As music and vinyl lovers, little is more frustrating than when the turntable needle skips around in the record grooves and make ugly noises when we’re playing our favorite record or listen to the absolute favorite part of a track we love. It is just frustrating.
But it can often be fixed.
So, In this article, I will show you the 11 main reasons why records skip. Some of them are very basic and easy to fix. While others might need a bit of money and effort to get around.
Both new and old records can skip. The problem can be the record itself or have something to do with the turntable (record player) and how it’s set up.
So, why do records skip?
The 11 main reasons why records skip are:
- Dirty record (dust, grease, debris)
- Dirty stylus (needle)
- Worn stylus (needle)
- Wrong tracking force
- Unstable turntable
- Unleveled turntable
- Turntable placed too close to speakers
- Cartridge not aligned correctly
- Damaged record (scratched or warped)
- Low-quality turntable
- Low-quality cartridge
Let us look at each of them in more detail.
1. Dirty record (dust, grease, debris)
The first thing to make sure if a record is skipping is that it is clean from dust, grease and debris. Dirty records can skip.
The first remedy is to always dry clean your records with a carbon fiber brush every time you put a record on your turntable to play it. This will remove dust and particles that build up quickly on our records.
To clean the record with a carbon fiber brush, put the record on the turntable, start the spindle and with gentle pressure move the brush from outside and inwards. Clean the brush and repeat the process one more time. Now your record is clean from dust and particles.
The second remedy is to wet clean your records from time to time. And immediately if there are visual signs of fingerprints or the record is skipping. This is done with a velvet brush and a record cleaning fluid. Don’t use alcohol or soap and water as it can make things worse. Use a proper record cleaning fluid.
If you record is still skipping after both wet and dry cleaning, try to identify the very spot on the record where the skipping happens and look with a magnifying glass to see if there is any sign of debris (hardened dirt stuck in the grooves) at that spot.
If there are signs of debris, use a round wooden toothpick to gently remove the debris. Watch this short YouTube video to see how it’s properly done.
2. Dirty stylus (needle)
The stylus will pick up dust and particles from the record as it glides through the grooves. A stylus full of dust and particles will be more prone to skipping. Make sure to clean the stylus with a stylus brush regularly.
3. Worn stylus (needle)
A turntable stylus is usually worn after about 800 hours of use. Depending on the type of stylus. When the stylus is worn, it can cause skipping, noise and increased wear and tear on records.
Most record players have a replaceable stylus. If your records are skipping and your stylus has around 800 hours on the clock it is time to order a replacement stylus.
4. Wrong tracking force
It is very important that your turntable tonearm is adjusted to apply the exact tracking force that is specified by your cartridge. It is usually in the area of 1.5 – 2.2 grams. You will seldom have problems if you keep it between 1.8 and 2.0 grams, but it is absolutely best to check the spec sheet for your cartridge.
Wrong (and especially too light) tracking force will likely make your turntable prone to skipping.
The best way to measure the tracking force is by using a digital turntable stylus force scale gauge.
When the tracking force is adjusted so it is spot on the specified weight, complete the process by adjusting the anti-skate accordingly. How to do this vary from turntable to turntable so please search the internet for the right way to do this on your model. It is usually very easy and straight forward.
If your turntable doesn’t have an adjustable tonearm so that you can adjust the tracking force and anti-skate, that might be the root cause of your skipping issues itself. We get back to this in tip number 10…
5. Unstable turntable
If your turntable is placed on the floor or on an unstable shelf or table, footsteps near the turntable can easily cause skipping.
Don’t place the turntable on the floor. Is much better to put it on a piece of solid and heavy furniture or on a shelf mounted on a solid wall.
The stylus that tracks the tiny grooves in the record is super sensitive to vibration so stability is key.
6. Unleveled turntable
If your turntable is not leveled that can cause skipping. As the tonearm and cartridge will be pulled by gravity. And therefore, if your turntable is not level, gravity will pull the stylus with a force across the record that might cause it to jump between grooves.
So, make sure your turntable is absolutely level.
7. Turntable placed too close to speakers
If your turntable is placed too close to your speakers the sound vibrations from your speakers (especially the bass) can apply vibrations to your turntable and cause skipping. Especially when playing loud music with deep punchy bass.
So don’t place your turntable close to your speakers.
8. Cartridge not aligned correctly
Cartridge alignment is a hassle but it is unfortunately key. So if record skipping gets on your nerves it is time to find a good protractor and make sure that cartridge is well aligned once and for all.
It is beyond the depth of this article to go deep into how to align cartridges, but you will find plenty of good information online and on YouTube with a simple search.
9. Damaged record (scratched or warped)
If a record is severely damaged it can (or will) cause skipping.
First, make sure that the record is totally free from dust, particles, dirt and debris. As we have discussed in the previous tips.
If the record still skips after proper cleaning it can be a warp or scratch issue.
If the record is warped, a record clamp might do the trick. This will help level out the record when it is placed on the deck.
Some people advice to heat the record in an oven to make it soft so that it can be leveled out, but that often makes things worse and is generally not advised.
If the record is severely scratch, that is generally something that is hard to fix too. You can watch videos on YouTube where people successfully repair scratched records with a wooden toothpick. But as the record grooves are super super tiny I think that will require a precision that even the most skilled brain surgeon in the world would envy. Or luck. But it might be worth to watch a few of these videos to get the technique and then give it a try.
Sadly, when a record has become really scratched, it might be time to let it R.I.P. and move on.
And sometimes, but not often, brand new records skip straight from the record shop. This is down to bad record pressing and poor quality control. I don’t know why this still is an issue as we are deep into the 21st century, but it is. Seems like record manufacturing techniques are still quite old fashion and that modern technology has not been able to eliminate quality issues.
If a brand new record is skipping, and this is something that does not happen often on your turntable, you should return it to the shop and get a new one.
10. Low-quality turntable
It is not my intention to advocate that you need a really expensive turntable to enjoy vinyl records. I actually don’t believe that at all.
But some of the super affordable all-in-one turntables that often can be bought for way under $100 are frankly just to cheap and poorly designed to be able to track records well.
These all-in-one sub $100 turntables are definitely cool and cute. But unfortunately also notoriously known to track poorly, sound poorly and to put much more tear and wear on you records than necessary because they often run way too high tracking force.
If you have one of these turntables and have reached your limit of what you can deal with when it comes to records skipping and sound issues, please take a look at this article that will show you a really affordable way to play vinyl records that will not be prone to any major skipping issues. Please also check out our recommended turntables page.
11. Low-quality cartridge
This might be a tip for the more advanced vinyl enthusiast, but some cartridges are known to be better trackers than others. And will skip less. Higher level cartridges are usually better trackers than the entry-level ones.
So if nothing else works to eliminate skipping (and your turntable is of decent quality) it might be time to look for a cartridge upgrade. To increase your turntable tracking abilities. (And sonic performance as a “bonus”…)
If you are considering a cartridge upgrade, please check out my two articles on the subject.
Skipping records can often be fixed with proper record cleaning, proper turntable alignment and adjustment, and correct turntable and speakers placement.
But sometimes the record is too damaged to be fixed. When that is the case, it is sadly little you can do to rescue the record.
And if your record player is of the really inexpensive kind, it might in some cases be necessary to upgrade to a slightly better one to be able to enjoy records without skipping.