I myself am about to take the leap from low-grade, cheap-o 'record player' to a respectable turntable, and was so relieved to get honest advice from a trusted friend and fellow vinyl junkie. What's especially cool is that he not only talks about two different turntables, but a portable player as well!
So not to fear, fellow non-techie vinyl lover, all will be well. There is nothing wrong with playing your records on a thrift shop player (hoping that you've at least replaced the needle), or your Dad's dusty old record player from 30 years ago. Heck, I've got a 1969 console stereo (with original speakers!) modified with a new (cheap) preamp and Radio Shack player. But we all gotta grow up sometime, right?? Check out another post of Joe's about USB Turntables to help answer any questions you may have about them.
In addition to running the Turntabling.net blog, Joe is currently working on a book of WTF Album Covers that is going to be hee-larious. You can read all about it on his Facebook Page and marvel at the atrocities he has dug up from all over the world! Enjoy!