Well-cared for vinyl records can be passed down for generations, and so can quality record players. But even the world’s best record players need a little maintenance every now and then. And the single most common repair you’ll have to do on your record player is thankfully the simplest one—how to replace replace the needle on a record player.
A worn-down needle isn’t a failing on your part. Your needle will degrade naturally over time, and eventually, you'll have to replace it to continue enjoying a pristine sound from your turntable. But unlike dragging your car to the shop, you can replace your needle at home, and it's easier than you think!
In this guide, you'll learn why replacing the needle is important, and by following our simple steps, your record player will be ready to spin again.
How Does the Needle on a Record Player Work?
A record player’s needle, also known as a stylus, works by tracing the small grooves of a vinyl record and sending vibrations to the cartridge. The vibrations are then converted into electrical signals that travel to your speakers.
The needle is essential to how a record player works because it remains in constant contact with the groove. If anything prevents it from reading the groove, you won’t hear the music accurately. Instead, you might hear pops, clicks, skipping or distortion.
Eventually, you’ll need to replace the needle to continue getting the best possible sound from your vinyl records.
Can You Replace Just the Needle on a Record Player?
Yes, you can replace the needle on a record player. Not only is it easy to do, but it’s also cheaper than replacing the whole cartridge, which can cost hundreds of dollars. Singular replacement needles are on the market, but some brands also sell multiple spares in one pack.
However, replacing the cartridge is easy, doesn’t have to be expensive and even presents an opportunity to upgrade your record player to experiment with different types of styli, which can sound different. If you take this route, you’ll need to research which styles are compatible with your record player. For example, House of Marley turntables feature premium Audio Technica cartridges, but they’re compatible with other cartridges that fit a 1/2 inch mount.
How to Tell When It’s Time to Replace the Needle
Before we walk you through how to replace your needle, you need to decide when it’s time to make the swap. Keep your eyes and ears open for these signs.
It’s Worn Out
If it’s been eons since your needle was replaced—or if you’ve never replaced it—then it’s probably time for a change.
Every needle has its own lifespan, measured in hours of playtime. Most models can handle about 1000 hours of playtime, but others may only last 500 hours or less. When in doubt, just check with the manufacturer to see what they recommend.
Of course, it’s really hard to gauge exactly how many hours you’ve spent listening to records, and we don’t expect you to do the math! Instead, think about your listening habits to come up with a rough estimate.
For example, someone who runs through the entire Led Zeppelin discography every month will probably need a replacement sooner than someone who only listens to a couple of Christmas records during the holiday season.
If you aren’t sure how your listening hours stack up, no sweat. Just aim to replace the needle every few years to keep your record player in the best shape.
The Sound Quality is Poor
A little pop and crackle in the sound of your records can be blissful, but distortion is where you should draw the line. Poor sound quality is a clear sign that you might need to replace your needle. But what causes it to produce poor sound in the first place?
As the needle traces the groove, it has the chance of colliding with dirt and debris. Cleaning it will help significantly, but some particles can cause damage that prevents the needle from making full contact with the groove. You probably won’t be able to see the damage, but you’ll definitely hear it. Listen for distortion, skipping and unbalanced stereo sound.
But keep in mind, there are a lot of parts on a record player that can affect the sound quality. Try to troubleshoot other issues, like a dirty record, before you decide to replace the needle.
Your Records Have Groove Wear
Needles that are out of shape can deteriorate the grooves of the record, causing what’s known as “groove wear.”
Groove wear is caused by a needle that’s suffered damage or has been used past its lifespan. If you see thick white scratches running along the grooves of your records, it might be time to buy a replacement needle.
And it sounds as bad as it looks. In extreme cases, groove wear can make it harder to hear all the details of the music. Although there isn’t a way to fix it, you can prevent it from happening by cleaning your records and taking care of your needle.
You Bought a Secondhand Record Player
Scoring a vintage record player can save you some money, and many of them spin like a dream, but it’s generally a good idea to replace the needle no matter how clean it looks.
If it’s been sitting in an attic, the needle on your record player might not be in a good condition to play your records safely. Depending on the condition of the needle, it can cause any of the problems we mentioned above.
And even if you have a secondhand record player that’s relatively new, we still recommend getting a replacement needle to be on the safe side.
How to Replace the Needle ON A RECORD PLAYER
Now that we’ve explained why it’s important to replace the needle you’re ready to learn how it’s done! Some of these steps may vary depending on the type of record player you own.
Do Your Research
Record player parts aren’t universal. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, and every record player comes with a cartridge that requires a specific needle. Finding a direct replacement starts with learning more about the cartridge installed on your record player
With your cartridge’s model number, finding a replacement needle is a whole lot easier. If you can’t find the model number on your cartridge, looking up the specs of your record player is the next best option. Or, if you still have the original owner’s manual laying around, you can find the info there too.
Once you know which cartridge you have, you should be able to locate a replacement needle in no time. There’s a chance that your local record shop carries a small stock of replacement parts, but we recommend purchasing them online from a reputable dealer.
Unscrew the Cartridge
With your replacement ready to go, whip out your mini flathead screwdriver and make sure the tonearm is locked securely in place.
Unscrew the cartridge from the headshell by loosening the two screws that hold it in place. Depending on the model, you might also see additional small parts, like washers or nuts. After you unscrew the cartridge, set all these parts aside in a safe place so you don’t lose them.
Disconnect the Cartridge from the Tonearm
Next, disconnect the cartridge from the tonearm. The cartridge is attached by four colored wires—red, white, green and blue. Using small pliers, gently remove the wires from the back of the cartridge, taking care not to pull too hard.
Make sure you take note of how the wires are oriented. For balanced stereo sound, they need to be reattached the same way.
Remove the Old Needle
Now you’re ready to remove the old one. Remove it from the cartridge by gently holding it and pulling away in a sliding motion. Be careful and try not to use tools that might damage the cartridge.
Install the New Needle
Wash your hands with soap and water before handling the new needle to keep dirt and oil away. Attach the new one by sliding it on the end of your cartridge. If your replacement has a plastic cover on the end, consider keeping it in place to protect it from damage while you remount the cartridge.
Remount the Cartridge
Firmly reconnect the small wires to the back of your cartridge. Then, use your mini flathead screwdriver to reattach it to the headshell in its original position.
Give the cartridge a slight tug to make sure it’s securely attached to the headshell. A loose cartridge might cause the needle to track the record groove unevenly and cause playback issues like skipping.
With your cartridge in its original position and your replacement needle securely attached, you should be good to go! But to make sure everything is set up properly, grab a test record off the shelf and perform a soundcheck.
Everything should sound clear and balanced. You should also pay close attention to the cartridge to make sure it stays locked in place while the record is spinning.
If you notice any sound or performance issues, no worries! Just trace your steps to make sure everything is connected correctly. Even a small adjustment can make a big difference in sound.
You’re Ready to Enjoy Your Records
The needle is the most important part of your record player, and by taking the time to replace it, you can continue to enjoy record collection. But if you want a premium record player, check out House of Marley Stir It Up Turntables for an immersive listening experience with superior sound quality.