Searching for great LP record bargains

Paying the paltry sum of RM5 for Robert Johnsons King Of The Delta Blues Singers Vol II and RM35 for The Paul Butterfield Blues Bands double LP best of collection, Golden Butter, certainly constitutes a steal.

Paying the paltry sum of RM5 for Robert Johnsons King Of The Delta Blues Singers Vol II and RM35 for The Paul Butterfield Blues Bands double LP best of collection, Golden Butter, certainly constitutes a steal.

Prices have sky-rocketed in the last 10 years, and if vinyl LP buyers are not careful, they could be scalped. But armed with proper info, this common pitfall can be evaded.

A COLLEAGUE reached into the record sleeve and yanked out a suspicious looking piece of paper – it was the receipt of purchase. The album in question? Robert Johnson’s King Of The Delta Blues Singers Vol II. Granted, this was not the revered Volume I, which introduced the modern world to the greatest of all blues greats upon its release in 1961, but this copy looked like it was from the 1970s (the title was originally printed in 1970).

According to the receipt, I had purchased this and a copy of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s double greatest hits record Golden Butter on March 10, 1998.

It was a crazy time, when after not having handled vinyl records since I was a wee lad in the very early 1980s, I was reacquainted with the format in the late 1990s, after having feasted on a diet of cassettes, and later CDs.

The allure of vinyl had simply never left me, and when I got into the “habit” again, and had my own money to burn, it was clear that wise shopping needed to be the order of the day.

So, began many treks to off-the-beaten-path hi-fi stores, where small quantities of vinyl often lay on the corners of floors, largely overlooked in favour of shiny silver discs.

Shopping for vinyl then was good. There was no “trend” to speak of yet, and mainly serious audiophiles with multi-ringgit systems were making purchases. And that’s when I began to play the field ...

Knowing hi-fi stores then (courtesy of the job) gave me access to a host of musical genres and titles. Buying vinyl at hi-fi trade shows was also great. Often, many of those records were sold cheap in bulk to the store, and the store would then price them at fairly paltry prices at the shows ... which made it great for bargain hunters.

The gold mine, though, was a store in my hometown Ipoh, run by an old Chinese uncle who had a store in the 1980s, but packed up his business with the advent of CDs in the 1990s. Amazingly, he had kept his stock of thousands of titles. Crazier still, the uncle sold his used and often mint and sealed copies based on the original price tags ... so, nothing exceeded RM20. While the store was still around, I made a few RM400-500 trips there, carting away more than 100 records.

And here’s where an interesting point should be made – with the current craze of vinyl LPs in full swing, and with hipsters and greenhorns all out shopping, prices have sky-rocketed. It’s simple economics, ultimately, where demand is meeting supply. Unfortunately for analogue anoraks, it’s really a seller’s market these days, especially with pre-owned records.

With some prudent practices in place, good deals can still be found – just don’t let the glutton prevail.

I’ve always kept a cap of RM20 for titles ... RM40, if it is a double LP. Sure, you’re gonna miss out on a lot, but plenty of vinyl LPs still exist in the world today. So, by applying the law of probability, rest assured, you can still get what you want eventually. So, unlike the Rolling Stones song, you can always get what you want ... just not immediately.

On a desperate occasion or four, I have paid RM40 and RM50 for a title, only to see it somewhere else some other time for RM20. How do you think that felt?

With everyone and his grandmother toting a smartphone now, instant-result searches are a cinch. If you find an LP you like, find out where the album was originally produced, or where the band came from even. There is a common belief that albums that come from the country it is produced sound best. The logic behind this theory is that, the cuts would come from first generation masters. Of course, there are those who swear by US pressings ... or even Japanese. Each to his own, ultimately, but try it out for yourself – it won’t be your most expensive experiment.

There’s the belief that any record sporting scratches is doomed to fail, but surface scratches are actually fine. Get them cleaned properly though, and there are stores in Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya and elsewhere around the Klang Valley, which offer such services. Of course, you can do it yourself, too, with off the counter cleaning fluids, but the professional cleaning job literally sucks off the dust and debris from years of exposure.

In a nutshell, know what you’re buying, and always draw the line on how much you are going to spend. You don’t have to exercise a tight-fisted RM20 budget per title, but if you’re regularly spending RM50 and above for pre-owned titles, you’ve either really got money to burn or are ignorant and simply spoiling the market for the rest of us. Besides, nobody pointed a gun at your head to pick up that RM300 P. Ramlee record.

Just as I was writing these last few words, I had that sudden itch to find out more about those Johnson records. And guess what? I ended up ordering brand new 180gm versions of both volumes (the completist’s scourge) online, each for a measly US$18, with US$20 shipping. Yes, it’s legal to splurge, but be warned ...

And how much did that copy of Volume II cost me? The bill reads RM5.

SEE ALSORecord Store Day in Malaysia isn’t tied to anything official