We are talking here about physical, not psychological or emotional, eccentricity (that could be a whole ‘nother article). In Issue 184, fellow writer (and parts fabricator extraordinaire) J.I. Agnew wrote of a simple device he created to center vinyl records that had an oversized, but centered, spindle hole. He allowed that his creation could not correct for records that were pressed off-center. A reader commented that there was such a device – the DS Audio ES-001 Eccentricity Detector. The problem (for most of us) is that it costs $5,995. I have to wonder how many have been sold at such a dear price.
Decades ago, I came up with a very low-tech, but effective, means of reasonably centering records that had been pressed off-center. It is not capable of making fine, micrometer-level corrections, but if you can see the arm moving back and forth as the record rotates, it will nearly eliminate that movement and the resulting gross pitch variation.
The record label showing the spindle hole before modification.
Step One: Identify the point at which the stylus is farthest from the center when the record is rotating. Observe the movement and try to locate the spot on the label that is directly across from the stylus. If you can carefully (I said CAREFULLY) rotate the platter more slowly by hand, it is a little easier to determine the right spot. Identify whatever writing is radially across from the stylus at its farthest point, and use a small piece of a Post-it note (or something temporary) to mark that point.
The enlarged hole.
Step Two: You will need to remove the record from the platter and gently ream out the hole only where it is closest to the point you marked. You are not trying to create a larger circular hole, but rather a slightly oval or egg-shaped opening. There are many common items that can be used as a reaming tool – a metal nail file, a small screwdriver, or something similar. You want something that is narrow enough to move in the hole, and you only want one edge to contact the vinyl as you work – you don’t want to scrape away any of the hole that is not across from your target point.
I found the perfect tool in the scraper/reamer blade on the Swiss Army knife I’ve had since high school. Use a small back-and-forth motion. Again, be very careful, because one slip and your tool can go right across the grooves. How much you need to scrape away involves a trial-and-error approach. Do a little reaming and put the record back on the turntable, pushing the reamed area against the spindle. Observe the arm movement again and determine if it still appears off-center. If it does, repeat the process until you are satisfied with the result.
(The Phillips screwdriver/file blade is also useful if you just need to enlarge the hole all around. The cross-section of the shaft has both a right angle and an arc. The shaft is almost exactly the diameter of turntable spindles and record center holes. The sharp right angle edge of the shaft works to scrape the vinyl.)
Here's the enlarged hole with the mark indicating where to place it on the turntable spindle.
Step Three: Draw an arrow on the inside of the label where you reamed pointing to the spindle (hey, you’ve already messed with the resale value by reaming the hole, so who cares?). Whenever you play the record, simply push the arrow against the spindle. It is a good idea to put a Post-it note on the inner sleeve telling you that you need to center it each time you play.
It is possible (probable?) that you may need to repeat this whole process for the other record side. At the very least, you should determine the best spot and mark the label at the center hole on both sides.
This procedure has rescued some of my albums, taking them from unlistenable to enjoyable. Alas, I could not remember which ones, so I had to sacrifice a junk LP for illustration purposes (please don’t judge me by the title). I did forget to mark the spot on the label with a Post-it prior to starting the reaming, but it was where the catalog number (KL 1118) appeared.