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The Art of Collecting Records, According to an Expert with 100K of Them

Chris Manak has devoted an entire bar to his immense vinyl collection.

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Welcome to The Collectors, a series in which we profile the men behind impressive private collections, and reveal how you, too, can become an aficionado.

A record jacket measures 12 inches by 12 inches. A perfect square. Typical crates used for storage hold 50-60 albums, which weigh around 50 pounds. Extrapolate those numbers to a decent-sized collection — say, 500 to 1,000 volumes — and it’s plain to see that record collecting is a rather cumbersome hobby.

But Chris Manak, a Los Angeles DJ who goes by Peanut Butter Wolf, doesn’t have a decent-sized record collection. He has 100,000 of them.

Which begs a very obvious follow-up question: Where the hell does he keep it?

A very meticulously organized library in his garage, for starters. But he also recently moved one percent of his collection — roughly 8,000 albums — to a wooden shelving system behind the pine at modish bar Gold Line, his new establishment in Highland Park, where we recently paid him a visit to learn everything we could about his collection, from its origins to his most memorable finds to the proper care and feeding of rare vinyl.

The bar itself was inspired by traditional vinyl bars in Japan, and the records are organized by seven genres: rock and hip-hop at the front, soul and funk closer to the middle and electronic, jazz, reggae and “world” (which includes Latin and Afro rhythms) in the back room. “By the DJ area is all miscellaneous pulled from the seven genres,” says Chris. “We switch ’em every few weeks or so.”

Image: Neave Bozorgi for InsideHook
Images: Neave Bozorgi for InsideHook

Most nights, a guest DJ arrives, picks records from the stacks and places them in the DJ station to have them close at hand. If a record is played too frequently, it goes back to the stacks. “Because we don’t really have a dance floor, I’d prefer that the DJ plays the whole song,” he says. “DJing has gotten to the point with computers and everything, you can really load a bunch of songs in and quick mix, and songs just don’t breathe like they used to … here it’s more of just playing good music, or music you want to share with people.”

Chris also owns Stones Throw, the record label upstairs that he started in the ‘90s to support local producers. Chris started spinning at 14; he says the first album that made him want to become a DJ was Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock. Much of his early soul collection of 45s is housed at the entrance of the bar in a vintage jukebox that he purchased from the Record Parlor in Hollywood.

What makes Chris’s collection interesting is its breadth, from the random prog rock of Pictures to the nonsensical scats of Ata Ka. It’s music that’s familiar but different: great stuff you can socialize over, and maybe even dance to. Which — as a collector — is what you want.

Below, some helpful tips we picked up from Manak over the course of the afternoon we spent with him. Consider it essential reading for anyone who maintains or aspires to maintain a killer, showcase-worthy vinyl collection.

Image: Neave Bozorgi for InsideHook
Image: Neave Bozorgi for InsideHook

1. When selecting your sound system, make it about the music, not the tricks.
“These turntables we have are the Technics 1200s,” says Chris. “An audiophile would come in here and turn their nose up right away at that. With needles, generally the rule is the sharper the diamond, the better the sound quality. But it can ruin your records more, as well. The Shure ones that I have in here (44Gs) are $40 a needle, so it’s not gonna sound quite as good, but you can go like that over and over again and it’ll take a while before you hear it (the rasp). My mixer is a Bozak mixer. It doesn’t have a cross-fader or up and down — it’s just all knobs. These are the ones they used in the ‘70s; it’s a cleaner signal. When you have a cross-fader, you’re losing an extra generation of the sound.”

2. Don’t be too precious with your wax
While we were interviewing him, Chris literally used his white T-shirt to wipe some dust off of a record. The he used his fingernail to gently remove some glue. “I’m not too worried about fingerprints,” he says. “Technically, yeah; they have oil and it attracts dirt and whatever, but I’m not that anal about it.”

3. For that reason, focus your sights on cheap and used
“I buy used records because I like rare, old music that I don’t know about. The new records I do buy, or the new reissues, I treat ’em the same way, you know?” Chris says, “The original idea with the bar was, OK, nothing that’s worth more than $5 or $10, because people can steal ’em or whatever, or they’ll get ruined.” If you entertain a lot, this stance is a good position to take — although Chris does admit that his $10 rule for the bar “went out  the window quickly.”

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