Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lick It & Stick It

So, there's been a lot of political stuff going on lately, which has been dominating the coverage provided by this blog. But, since California passed a budget (covering the next 17 months or so) today, I figured I would switch gears and talk about something else.

Specifically... vinyl record players. This post, then, is for DJs and vinyl aficionados.

Sometime, when a DJ goes to play a record on a record player for the first time in a while, the record doesn't quite sound right. The needle is fine; the connections between the recond player and the amp are fine; the record itself is fine. What's the problem?

The problem is that, on Technics 1200s (and record players of a similar design), the physical connection between the needle stylus and the tone arm sometimes becomes not-so-great. A tiny gap will open up between the two sets of electrical contacts, and the electrical connection will be intermittent.

The solution?

Unscrew the needle stylus. Lick the electrical contacts (or, spit a little bit on your finger and rub it on the contacts). Then, screw the stylus back onto the tone arm.

This technique is known amongst DJs as "Lick It & Stick It."

It is also done with trepidation, because as any vinyl aficionado knows, Lick It & Stick It may fix the problem in the short term, but in the long term, it contributes to corrosion of the electrical terminals (the likely solution to which is further licking-it & sticking-it). It's therefore a self-propagating habit... the more a particular record player has experienced being licked & stuck in the past, the more it is likely to require this sort of treatment in the future.

Why does it work?

Basically, human saliva contains a certain amount of sodium, just like our blood (which, in fact, has nearly the same sodium level as that found on average in the world's oceans). Sodium in solution in a liquid conducts electricity -- it is known as "contact solution" (or an electrolyte) to folks working with electricity, because when applied sparingly at the point of contact between two electrical connections, it facilitates the flow of electrons from one side of the connection to the other.

Why should you not do it?

Human saliva also will cause those same contacts to corrode (oxidize or, basically, rust) over time.

What's the best solution?

According to Ortofon, you should clean the contacts with WD-40.

That's right -- another use for WD-40!!

And there you go -- the science behind Lick It & Stick It!!


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