So you've invested plenty of your hard-earned cash in some decent DJ equipment, and you want it to last, right? To keep your rig in pristine working condition, you need to employ some essential equipment-maintenance tips. If you make a commitment to regular maintenance, you will not only protect your investment but also help maximize the life span of your precious gear.
CLEANLINESS IS GOODLINESS
The biggest equipment assassin is dust. Ideally, you want to keep your equipment in a clean and dust-free environment, which may be a challenge if you frequently play in smoky, dirty nightclubs. Wherever your equipment lives, you should use protective dust covers for your gear. Old-school Technics SL-1200MK2s used to come with hinged plastic lids, but most new turntables do not come equipped with such covers. To get around this, you can fashion some homemade dust covers out of old T-shirts or any smooth fabric (avoid towels because the fibers make a good home for dust). Cut up a shirt to match the size of each piece of equipment, and get religious about covering your mixer and turntables after using them.
You should also invest in a can of compressed air. Use it to blow dust out of the little crevices, and use the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to suck up the surface dust. Keeping your equipment dust-free will greatly increase its life span, particularly that of your mixer's fader controls.
Beyond keeping your gear dust-free, you should include a more thorough cleaning as part of your maintenance routine. Particularly after a gig, it is a good idea to give your gear a once-over and remove any dubious stains. Take care when cleaning around the tonearm assembly, as rough scrubbing may damage the more sensitive parts. When wiping down your equipment, don't use any harsh chemicals or cleaners; simply use a slightly damp (not dripping) cloth and some mild detergent if needed. Also, be sure to wipe up any spills as soon as possible — liquids and electronics don't mix!
One of the best things you can do for your mixer (beyond keeping it free of dust) is to lube the faders. The ghetto solution is to use clipper oil (for lubricating hair trimmers), but the best product is Caig Lab's CaiLube MCL 100 percent droplets. CaiLube MCL comes in a small tube ($5.95 for 2 mL), but the lube is concentrated, so only a couple of drops per fader are needed. Make sure you get the 100 percent solution and not the 5 percent solution, which doesn't lubricate as well.
The best way to restore that like-new feeling to your faders requires full access to the internal workings of the fader, allowing you to clean and lube with precision. If you have a newer scratch mixer, you'll likely be able to remove the faceplate to gain access to the fader assemblies. If your mixer is older, this may require a warranty-voiding opening of the mixer case. Once you have access to the faders, clean them thoroughly with alcohol and a cotton swab, or use Caig Lab's DeoxIt. You can also clean any dust out of the internal area with a can of compressed air. Follow this cleaning with a couple of drops of CaiLube MCL, and work it into the fader by moving it back and forth repeatedly. If you have never cleaned your faders before, I guarantee that you will be happy with the results.
TURNTABLE AND STYLUS UPKEEP
Provided that you look after your turntables, they should last you a long time — especially if you have invested in a higher-quality direct-drive model. My trusty Technics 1200MK2s are 12 years old and still going strong, with no obvious signs of wear and tear. I keep my turntables in individual flight cases, even when performing. This is a great way to protect your investment from serious damage; however, routine maintenance is still the order of the day.
Beyond dust protection and cleaning, not much needs to be done to maintain a direct-drive turntable's performance if you don't mess with its settings too much. On a regular basis, you should check your tonearm mechanism for play or wobble and have it serviced at the first sign of trouble. I recommend that you do not try adjusting the tonearm suspension mechanism yourself, as it tends to have very specific settings. Tighten something up too much, and you'll cause binding and unnecessary wear or permanent damage.
The stylus requires a bit more attention: Dust on your stylus tip is a record killer. If your stylus did not come with one, invest in a short-bristled brush (a small paint brush will do), and clean the stylus tip often. Also, be sure to check the contact points between the headshell and the tonearm often. If you notice a buildup of dirt there, you can clean the contacts with the small eraser found on the end of a pencil. Simply push the eraser against the four contact points, and twist the pencil back and forth. Be sure to get any eraser bits out of there before replacing the headshell. Finally, remove your headshells when transporting your turntables, and place them in a small protective case, with the stylus covers in place. This ensures that your needles stay protected, even if you forget to lock down the tonearm assembly.
Good cables can be the difference between a high-quality sound and a hissy, noisy mess. Looking after your cabling and treating it with respect is a wise decision. Never kink or unnecessarily tug on any of your cables; coil them up nicely and then place them in a protective container when transporting. If you do use flight cases for your turntables, be really careful not to pinch your cables when closing the lid.
With a small investment in time and a little bit of care, you can easily extend the life and performance of your equipment. Whether your DJ setup is for a hobby or a living, you don't want to continually reinvest in new equipment simply because the old stuff wore out. Following these tips should ensure a long and happy life for your gear and could mean the difference between a high-quality audio performance and a low-quality nightmare.