Whether you’re a professional DJ or simply a vinyl enthusiast, knowing how to install a fresh needle will help protect your music.
Step 1: Remove the shell or carrier Examine your turntable and determine if your head shell or cartridge carrier—that is, the arm that holds the needle cartridge—is removable. If so, take it off.
TIP: If you’ve never replaced your needle before, you might want to replace the needle cartridge as well.
Step 2: Get make and model Determine the make and model of your turntable and needle cartridge (which may or may not have its own number). Find the appropriate replacement parts by taking this information to an electronics store or using it to order online.
Step 3: Remove old needle If you’re replacing just the needle, remove the old one by pulling it out by hand. If it’s difficult to remove, use needle-nose pliers.
Step 4: Insert new needle Read the instructions for the new needle. If it came with none, simply insert it into the cartridge by holding the top of the needle and very gently easing it in.
Step 5: Remove old cartridge If you’re replacing your entire cartridge, the new one should come with instructions. If it doesn’t, simply use a small screwdriver and pliers to remove the old cartridge from your cartridge carrier or head shell.
Step 6: Remove new needle Remove the needle from your new cartridge before installing it by gently pulling it out with your fingers. Make sure your hands are clean and free of oil.
Step 7: Install cartridge Install your new cartridge using the screws and nuts provided. Don’t fasten the nuts securely at this point—you want a bit of room to make adjustments.
Step 8: Rewire Use needle-nose pliers or tweezers to slide the head shell wires over the pins on the cartridge. The wires should be different colors, and should match the colors of the pins—red to red, blue to blue.
TIP: Be careful when attaching the wires! If you strip the wires, or pull them out entirely, you’ll have to take your turntable to a repair shop!
Step 9: Insert new needle Insert the needle back into the cartridge by holding the top of the needle and very gently easing it in.
Step 10: Reinstall shell or carrier If you removed the head shell or cartridge carrier, reinstall it at this time.
Step 11: Align the neddle Next, align the needle. If your turntable came with an overhang gauge, align the needle tip with the markings on the gauge. If it came with a paper protractor, follow the instructions, which usually involve aligning the needle and cartridge marks on the protractor.
TIP: If your cartridge doesn’t have square sides, align the cantilever--the tiny metal shaft that holds the needle--with the guideline underneath it.
Step 12: Tighten nuts Once you’ve achieved proper alignment, tighten the nuts securing your cartridge to the cartridge carrier. Do not over-tighten them, or you could crack or distort the cartridge.
Step 13: Set tracking force Begin to set the tracking force. First, set your table’s anti-skating dial--usually a small knob next to the arm--to zero. Place the cueing lever in the down position. Adjust the counterweight on the arm so that your arm is parallel with the platter of your turntable.
Step 14: Adjust the dial If your turntable has a built-in tracking force scale, adjust the dial to the appropriate tracking force.
TIP: Refer to your owner’s manual for the appropriate tracking force for your turntable.
Step 15: Use a gauge If your turntable doesn’t have a built-in scale, you’ll need to use a stylus force gauge to measure and set your turntable’s tracking force. The stylus force gauge will have instructions on proper use.
Step 16: Set knob Set the anti-skating knob to the same setting as your tracking force.
Step 17: Set tone arm If your tone arm has provisions for setting the arm height and azimuth, do so. Arm height should be set so that the arm is parallel to the platter’s surface when a record is playing. Azimuth should be set so that your needle is perpendicular to the record.
TIP: Not all turntables have arm height or azimuth settings, so if yours doesn’t, don’t worry about it.
Step 18: Enjoy the smooth sounds Load up your favorite record, sit back, and enjoy the smooth sound from your new needle!
FACT: The most expensive turntable in the world is the Continuum Caliburn, which costs $90,000--fully loaded, it’s $112,000!