There are several different types of vinyl records and many ways to label them. Records are differentiated by the number of revolutions per minute. The term RPM stands for “revolutions per minute”, which tells us how many times a record is completely turned around in one minute.
Most records are designed to be played at one of three speeds: 78, 33 1/3, or 45 rpm. So I’m anticipating your question, “Can I play 45s on a regular record player?”. Why this particular speed? It’s simple. Records at 45 RPM allow for a more defined waveform on their surface, corresponding to more grooves. In addition, they also move at a much higher speed than 33 1/3 rpm. Essentially, the higher the rotational speed, the greater the length of the record track that the needle can capture. This results in better sound reproduction. Let me explain this in more detail, and then we’ll get to the article’s main point.
What is 45s?
In 1949, RCA offered its 7-inch record as a standard. It was designed to be played at 45 rpm and contained about 5 minutes of music on each side. Ordinary users met the novelty without enthusiasm, but in the early 1950s, radio stations appreciated these records.
The rapid development of pop music led to the emergence of numerous “charts”, which included one song each from different bands. These charts required many records by different musicians to be played on radio stations, each with only one song on the air. 7-inch records (“45s”) were perfect for this. They became known as singles.
Perhaps without the 45 rpm singles, pop music as we know it today would not have come about. Recording a 12-inch album was time-consuming and expensive. The musician needed to know in advance how the public would feel about his future work. On a 7-inch single, a couple of hits from the future album were recorded and played on the radio to gauge listeners’ reaction and “warm up” the market.
The higher sound quality that 45 rpm recording provided led to the introduction of 12-inch records at that speed. They became popular in the 80s and usually contain an extended mix of a song originally recorded on a 7-inch single as well as a few additional tracks.
Lastly, I will say that the 45s vinyl has a brighter and deeper sound due to the higher velocity and wider grooves. So, the turntable needle can pick up a wider range of frequencies. When I listen to 45s vinyl records, it sounds like the musicians are giving a live concert right in the apartment.
Are the outside diameter and the playing speed the only differences of 45s records?
No, in fact, there are more differences; 45s also have a larger hole in the middle of the disc than regular records. Like many other people, you might wonder why.This is because the 45s appeared in the course of a competitive war between two companies. In 1949, RCA Victor introduced the 7-inch 45 rpm record as a response to Columbia’s introduction of the LP record, which was 12 inches in diameter and played at 33 1/3 rpm. It has a hole of the standard size – 9/32 (approximately 0.281) inches.
RCA started to produce 45s with a 1.5-inch hole for two reasons. While RCA’s records contained less duration of music than Columbia’s LPs, with the new hole diameter, the owners of RCA’s automatic turntables could stack records up on a special tall spindle that could accommodate up to half a dozen records. The records then fell down one by one so that music could sound for more than half an hour without human intervention. Technical causes imposed the bigger diameter of the spindle – it made a pack of records more stable on the spindle and ensured that a record received the bigger torque when dropped on the turntable, already rotating at full speed.
So, what do you need to play 45s on a regular record player?
Well, here we come to the main question of my article: “How to play 45 records?”. Most modern record players have a speed selector knob that allows choosing between 33 and 45 rpm, and sometimes even exotic variants like 78 rpm .
Given that 45s records have a smaller outside diameter than regular LPs, if your turntable positions the tonearm at the start of a record automatically, make sure that you also switch the record size selector into the proper position. Failing to do so is the saddest thing that can happen while playing 45s because the needle of your tonearm will land on the turntable’s rubber surface and be damaged. On the other hand, if you are going to position the tonearm manually – it is much safer because you are less likely to miss the start of the track.
As far as we are talking about a regular record layer with a regular spindle diameter, you need to find a round plastic piece with a hole in the center that was supplied with your turntable.This plastic piece is the size of the hole in a 45s record. This component is called a 45 RPM record adapter and it is a small plastic or metal part (round in shape), placed in the center portion of a 7″ disc. This way, the disk can be played on the more common LP or (78 rpm) turntable spindle.
Place this 45 RPM record adapter over the turntable spindle. Now your turntable is all set to play 45s records. If you can not find the plastic piece, check if it is still in the packing box. If it is actually missing, contact the manufacturer or you’ll have to buy it separately.