues flipping though the vinyl stack

as we talk. He has just returned to the vinyl appraisal area after

helping an elderly woman schlep the box-load of vinyl out of her car

trunk and into the store.

Paquin’s experience includes collecting, appraising, and buying and

selling vinyl LPs. "There are many records out there that are

worth money and there are many records that aren’t," he cautions.

"It’s just unfortunate that most of the records that come in

aren’t."

Paquin (pronounced pay-quin) explains that all forms of vinyl —

45s, 78s, and LPs — have been his obsession since the late 1970s.

An internationally-known vinyl expert, Paquin estimates that 40

percent

of the floor space at the Princeton Record Exchange (just off Nassau

Street on South Tulane Street), is devoted to new and used vinyl.

Because of Paquin’s involvement, the store is known around the state

and the country as a place where the vinyl LP still lives.

"I’d say 95 percent of the used vinyl we get in here fall in the

below $10 category," he says of individual albums. He credits

Princeton Record Exchange owner Barry Weisfeld for having the vision

to make the store into a haven for vinyl collectors. Princeton Record

Exchange stayed in the vinyl business because both Paquin and Weisfeld

saw that vinyl LPs were continuing to sell, he says. The Record

Exchange

also carries some 50,000 compact disc titles.

Raised in Lawrence Township, Paquin says neither of his parents were

very musical. "I grew up in a house with almost no records at

all, but I used to listen to Philadelphia radio stations and with

my short wave radio I could hear music from around the world. With

short wave radio, you could pick up things you normally wouldn’t hear.

My whole life changed in 1966 and 1967, after I got my first

radio."

Paquin graduated in 1981 from Trenton State College with a degree

in criminology. Both his father and grandfather were lawyers, so a

fascination with law rubbed off on him. His mom divided her time

between

being a housewife and doing charity work.

Why the change from the intended career in criminology? "Records

were my hobby," he explains, "I followed my heart and turned

my hobby into my vocation," he says, adding he never actually

worked in law enforcement, except for a stint in security at a JC

Penneys during his college years. "I decided I didn’t want to

become a police officer, so I followed what I liked and what I

knew,"

he says.

"My music obsession started in the early 1970s, but my vinyl

obsession

began in June, 1978, when I got a jukebox from a friend," he says.

The jukebox, with a 60-count selection, came with 1,000 45 r.p.m.

singles.

"I also collected LPs for about a year before I got a

turntable,"

he says, laughing, "because I knew I may as well start. There

weren’t a whole lot of people collecting in the 1970s, they were

collecting

1950s material, and I was collecting ’60s material."

Paquin began working at the Princeton Record Exchange in 1984, when

the store was still located on Nassau Street. Weisfeld hired him,

he says, because "he knew that I knew more than the average person

about music." Indeed. While there are 30-odd reference books and

collector guides above Paquin’s desk in the store’s vinyl appraisal

area, he says he rarely refers to them.

"Nothing takes precedence over doing your homework and going out

and talking to different dealers at record shows," he says, adding

he spends close to $200 a month on his home phone bill, staying in

touch with vinyl dealers from around the world. "You have to be

aware of things up to the minute," he adds.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Record Exchange became known around

the state and the country as a center for music fans interested in

buying vinyl LPs, as well as a place to get a collection of old vinyl

LPs appraised.

But why do music fans still maintain an affection for

vinyl? Paquin says the lingering appeal of vinyl lies in sound

quality.

Like a red wine connoisseur who can taste major differences between

a French and a California Merlot, Paquin and other audiophiles can

hear differences in sound. But just because he’s a vinyl junkie, does

not mean he doesn’t also enjoy compact discs.

"A lot of things are better on LP than they are on CD," Paquin

says, when asked to explain why so many people are hanging on to their

vinyl and many others continue to buy vinyl-only limited edition sets

by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and others.

"It’s true, CDs add depth to some older music, but certain things

should still be listened to on vinyl," he says. "The early

Rolling Stones should be listened to in mono LP. And because of what

they did with some of those mixes, on CD, they’re worthless,"

he continues. Paquin says a lot of things that were meant to be buried

in the mixing of a recording in its LP version can be heard on CD,

especially when the remixing is done by a new crop of audio engineers.

"I’ve A-B’d a lot of the old stuff myself over the years and

compared

the sounds," he continues, "some things that sound flat and

lifeless on CD sound great on LP. For example, Motown Records, most

of their stuff sounds terrible on CD, but if you put on 45s or LPs

of Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes, the Miracles, they all

sound much better on vinyl."

So much for the sounds. What about the money: In Paquin’s vinyl

appraisal

office, we ask if he has any juicy stories to share about people

coming

in with a treasure trove of collector’s-quality LPs in their

collections.

Paquin’s fast reply: No.

"Most collections don’t have even three or four — if most

people have one thing, it’s a fluke. People who have many flukes in

their collection don’t exist," he says.

An example of a "gem" on vinyl LP would be the Beatles’

"butcher

cover" album, which was only in print for a short time before

it was pulled back by the group’s record company because it was deemed

too dark for American popular tastes. The album cover depicts the

Fab Four wearing bloodied butcher coats, with cuts of meat lying all

over the place, tearing plastic dolls apart. It was quickly reissued

with John, Paul, George, and Ringo standing around a steamer trunk,

a more familiar album cover to most American record buyers.

Another notoriously rare LP is Bob Dylan’s second album, "The

Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan," released in May, 1963, by Columbia

Records,

with legendary talent scout John Hammond in the producer’s chair.

"There’s been so much misinformation on that one," Paquin

notes. The promo original of "Freewheelin’" contained four

songs that were withdrawn before the official release — including

"Let Me Die In My Footsteps," "Rocks and Gravel,"

and the original "Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues."

"The easy way to tell which one you have is to look in the dead

wax," the area between the center label and the place where the

grooves end, he explains. If the record number is followed by a

"dash

1," the album is certifiably rare and a collector’s item.

"If it ends with the `dash 1,’" says Paquin, "and if it’s

in very good shape, it’s worth $5,000 to $8,000." A more likely

scenario, however, is that "it’s the other one, which is worth

$5."

A first pressing of Dylan’s death-obsessed debut album,

"Bob Dylan," released by Columbia on March 19, 1962, produced

by John Hammond, with the "six-eye label" can fetch upwards

of $150 to $300, Paquin says. But that album cover has to have three

small Columbia Records `camera eye’ logos — look at your Columbia

LPs and you’ll see them — on each side.

Either way, Paquin says he will tell you what you have. "We’ve

been in business for a long, long time. We are not the type of store

that if someone comes in with something valuable, we’re gonna give

them a line. We’re gonna tell them what it is and just how much it’s

worth."

"A lot of people are surprised at our honesty and forthrightness.

Some people group record store owners with aluminum siding and car

salesmen," he adds, smiling.

Immediately behind Paquin’s table are shelves where he has sorted

and priced rare new and used vinyl LPs, culled from various

collections

brought into the store, and now in plastic jackets to preserve their

cardboard covers.

Among the items:

"*""The Rolling Stones," monaural, UK-only release,

second label, $50;

"*"a first pressing of "The Who, Live At Leeds" with

original poster intact, $25;

"*"an album from Gong, an early 1970s psychedelic band, $29.99

(already sold at press time);

"*""Marilyn Monroe and the Society Syncopators," with

Marilyn on the cover, priced at $24.95;

"*"Chicago blues pianist Otis Spann’s original release for

Atlantic Records, still sealed, priced at $24.95;

"*"The Rolling Stones "White" album in vinyl, $30;

"*"harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite’s first album for

Vanguard

Records, "Stand Back, Here Comes Charlie Musselwhite’s Southside

Blues Band," with a colored label, it’s priced at $25;

"*"Dr. John’s first album, an original pressing for Atlantic

Records, with the original green and blue label; priced around $25.

"*"And finally, one of the more expensive items on the shelf,

an album by the vocal group, The Crystals, produced by Phil Spector;

complete with original blue label and in very good condition, it is

priced at $200.

Given that the retail rule of thumb is three times cost, does

that mean Paquin paid $75 for the album? "Somewhere around that

neighborhood," he says.

Sometimes, Paquin explains, as is the case with the Beatles

"butcher"

album cover, things like the condition of the vinyl LP itself are

inconsequential. Each album must be appraised on a case-by-case basis,

he says. Just because numbers on a recording may lead the owner to

think the album is valuable, other factors enter the fray, such as

different colored labels in the circle inside the 12-inch LP,

different

style paper for the record jackets, and colored vinyl pressings of

albums.

"In general," Paquin says, "the early 1960s artists are

usually worth more, because the mono recordings are more valuable

than the stereo recordings." In America, mono recordings were

discontinued in 1968, he explains, but they continued to be issued

in Great Britain until 1973 or so.

If any vinyl-only stores exist in New Jersey or

elsewhere

in the U.S., Paquin does not know of them. Ira Freund, the owner of

the Record Setter in East Brunswick, organizes several vinyl-only

record conventions in New Jersey throughout the year. Freund estimates

that 25 percent of his sales at his store, an old converted house

on Route 18 North, are in new and used LPs.

"A vinyl-only store would quickly close up," he says,

"because

it’s not enough of a draw in and of itself for items that sell."

Of the vinyl-only shows organized by Freund and partners, Paquin says

while you may find some good records, "when good vinyl pieces

do come up, they tend to be priced much higher than they should be.

But every show is going to get a little bit harder, because there’s

basically a dwindling supply of vinyl."

Yet even the ubiquitous compact disc can no longer be taken for

granted.

"All of the world’s major equipment manufacturers and record

publishers

are pushing to phase out the compact disc and replace it with Super

Audio CD or DVD-Audio," reports Joel Brinkley in the New York

Times this month. Sony’s first Super Audio CD players are in the

stores

now, priced at a whithering $5,000 and $3,500. A Panasonic DVD-Audio

player due out this spring will cost $1,200, marketed under the

Technics

brand. Fortunately everyone in the industry agrees that the transition

will take years. And since existing CDs will not be incompatible with

the DVD, they will not be made obsolete as vinyl was.

"I don’t think we’re in danger of any big format switch any time

soon," says Paquin. Format changes seem to happen once every

generation,

he adds, noting in the ’20s and ’30s, 78s were the norm. A generation

later, in the 1950s, LPs came on to the scene, followed by compact

discs in the early 1980s.

"When people our age die off, that’s the big threat, because now

there’s a whole new generation of people who grew up with CDs, who

don’t care about LPs — just like people our age who grew up with

LPs don’t necessarily care much about 78s."

Any final words of advice for those people whose turntables are still

in good working order and who don’t mind getting up off the couch

every 22 minutes to flip the record over?

"Don’t invest in records," Paquin says, "collect

them and enjoy them, but don’t expect a return on your

investment."

Top Of Page
Findingi the Vinyl

Princeton Record Exchange, 20 Tulane, Princeton,

609-921-0881.

Bryn Mawr Stereo and Video, 3313 Route 1, Lawrence,

609-419-0670.

Rock Dreams Sound and Vision, 364 Route 33, Hamilton,

609-890-0808.

Electronic Service Lab, 140 Scotch Road, Ewing,

609-883-7555.

Top Of Page
For Turntables, an Ongoing Revolution

But in order to listen to these treasured oldies, where

does one go to get a turntable repaired or replaced?

At Bryn Mawr Stereo and Video on Route 1 South, Joe DiMattia says

his store sells "a considerable number" of turntables. The

store currently carries two models, a Denon record player ($150) and

a Japanese-made Sumiko turntable ($400).

"Typically our customers have a good selection of vinyl that they

do not want to replace," he says. "They may feel sentimental

about them. And then there’s the ongoing debate about vinyl versus

CD. People don’t want to part with their vinyl because of the warmer,

richer sound."

DiMattia tackles the technical reasons for the difference in sound.

"There’s a lot of information left off the CD because of the

recording

process," he says.

"Cartridges on turntables produce what’s called third order

harmonics

— which is actually bad, but our brains interpret that information

as a warmer sound. Basically the cartridge winds up masking the higher

order harmonic distortions. With a CD you can actually hear the

distortion,

which is why people find CDs harsher sounding. So if you have a

flawless

vinyl record and a good turntable, you’re going to get a warmer sound.

It’s the way our brain takes in the information," he says.

Like car stereos, cameras, computers, and other mass-produced modern

gadgets, it may be cheaper to buy a new turntable than to have your

old one repaired, explains John Burlaga, the vinyl specialist at Rock

Dreams on Route 33 in Mercerville. About 10 percent of the floor space

at Rock Dreams is devoted to new vinyl LPs, where you’ll also find

a sea of CDs and a stereo equipment room — including turntables

— in the back.

Rock Dreams sells new turntables: Pioneer, JVC, and Onkyo are

consumer-friendly

brands that retail for under $150. Most purchasers are party DJs,

Burlaga says. Rock Dreams also sells the more expensive Technics at

$499; this is a heavy-duty turntable geared toward profession users.

Top-of-the-line turntables from B&O and Yamaha (priced from $500 and

up) might be the choice for the well-heeled audiophile who will spare

no expense when it comes to his or her collection of vinyl LPs. These

would be available by special order only. Burlaga notes that Rock

Dreams does not repair turntables, but refers customers to Electronic

Service Labs in Ewing Township for repairs.

Burlaga says record companies are still issuing classic older albums

in the 12-inch vinyl format, including the whole Jimi Hendrix catalog,

some items from the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and some new items

are put back into their original packaging. "These are geared

toward the collector or the audiophiles in their 30s and 40s,"

he says, "but some of the new vinyl being issued is geared toward

kids in the 15 to 21-year-old age bracket."

Burlaga says new vinyl versions of recordings from the Backstreet

Boys, Britney Spears, Pearl Jam, Korn, and Limp Bizkit have been

issued

recently. Twelve-inch vinyl singles typically sell for $5.99. The

latest Pearl Jam album on vinyl is priced at $15.99.

In recent years, as the bigger loss-leader chains like Circuit City

and Best Buy, have moved into the Route 1 corridor, stores like Rock

Dreams maintain their competitive edge by carrying a range of audio

equipment — turntables, speakers, receivers, car stereos, and

big screen TVs — while backing up the product line with friendly,

knowledgeable staff who don’t pressure their customers.

Top Of Page
Turntable repair

I get more turntables in this time of year than the

rest of the year combined," says Steve Kohler at Electronic

Service

Lab, 140 Scotch Road, Ewing, estimating that the store makes about

100 turntable repairs during the months of November and December.

"What happens is people want to play Christmas music and the

turntable

has been sitting all year. Everybody’s got records and it’s

prohibitive

to replace them with CDs."

Kohler has no reservations about recommending turntable repair over

a new purchase. "Most of the time they are well worth repairing

because most people have a name-brand turntable that cost a lot of

money back when they bought it. I won’t dispute you can buy a new

one, but these new ones are either extremely cheap or extremely

expensive,

and as the old adage goes, `You get what you pay for.’"

"The majority of repairs we do are not major," he adds, noting

that replacement belts, bearings, styluses, and even cartridges can

now be replaced with generics. Generic cartridges range in price from

$25 up to several hundred dollars.

Another solution to "the vinyl problem" is the recent

proliferation

of CD recording equipment. Now you can transfer your own LPs onto

CD either with a unit attached to a CD recorder or through a PC

equipped

with a sound card, special software, and a CD-R recorder.


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