dj #3
Creative Commons License photo credit: timsnell

Getting Up To Scratch

Just in case you missed it when I pointed this out earlier – before you start learning to scratch, you need to have good direct drive DJ decks and (ideally) some super slippy hip-hop slipmats.

The only reason I say hip-hop slipmats is because these are specifically designed for hip-hop DJs, who tend to scratch pretty much all the time. However, any good quality slipmat should do the trick.

Cleaning Up Your Act For Scratching

Also, make sure your needles and records are nice and clean – no nasty fuzz or gunk in the grooves or hanging off the stylus. You’ll also need to make sure that your tonearm is balanced correctly – it should be pressing into the disc just enough that the needle doesn’t skid off when you pull the record back and forth, but not so much that it wears out both the needle and the vinyl.

Preventing Skips When Scratching – Watch Your Weight

Some heavy scratchers find that even setting the counterbalance to maximum doesn’t give enough traction on the disc. There are a couple of ways to increase the pressure, but unless you really need it then I would recommend you avoid these options.

The first thing to try is taking off the counterweight and then putting it on backwards. This alters the weight distribution slightly, as it will now lean forward a bit more and therefore apply more weight to the needle.

Another tactic is to raise the height of the tonearm. This increases the downforce on the needle automatically, but not every deck allows you to make this adjustment. If you have a deck that does have tonearm height adjustment, it would be a good idea to try this before switching around the counterweight.

Many DJs report that they have had great scratching success in this area by adding extra weight to the cartridge. This can be quite dangerous, because if you overdo it your needles will wear out before your eyes and your vinyl won’t be far behind. Typical approaches are adding a coin (or even coins) to the cartridge, which may be affixed by blu-tack. Sometimes even a lump of blu-tack on its own might be sufficient.

More Scratching Hacks For Your Gear

Before you start piling your loose change up on your deck, remember that the size of the centre hole in your records can also have a bearing on needle skips. If there is a bit of a gap between the disc and that centre pole that you fit the vinyl onto, then that can lead to some horizontal give when you pull on the disc – which often causes the needle to fly.

There are a couple of ways to get around this – if you find that there’s a gap there with all your records, then it might be a good idea to put a bit of tape around the centre pole to make it a bit thicker. However, if you just have a couple of discs that have wider holes than the rest, you can put a bit of tape on them instead. One good suggestion is to get some sticky rings that are used for reinforcing sheets of paper in ring binders – put a couple of these, slightly off centre, over the centre hole and that should tighten it up a bit.

Occasionally you might find a record has a hole that won’t fit on your deck. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could widen the hole by rolling a piece of sandpaper into a cylinder, inserting it in the hole and spinning the disc a few times around it. This will either widen the hole slightly, or crack your vinyl. Whether you choose to do this will depend on how urgently you need to play that disc on your current decks…