Being a “lucky owner” of shellac records is tough: due to their various flaws their preservation and cleaning becomes very difficult, which is why many people tend to stay away from them. Shellac record care is tough, but with Chisto’s help and advice we hope you can enjoy these rarities to their fullest and prolong their lifespan as much as possible.
What exactly are shellac records?
Before vinyl became widely available, the record market in the 1920s-1940s was dominated by shellac. At the time, that was the best audio industry could do; now shellac records serve more as a sign of how far we’ve come since then. If you have some old records from that time period, consider yourself lucky – after all, it’s almost a letter from the past, a relic of a bygone era. Some of you, however, may disagree with that notion: turns out, these relics are really a headache when it comes to doing anything with them.
Why? What’s the problem?
First of all, the fragility of shellac is notorious. Using even the tiniest bit of excessive force can cause cracks or just break the record. And sometimes that force is necessary: the second flaw is their hole size. See, back in the day there was no widely accepted standard of record production, so their size, speed of spinning and hole size were entirely up to whomever pressed them (in the 1890s, even hard rubber was used as a material for records; shellac became the standard around 1895, only to be eventually overtaken by vinyl in the late 1940s). Depending on the age of the record you own, you may not even be able to properly place it on the spindle; thus, you have to push it on there with excessive force, which can result in it breaking into neat little pieces.
Shellac record cleaning and preservation is the last and most difficult headache to deal with, as it encapsulates everything mentioned before. The methods of cleaning vinyl records have been discussed hundreds of times by all kinds of specialists; however, there is far less information when it comes to shellacs, as they’ve been phased out before the audio industry’s “boom period”.
Can you at least sell them for a decent price?
Yeah, we can see how all of the aforementioned issues might push you to sell them to an avid collector who knows more than you, but you’ll be surprised: despite their rarity the market for them is very small and niche. Again, this comes down to their fragility and increased shipping cost (and here’s a little secret: even really experienced collectors sometimes don’t really know how to deal with shellacs, either).
So what’s the course of action, then? Just throw them in the trash?
No, leaving shellac to slowly decay doesn’t really help the environment. If taking care of them is too much of a hassle and no one wants to buy or even just take them, try and find a way to recycle them. You can actually find ways to dissolve them and then use it as a finishing liquid for your furniture; also, unwanted records are often used by artists in various creative ways (room decorations, clocks – basically, anything circular)…
…But come on, these aren’t just shellac disks, these are priceless time capsules – music, recorded nearly a century ago! Aren’t these “messages in a bottle”, echoes of a distant past are worth the trouble?
Sure, maybe they are priceless, but that doesn’t really solve the problem.
Yes, which is why we’re here to give you some advice on shellac record care. As any audiophile knows, keeping the record clean and in good condition is the first step to making it produce the best sound possible, so let’s discuss shellac record cleaning.
The essential thing to keep in mind is the fragility and sensitivity of the material. That alone should push you towards certain conclusions: record cleaners are generally not recommended for this task. Isopropyl alcohol is definitely prohibited, because it will ruin the record’s surface (we wouldn’t advise you to use it for cleaning any types of records). You need a gentle, delicate solution that is safe for this particular surface, as well as a high-quality record duster and some good polishing cloths. This combination should ideally satisfy your shellac record cleaning needs.
That sounds like a lot of money I’ll have to spend to buy products from different places. Is there a record cleaning kit that includes all aforementioned items?
Yes, which is why we’d like to offer you our Easy Groove Superset. While it’s designed to clean all records in general, it is also an excellent kit for shellac record cleaning as well. The chemical formula used in our special liquids was devised to be very gentle so as not to harm a record in any way, but also provide effective deep and surface cleaning. Using a cleaning liquid on a shellac is not so much about the shellac itself, but the concentration of the chemicals used. Too little results in poorer performance, too much can easily ruin the record or leave chemical residue and surfactants that will render the cleaning process pointless. The included record duster is also very delicate, allowing you to use it safely in your shellac record cleaning procedures.
Of course, we can’t mention it enough: be very gentle in how you clean your shellacs. If you use the items in the Superset correctly, your audio archive won’t gather dust and dirt nearly as quick as it did before, so you won’t need to clean again for a while. Buying our kit means that you have a universal solution for both vinyl and shellac record care, therefore, your collection will be much healthier and will soothe your ears longer.