How to Repair a Turntable

Tags: Help and Advice

There's an unmistakable quality to vinyl records that can never be replicated digitally. Not only is there a certain ritual to playing an LP, lifting the needle and placing it delicately on the grooves of your favourite tune, but the light compression and the unique, subtle pops and cracks that accompanying a well-loved record make them far more personal than CDs or digital music files. And that's even before we factor in the gorgeous, expansive artwork and the fact that vinyl holds its value better than any other form of audio distribution.

As such, for many audiophiles, the turntable is the heart and soul of their hi-fi system. Turntables are also, however, notoriously temperamental. These are pieces of equipment built from numerous intricate moving parts and if any one of those parts stops working for any reason, the entire system will suffer as a result. So, here we've collected a few of the most common turntable repairs relating to the actual mechanical parts of the the turntable itself. These are deceptively simple fixes, so even if you don't consider yourself particularly 'handy' you should have no problem bringing your baby back to life.

Turntable repair

Repairing or replacing a stylus/needle

The most common turntable fix is for a broken needle, which can easily be replaced. The stylus will fail because the friction used to transfer the sound of the record to your stereo will cause wear and tear as it tracks in the groove on the record. A worn or chipped stylus sounds won't sit in the grove properly so will create skips and crackles in the music and can eventually damage your records. Before you replace your stylus, make sure that it's not just that the needle has picked up dust or fluff. Try taking a cotton bud or something similar and gently brush the needle. If a significant amount of dust or fluff comes away, that might be your answer. If the needle is definitely damaged, however, start by pulling it out gently in the opposite direction of your tonearm. Make a note of the make and model and make sure you find a suitable replacement, as not all styluses will be compatible with all cartridges. When you have your new stylus, simply slip it into the opening in your cartridge and you're good to go! Changing a stylus should take 5 minutes at most.

Repairing or replacing a cartridge

A good turntable cartridge should (at least in theory) last a lifetime, but general wear and tear can take its toll. First of all, make sure to physically inspect the cartridge to make sure it's not simply the stylus that needs replacing and if you're sure it's a cartridge fault, slip or pull the cartridge headshell from the tonearm. Most headshells will be secured by a compression ring or nut, which, when loosened, will allow the headshell to be separated from the tonearm. If not fitted into a socket mounted in the headshell, several individual wires with connectors crimped on the ends will need to be carefully slipped off the cartridge pins. Once the headshell is removed, use a screwdriver to remove the screws. As with the stylus, make a note of the make and model and use this information when ordering a compatible replacement. Your new cartridge should include a wiring diagram for easy reconnection. Like many small electronic devices, it should be handled with care and aligned with the sockets in order to be eased into its final position. As a rule of thumb, if you have to force the cartridge in then it's either not properly aligned or you have an incompatible cartridge. Whilst changing your cartridge, you might need to adjust the tracking pressure as different cartridges have different weights, meaning if the cartridge is lighter it won't sit fully in the grooves of your records and if it's too heavy it could damage your records. The new cartridge should include a recommended counterbalance weight , which can be accurately set by weighing the downward pressure at the stylus. The anti-skating or anti-skew setting, meanwhile, helps keep the stylus pressure equal in horizontal directions, helping prevent the tonearm from skidding across the record if it's bumped. Changing a cartridge should take no more than 10 minutes.

Repairing, changing or cleaning the belt

The belt is often one of the most overlooked parts of the average turntable, but, if your turntable uses a belt (direct-drive units don't) then it won't work without one or with a broken and/or dirty one. If you find yourself unable to adjust the speed of your turntable or are finding that your record playback sessions include inconsistencies in speed or pitch, you probably have a damaged or dirty belt. To inspect the belt, remove the cover on the underside of the turntable, which might require using a screwdriver on certain models. Certain models of turntable might not even require you to do this, but it will depend on your specific device. Next, remove the belt from the mechanism and use some alcohol and a clean rag to clean every surface the belt connects with. The belt itself should be cleaned with a dry cloth. If the original belt is clean and in decent condition, prepare to replace it, but if it looks damaged and beyond repair, order a replacement. As far as replacement belts go, obviously the make and model is less important than with other components, as you're essentially just looking at a rubber belt. However, that doesn't mean you'll want to scrimp on it either.

Repairing or replacing the motor

The motor is quite literally the heart of your turntable and is arguably the hardest and most expensive component to repair or replace. The easiest fix, is if the motor drive is slipping, leading to records being played faster or slower than the speed of your records. If this is the case, simply remove the upper plate of your turntable and realign the drive. If you've noticed that your motor is running loud or is simply not running at all, the problem isn't quite so easy to fix. Unless you have a serious background in electronics, if your motor simply isn't running the way it should, you might want to seriously consider replacing it. You could argue that, if the motor is gone you might as well buy a completely new system, but you'd be surprised how affordable a turntable motor can be if purchased from a specialist retailer. Of course, you'll need to check the voltage of your old motor to make sure the new one is compatible, you'll also need to make sure that the new motor can logistically fit into your existing rig. Also note that some turntables will ship with detachable motors, whilst others will require more effort.

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