A PHONOGRAPH NEEDLE REPLACEMENT GUIDE - RECORD PLAYERS

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My objective for writing this basic guide is to assist our EBay community with finding the correct replacement needle or stylus for their record changers and phonographs. This guide will primarily focus on record players manufactured pre-1980 in order to keep it simple, short and easy to comprehend. Turntables, including vintage record players that are in service now use over 300 basic needle types with over 1000 different configurations of the needle body and stylus tips. The tip material and tip size will vary depending on record speeds and other criteria.

How will you know if your needle is worn and needs replacement?

A worn or damaged needle produces poor sound and destroys records. An average phonograph with a new needle spinning a clean record will produce nothing less than concert quality sound and magnificent high fidelity. If you begin to notice muffling and distortion during play, it is time to replace the stylus. Sound quality will only get worse and damage to your records will occur if you continue to use it. As your stylus progressively wears with play, you will lose the important highs and begin to hear very harsh scratching noises. The final stages of life will have your needle skipping over the grooves in the record. If you get to this stage, you can throw the record in the trash can, along with the needle. The playing tips on your needle are delicate and fracture with a slight impact. A single record play with a chipped needle will ruin your records literally gouging them like a chisel instead of gently riding the grooves like a good needle is designed to do. When a record is produced the grooves are cut in a zigzag pattern also called sine wave. This information can help you understand how and why it is possible for a hard diamond needle to wear while riding on a soft vinyl roadway. Dirt and dust between the stylus and your record act as an abrasive during play. The zigzag grooves we talked about earlier are almost one mile in total length on an “LP” record. Now add all of these factors together and you have a needle that is vibrating approximately 10,000 times a second for about a mile on a dirty highway. You’d wear out too in these conditions!!

Needles 101

Record player needles and needle tips were made from a variety of materials and the most common include Steel, Hardened Steel, Osmium (Platinum Alloy), Sapphire & Diamond. Most phonographs that are used today will have a Sapphire or Diamond tip replacement. Both of these are comparable in sound reproduction. The differences follow… A stylus with two sapphire tips will generally last for 75-100 hours of play depending on the operator and record condition. A diamond stylus will last ten times longer than the sapphire needle but is more expensive. Both types are widely available today and the choice is left up to the consumer to decide how much they want to spend on a new needle. The most popular and affordable replacements today will have a diamond tip for stereo play and a sapphire tip for 78 play. The tip material will usually be included in the suffix of the needle maker’s part number. For example: DS = Diamond & Sapphire, SS = Two Sapphire Tips, DD = Two Diamond Tips. Turn-under needles with two diamond tips are costly and not so common.

Easy to understand so far?

Now the other important factor to consider when purchasing a new needle is the tip radius size. The needle tip size is cut by the maker according to the playing speed of the record that it will play. .001 or 1 mil is the size for 16, 33 1/3 & 45 RPM monaural recordings. 2 mil tip is a general compromise size for all speeds of a mono recording. These are not very common today but I do have some available. The next three sizes and the most widely used are  2.5 and 3 mil for 78 RPM and the a .7 mil tip for 33 1/3 and 45 RPM stereo and mono recordings.   If you plan on purchasing a replacement stylus and still enjoy your 78 RPM records along with 33 1/3 and 45 RPM records, your turn-under needle will have a  3 mil tip for the 78’s and a .7 mil tip for the 33’s and 45’s.  If you don’t ever plan on playing a 78 recording many companies made the turn-under stylus with two .7 mil tips which will give you some extra playing time.  These sizes are also incorporated together in the suffix of the manufacturer’s part number.
For example: The suffix 73 = .7mil lp stereo and 3mil 78 rpm.   The suffix 77 = two .7mil stereo lp tips.   The Pfanstiehl Corporation used the best needle number system and I use it to inventory my stock. They use a 3 digit number to identify the cartridge manufacturer and model followed by a hyphen, then you will have the tip and material suffix that I had mentioned earlier, to give an example: XXX-DS73 will immediately show you that this is a combination diamond and sapphire needle with a .7mil and 3mil tip to play 33, 45 and 78 rpm records.  Most needle manufacturers also print the tip materials and tip sizes along with record speeds and replacement instructions on the packaging.

The needle itself is always marked on the turn-under lever. The way to determine if you have the needle set correctly for the speed of the record is to look down at the needle lever.  If you are playing a 78 RPM record, the needle lever should show the numbers 78 or the letter S (standard) marked on it.  If you are playing 33 1/3 or 45 RPM records your needle lever will show the letters “LP” marked on it. To switch your needle just simply grab the lever arm and swing it under the cartridge to the other side, you will feel it lock into place. Some older phonographs utilized a turn-over or tilt cartridge. If you have this application on yours, most of these will require two separate needles. The exception will be on phonographs with the plug in or sometimes referred to as a power point stylus.

How to shop for your new needle wisely…

It’s basic common sense to shop for a combination of value and quality with any purchase we make. I like to use automobile tires as an example when I teach this. Just a few years ago, I could purchase a set of 4 tires for my car for $100.00. This included mounting, static balancing & new valve stems…What A Deal! Not so true if you read on. Back then companies would re-tread a used tire and these tires looked just like brand new when you bought them.  We learned later that it wasn’t such a good deal.  Very often these recaps would come un-glued in the hot summer months and you'd end up on the side of the road changing a tire.  Spend the extra few dollars for a diamond needle that will last and not do harm to your records. If you see a needle with a very low price take the time to ask the seller if it is diamond or sapphire. You can also tell by the color of the packaging. Pfanstiehl uses black for diamond and green for sapphire. Astatic uses red for diamond and gray for sapphire. Electrovoice used black for diamond and blue for sapphire. Always ask the seller if you don't know.  Don’t get hoodwinked and bamboozled by a low price. 

To find the correct needle for your record player: Type your needle or cartridge name and/or number into the search engine in my Ebay store: NeedleDaddy's Needle Store Be sure to check the box that will search titles and descriptions. If you don’t know the needle number use good lighting and a magnifying glass and get the number from the cartridge.  All cartridges have maker’s names and/or numbers on them but they didn’t make it easy to find them.  Sometimes you have to lower the cartridge from the tonearm to see the number that is usually hidden on top.  Leave the wires attached to the cartridge if you are just searching for the numbers and remember to be very gentle.  The best way to locate the correct stylus is to gather all the names and numbers you have including the phonograph make and model, cartridge and needle number and email me. We will gladly do the research for you and our communications will certainly help avoid returns and disappointments.

Thank you for taking the time to read my guide and I hope it helps you.


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