Crate Digging with the World's Top Vinyl Record Collectors

Nara's record collection at LACMA
For some, the thrill of finding an original pressing of an obscure bossa nova record is not far off from winning the lottery. Crate digging in a record store or a yard sale can yield some pretty incredible finds to add to your collection. John Cusack famously described a record collector in High Fidelity by saying, “I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here, who spend all their time looking for deleted Smith singles and original, not rereleased, Frank Zappa albums. I'd feel guilty taking their money, if I wasn't... well... kinda one of them.”

Our top reasons to love vinyl are hard to dispute.

1. Vinyl sounds rich and warm. It’s the original high resolution format, which means that the sound goes pretty much straight from the record grooves to your ears.

2. An album provides a canvas for the best art and packaging. Hipgnosis’ Storm Thorgerson was nominated for a Best Album Package Grammy in 1980 for Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door. Packaged in a brown paper bag with the title rubber stamped on it, six different inner sleeves were hidden from view, which made it impossible to know which cover you were getting. On top of that, once the cover was revealed, a splash of water turned it from black and white line to full color artwork.

3. Creates a musical time capsule. Music is the soundtrack to your life. A physical collection can be passed down to kids, nieces and nephews.

4. Supports artists and independent record stores. Every purchase empowers artists to make more music and indie shops to keep their doors open.

Legendary Vinyl Record Collectors

Order in Chaos in the UK

BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel championed some of the world’s most influential bands. Joy Division, Pink Floyd, The Ramones, and Led Zeppelin were all given a shot on Peel’s airwaves. When the Sex Pistols “God Save the Queen” was banned by the BBC, he played it anyway, claiming that it was “all a fuss about nothing.” His vinyl record collection (120,000 albums, 12 inch and 7 inch singles) was meticulously archived at “Peel Acres,” his home in Suffolk, UK. Though you might not think so, by the look of his music room.

John Peel’s music office at Peel Acres

John Peel’s music office at Peel Acres  The Guardian

Sir Elton’s Repeat Purchases

Elton John’s vinyl collection of more than 130,000 records has ebbed and flowed over the years. At one point he sold his entire collection because he didn’t have anywhere to put it. In 2013 he sold a portion of it to raise funds for his AIDS Foundation. Then he repurchased the whole thing, often buying multiple copies of favorite albums so that he could have the same collection at each of his residences.


Elton surrounded by his record collection at his home in the mid-70s

Elton surrounded by his record collection at his home in the mid-70s  Photographer: Terry O’Neill

Elijah Wood on the Wheels of Steel 

Actor Elijah Wood started getting serious about DJing during his year and a half stint in New Zealand, shooting Lord of the Rings. He spent all of his per diem from the movie at the local record store. Traveling for film shoots (record shopping along the way) and trolling Discogs for rare vinyl ramped up Elijah’s collection. He says, “Putting a needle on a record is almost like you’re making a commitment to listening to something. There’s something so meaningful about taking us back to actually focusing again on listening to music, and it not being this kind of negligible, kind of throwaway thing.” 


Elijah and Zach Cowie’s DJ project Wooden Wisdom

Elijah and Zach Cowie’s DJ project Wooden Wisdom  Photography: Kenneth Bachor  Auture Magazine

From Brit Pop to Mali Music

Damon Albarn’s musical taste runs the gamut. From 60s R&B to 70s Nigerian funk, and classic Bowie, he infuses influences into his many projects (Blur, Gorillaz) and solo work. Honest Jon’s on London’s Portobello Road often provides the hunting ground for Damon’s eclectic vinyl collecting. The shop specializes in jazz, blues, reggae, dance, soul and folk music. In 2001, Damon launched the Honest Jon’s label, in partnership with the shop owners. They have since released records by Candi Stanton, Tony Allen, Mali Music and Damon’s side project with the Clash’s Paul Simonon, The Good, The Bad & the Queen.

Damon Albarn photographed in Honest Jon’s by Thomas Butler for The Big Issue
Damon Albarn photographed in Honest Jon’s by Thomas Butler for The Big Issue

A 78 r.p.m. Vinyl Collecting Cartoonist

Underground cartoonist Robert Crumb has over 8,000 78 r.p.m. records, including rarities from the 1920s and 1930s. He believes that vernacular music is humanity’s greatest creation. His passion for music is evident in his art. He draws on inspiration from his interest in blues, country, bluegrass, cajun, French Bal-musette, jazz, big band and swing. His study in his medieval chateau in France houses his vinyl collection alongside his desk, drawing board, pens and pencils. An old 78 record player occupies a prestigious position in the room. Crumb says that, “Music is the soul of human society. It’s something to do with the ear, how we respond to sound, it’s very deep - deeper even than the visual response, it’s something to do with how we respond to harmonic sound, that it can reach something so deep in us.”

Robert Crumb in his study in southern France

Robert Crumb in his study in southern France  Photography: Thibault Montamat

The DJ

Inspired by his father’s funk and soul record collection while he was growing up in Northern England, Carl Cox bought his first vinyl record in 1976. It was by Brass Construction, a 12 piece band with a raw, funky sound that later became his trademark as a pioneering DJ in the house music scene of the 1980s. Since then, Carl has amassed over 150,000 records, which he stores in a triple garage in Melbourne, Australia. The collection is ordered chronologically, starting in 1968. Although tech innovation may have paved the way for some DJs to go digital, Carl Cox is a vinyl stalwart who has been known to use three turntables. He says, “I’d have records under my armpits, one hanging out my mouth, one over there…” 

Carl Cox with his record collation at his home in Melbourne

Carl Cox with his record collation at his home in Melbourne


The Root’s Questlove keeps a treasure trove of more than 200,000 records stacked up to the ceiling at his Philadelphia home. He says, “A collection starts as a protest against the passage of time, and ends as a celebration of it.” Quest grew up on the road with his parents (both successful touring musicians), who would often treat him to record-shopping binges. He says that Average White Band’s Person to Person single handedly changed his life. He practiced to it in his basement from the age of 6 until 21… and still practices to it today. 

Questlove surrounded by more than 200,000 records in his Philadelphia home

Questlove surrounded by more than 200,000 records in his Philadelphia home Photography: Eilon Paz

Aussie Glass Library

When avid vinyl record collector Brad Miocevich bought a 30,000 piece collection from his local Perth radio station, he had a moment where he thought, “What have I done?!” The sheer size of the collection was more than he anticipated. So, he did what any die-hard vinyl enthusiast would do. He built a record library… but not just any library. The three-story structure houses eight-and-a-half tons of vinyl, and contains 300 meters of shelving around 150mm-thick concrete walls, with mezzanine floors and spiral staircases modeled after Perth’s State Library. 

Brad Miocevich's glass library for his growing vinyl collection of 30,000 plus albums

Brad Miocevich's glass library for vinyl collection of 30,000 plus records Photography: Brad Miocevich

Archive Exhibit

Dutch record collector and music archivist Marc Janssen is a soul and funk expert. His complete Motown collection of 300 LPs was exhibited at the Record Planet Fair in Utrecht in 2014. He runs Everland Music Group, which he describes as “a platform for music (re)discovery.” Everland highlights artists who – to their knowledge – have never been properly accredited. Marc likes to refer to Everland as “the funkiest label in the world.”

Marc’s Motown collection at the Record Planet Fair in Utrecht

Marc’s Motown collection at the Record Planet Fair in Utrecht  Photography: Marc Janssen

A Collector Turned Curator

The largest privately owned vinyl record collection in the world belongs to São Paulo businessman Zero Freitas. With more than six million records, Zero’s collection rivals the entire Discogs database. He says, “I prioritize old records for the sake of saving memory, saving history.” He is building a warehouse to serve as a public archive of the world’s music, with a focus on North and South America, particularly Brazil and Cuba. He considers himself more of a curator than a collector. He believes that the records don’t belong to him. They are provisionally with him so that he can share them with the public. 

Zero Freitas standing on top of his massive record collection

Zero Freitas with his record collection  Photography: Courtesy of The Vinyl Factory

Record Collectors to Follow on Instagram

Elion Paz

Elion is a travel and portrait photographer who has had his work featured in Rolling Stone, New York Times and Conde Nast Traveler. He is also a vinyl record collector. His personal project of taking pictures of people with their record collections turned into much more than a hobby. Elion launched a website and Instagram feed, Dust & Grooves, as a place to connect vinyl lovers and spotlight collectors from all over the world.  

Elion Paz of Dust and Grooves Instagram post featuring May 2023 Editor's Vinyl Picks

Gilles Peterson

BBC Radio 6 Music DJ Gilles Peterson has been mixing vinyl records for nearly 40 years. His passion for jazz, funk, Latin and Brazilian music of the 1970s paved the way for “acid jazz,” a genre that includes bands like the Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai. Gilles’ vinyl collection of more than 40,000 is stored in three different locations. He says “I can spend an entire day looking for one record.” Unlike many collectors, Gilles does not have a clever cataloging system. He once spent $2,000 on a rare Brazilian record after a year’s long search. He doesn’t know exactly where it is, but he knows he put it in a safe place.

Gilles Peterson Instagram post celebrating 50 years of Hip Hop

Christopher Brown

Christopher Brown is a vinyl jazz collector. His Instagram feed provides a constant stream of jazz classic and rare records from swing to avant garde. Reviews of original vs reissue pressings and musings about music history are the stuff of die-hard record collector conversations. His YouTube channel clips take you through his crate digging experiences and a first look at new release unboxing.  

Christopher Brown Instagram post of Friday night vinyl session

Noble Records

Noble Records, in Matthews, NC, is known as the Discogs of Instagram. Their collection is extensive. Records you never think you’d see again end up in their bins. Owner Dillon Smith started as a collector who wanted to find and rescue records from basements, closets and garages for his personal collection. His passion grew to set up a brick and mortar shop where he could get records back into the hands of those who can continue to enjoy them. 

Noble Records Instagram post of 1st press The Stooges

Start Building Your Vinyl Collection

It’s never been easier to start or build up a vinyl collection to spin on your Wrensilva. For a one-stop–shop of information and purchasing options, Discogs is the place. Record stores and collectors from all over the world post information and music available for sale. If you want to research a specific artist or title, you can find just about every detail, from who played on the record, how many times it’s been repressed and what countries released variants that you might want to snap up. If you know what you’re looking for, ie: XTC “No Thugs in Our House” 7” single with original die cut sleeve and figurines insert, Ebay or could prove fruitful. You could also pick up an entire collection at an estate sale or flea market. 

XTC “No Thugs in Our House” original 7 inch single cover art
XTC “No Thugs in Our House” original 7 inch single

For the most immersive experience, nothing beats an afternoon in a great record store. DJ Gilles Peterson advises, “Walk in like you know what you’re doing, but don’t be afraid to ask questions.” And for a seasoned collector on the hunt for a rare record, he says, “The thing is to never show too much enthusiasm. If there’s a record at a shop that’s really great and you’re around people who are watching what you’re doing, the thing to do is go: ‘Yeah, yeah. How much is that? Yeah maybe,’ and put it in your pile, and hope they’re not going to think you’ve found a gem.”

Several people crate digging for vinyl to build a record collection Photography: Courtesy of Discogs
Crate digging for vinyl to build a record collection  Photography: Courtesy of Discogs