When your record player tonearm comes crashing down for whatever unfortunate reason, it often results in a bent needle. Sometimes you’ll be able to fix the needle; most of the time, you won’t. For those times that you can, I’ve got your instructions. And I’ll help you figure out if it’s feasible or if you’re out of luck.
Fixing a bent needle for a record player cartridge is a delicate and somewhat challenging procedure. The skills require the hands of a surgeon, the patience of a saint, and a few special tools.
Most of the time, a damaged needle on a cartridge means either replace or repair professionally. Some adventurous turntable owners choose option C: attempt the repair yourself (like I did). My hat is off to you brave folk, and for that, I bring you my knowledge of how to fix a bent needle on a turntable from my own attempts at repair.
Table of Contents
- 1 Understanding The Needle Helps Know How To Fix A Bent Needle On A Record Player
- 2 Six Steps To Repairing A Bent Needle On A Turntable Cartridge
- 3 Some Cartridges Have Replaceable Needles
Understanding The Needle Helps Know How To Fix A Bent Needle On A Record Player
There are two types of record player cartridges: the moving magnet and the moving coil. Which one you have may determine whether or not you want to attempt to repair yourself.
Moving Coil Cartridges
Moving coil cartridges are typically more expensive and preferred by audiophiles. (source)
The cartridge works by having a coil attached directly to the needle. The coil itself is suspended in a magnetic field, and as it moves, the field changes, causing a charge. It’s how the assembly produces the audio signal. (source)
The signal is fragile and the unit extremely sensitive. These cartridges are more expensive due to their delicate and tiny construction. When the needle of a moving coil cartridge is bent, it is best left to the professionals to attempt repair. If the coil cartridge is worth anything less than about $150, I would recommend merely replacing it rather than going through the hassle of repair. However, it depends on the repair costs too. Most technicians capable of repairing these types of cartridges charge top dollar for their skills.
Moving Magnet Cartridges
A moving magnet cartridge does a similar job to the moving coil but reverses the process in a sense. The needle is attached to a magnet that moves. The coil is built into the cartridge and surrounds the magnet. As the needle moves in the tiny grooves on your records, the magnet wiggles inside the cartridge, causing changes to the magnetic field inside. It is how the cartridge creates the audio signal.
Although not as fine a sound as a moving coil cartridge, as some would say, the moving magnet type is typically considerably cheaper. This cost difference is the reason why most turntables come with a moving magnet type of cartridge.
Six Steps To Repairing A Bent Needle On A Turntable Cartridge
When you’re feeling bold, or maybe you’ve got nothing to lose because you intend to buy a replacement anyway, you can attempt to repair your own bent needle on your record player. Here are a few simple steps to follow, which I’ll detail after the steps.
Start by unplugging the record player from all sources of power and also from your amplifier. Then you’ll proceed with removing the cartridge from the record player.
For ease of repair, you will want to have a small clamp that can firmly hold the cartridge with the needle facing upward. I use a small desk-mounted vice with rubber bumpers that work great at clamping things without damaging them. Of course, you need to ensure you can set the pressure because you don’t want to crush or damage your cartridge.
Two things that will come in handy here:
Desk Mounted Vice with Rubber Boots (links to Amazon)
Magnifying Desk Lamp (links to Amazon)
Tweezer Nose Pliers (links to Amazon)
Once you have your cartridge removed and clamped in a secure place, continue to inspect the needle. Look with a magnifying glass to see what the damage is. You need to see if the needle is genuinely bent or if it has dislodged the rubber boot that holds it in place. If you’re lucky, either the boot is just out of place, or the needle got stuck on an angle somehow.
Try to gently align it with your fingers or a tip of a toothpick if you can’t see any noticeable bend. If there is a bend, you will need to clamp the needle, without touching the tip, in a way that straightens the bend, or you will need to grasp the needle on either side of the bend.
Given the size of the needle, you can understand how you require a surgeon’s hands to achieve grabbing the needle on either side of the bend and straightening it. It is a challenging process.
When I attempted to straighten a bent needle on a cartridge on my turntable, I wound up snapping one by using too much force to bend it straight. Again I tried on a spare that had a bend. I could bend it straight using two micro needle-nose pliers I used to build electronic circuit boards.
There is nothing I can tell you to help other than I hope you have steady hands, a tremendous hands-free clamp, a light and magnifying glass and a lot of patience.
You need specialized fine tools to be successful with straightening a needle, and often it doesn’t matter, and you wind up replacing the cartridge anyway. But let me tell you more of the needle I didn’t break when I tried to fix a bent record player needle.
After straightening the needle as best, I could (by the naked eye, I saw no bend, but it was still slightly bent when viewed under magnification), I reinstalled it and tested it.
Although it played music, there was a weird high treble to the sound. It was difficult to explain but unbearable after only a few moments. The sound was just not traveling along the needle the same as it once did. I wound up replacing the cartridge.
Some Cartridges Have Replaceable Needles
Depending on the manufacturer, popularity, cost, and some other variables, you might be in luck to find a replacement needle for your cartridge. Most big box brands will not offer such replacement parts as it is in their higher profit interest to sell you a whole new cartridge. However, many specialty brands or serious audiophile brands may offer replacement components.
If you happen to have a brand like Audio Technica, you can likely get a replacement needle for your cartridge. The replacements range from about $30 to over $100, depending on the model.
Not all brands offer replacement needles, and many only offer replacement cartridges, needle included.
Or, you may find an aftermarket component if you’re lucky. And again, it is a highly delicate procedure and requires special tools and skills. Your best bet is still to replace the cartridge and maybe keep a spare around if this happens again.
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