What to Consider When Buying Turntable Spare Parts

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What to Consider When Buying Turntable Spare Parts

The phonograph was invented in 1877, as a device for the reproduction and recording of sound recordings. The recording played on the phonograph consisted of a disc or device with wavy lines which were scratched, grooved, or engraved. As the disc rotated, a stylus or needle traces the lines, causing a vibration that reproduced sound waves.

While Thomas Edison was the first successful inventor to produce a device to record sound, Alexander Graham Bell and several other inventors improved upon Edison’s designs to become the modern-day record player. In the United Kingdom, phonographs, known as ‘gramophones’, used 78 rpm gramophone records, popularised by the Gramophone Company. When 33 ⅓ rpm LPs and 45 rpm EPs were introduced, the device became more generically referred to as a record player or turntable.

In order to keep a turntable running smoothly and efficiently, there are several components needed, all of which are available for purchase as spare parts. Turntables are utilised for playing vinyl LPs, which is the best, high-definition, full frequency, full range recording format available. The types of spare parts available include drive belts, idler wheels, record and stylus cleaners, cartridges, styli, alignment tools, stylus force gauges and bubble levels, headshells and cartridge mounting hardware, silicone damping fluid, phono stage amplifiers, sleeves, jackets, and bags. Each spare part is integral in the operation of a turntable; therefore, it is recommended that an overall understanding of what comprises a turntable is achieved in order to determine whether and what spare parts might be required to repair one that is not performing properly.

Turntable Drive Systems

Modern record players have platters with a continuous pattern of markings printed around the edge, used to verify proper rotational speed. These markings can be magnetic to provide feedback pulses to an electronic speed-control system. There are three basic types of drive systems for turntables.

Idler-wheel Drive

The idler-wheel drive system was the most common turntable until the 1970s. Its system utilised a rubberised wheel with direct mechanical coupling to a vibrating motor, introducing low-frequency noise and speed variations to the mix. A motor powered the instrument to run at a speed synchronised to the AC power supply frequency. The idler-wheel system is still used for other applications, such as automobile manual transmissions, gear systems and turning the tracks of military battle tanks.

Belt Drive

Belt drives improves motor and platter isolation over idler-wheel drive systems. Motor noise is reduced and the design allows for a less expensive motor to be utilised versus that of the direct-drive turntable (discussed below). The belt absorbs noise and vibration, which would otherwise be picked up by the stylus. This type of system is very popular because it requires little maintenance other than belt and stylus changes. Modern elastic polymers keep rotational stability on the belt drive, and allow for simple speed changes. When the user notices variations in platter speed, it is time to change the belt drive.

Direct Drive

Direct-drive turntables move the turntable without using belts, wheels, or gears as part of the drive train. Advanced engineering developed this technology for acceleration and speed control. This type of turntable became popular in the 1980s, due to its low cost and high-quality sound, along with an increased efficiency, reduced noise, and longer lifespan than other systems. The main disadvantage of a direct-drive system is the need for a specialised motor to achieve torque at a high rate of speed.

Stylus/Needle

A stylus or needle is the instrument used to play back sound on a record. This instrument is subject to wear because it is the only part of the turntable that comes in contact with the spinning record. The qualities desired in a good stylus include resistance to wear, ability to follow the grooves of the record and translate the resulting vibration, and not causing damage to the record.

Different materials have been used as stylus composition since the advent of the turntable. Thomas Edison originally used sapphire, and then switched to diamond in 1910. The Edison diamond disc players manufactured from 1912‒29 were named for the use of a diamond as the stylus, and never required a change.

Early Victrola style models used exchangeable needles made of steel, tungsten, cactus, fibre, or copper. Early advertising implored users to change the needle after each record side. The most common type of stylus used today is the spherical- or elliptical-shaped steel stylus. Other materials are also available, such as the keel-shaped diamond stylus and the Shibata-designed stylus out of Japan.

Arm Systems

The tone arm is what holds the pickup cartridge over the groove, with the stylus lightly tracking the groove with the proper amount of force to minimise wear on the stylus and the record. This pivoted lever can move freely by two axes, horizontally and vertically.

The basic design has changed very little from the earliest model of turntable through today. Modern tone arms are made of lightweight material such as aluminium, balsam wood, or carbon fibre. The construction is stiff with little friction on the pivot bearings, and excellent precision. Prices on replacement arms vary from the high-end S-type SME-arm to the cheaper ‘All-Balance” and ‘Acoustical’ arms. Even with the highest quality of tone arm, there is still a possibility of tracking errors. A skating force results from a clockwise force pushing the stylus away from the centre of the disc. A change in angle occurs when the arm sweeps in an arc across the disc, causing the angle between the cartridge head and the groove to change. This can have a detrimental effect on the sound accompanied by a slight timing shift.

Tools Needed for Parts Replacement

There are different types of tools an individual may need when completing turntable maintenance, performance, and adjustment. These maintenance tasks keep the vinyl sounding great, while maintaining the record player turntable. Drive belts, idler wheels, record and stylus cleaners, cartridges, alignment tools, stylus force gauges, bubble gauges, headshells, cartridge mounting hardware, silicone damping fluid, phono stage preamplifiers, and sleeves, jackets, and bags are some of the accessories that may be needed when updating certain turntable parts.

Name

Function

Price Point

Drive belt

Maintains speed of turntable

Low to high

Idler wheel

Moves turntable platter

Medium to high

Record cleaner

Removes grime and fingerprints

Low

Stylus cleaner

Removes buildup

Low

Cartridges

Holds stylus in place

Medium

Alignment tools

Obtains correct tone arm cartridge overhang length

Low

Stylus force gauges

Ensures tone arm counterweight is correct for tracking

Low

Bubble gauges

Ensures level turntable platter

Low

Headshells

Holds stylus when attached to cartridge

Low

Cartridge mounting hardware

Washers and screws for mounting

Low

Silicone damping fluid

Restores original smooth operation of tone arm

Low

Phono stage preamplifiers

Connect turntable to stereo

Medium

Sleeves, jackets, bags

Record storage

Low

Adapter

Adapts turntable to 45 rpm

Low

Carbon fibre record brush

Removes stubborn dust from turntable grooves

Low

Buying Turntable Spare Parts on eBay

When purchasing turntable spare parts on eBay, it helps to be familiar with not only the part but also any accessories that are needed to change and maintain the part. The first step is to identify the year and model of turntable for which the part is needed. Check the part itself first for a serial or manufacturer’s number, which makes searching for your part on eBay much more efficient. Some spare parts are more difficult to find than newer items; you may need to purchase a turntable that is essentially nonfunctional and is being sold for spare parts. Items are listed daily on auction sites, too, so if the part you are searching for is not available today, it may show up in a listing tomorrow. Perseverance should pay off.

An excellent way to find the spare part you are looking for is to communicate with sellers of record players and vinyl records. If you are not having luck finding the part yourself, one of these sellers may be able to point you in the right direction. Spare parts are not interchangeable; make sure you know the right make and model of part, or speak with an expert if you are not sure. Replacing an original part with the wrong replacement can cause damage to both your vintage vinyl and your turntable.

Conclusion

There is a plethora of spare turntable parts on the market, from new to used. If an individual owns a turntable with a part needing replacement, verifying the precise part/manufacturer’s number is very important in finding the correct replacement. Most parts are not interchangeable. If in doubt, consult an expert on record players for advice on how to maintain the instrument to keep the sound quality and performance up to date. Many collectors prefer the sound of music when played on a turntable compared to other audio formats. A well-tuned tone arm makes all the difference between a poor listening experience and an uplifting journey in song.

Modern players are relatively maintenance-free, with the user only replacing the needle or stylus, if necessary. The most common and durable type of needle used is the diamond needle, and a user can get about 10,000 hours of playing time before this needle wears out. Changing the drive belt is also a possibility, because this part tends to stretch and wear over time, requiring a simple exchange.

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