How to Replace a Needle on a Record Player

A record player

Whether you’re a casual collector or a can’t-get-enough completist, there comes a time in every vinyl enthusiast’s life when they must learn how to change a record needle. Record players can last for generations, but they do require some occasional maintenance to function properly. 

Fortunately, replacing a worn needle is a pretty straightforward process and is usually inexpensive to boot. Here’s your go-to guide to needle replacement.

Know When It’s Time for a Replacement

Skipping, distortion, unbalanced stereo sound, and poor sound quality, in general, are typical signs that it’s time to learn how to replace a needle on a record player. Of course, the occasional crackle and pop come with the territory, but there’s a big difference between lo-fi and no-fi! If the music sounds unpleasant, don’t just chalk it up to old-fashioned equipment.

Before you roll up your sleeves and get to work replacing your needle, make sure your audio issues aren’t being caused by dirty or scratched records. Sometimes vinyl cleaning products can solve the problem with no needle replacement necessary.

Groove wear (thick, white scratches on your records) is a major indicator that your needle is past its prime and must be replaced before causing further damage to your collection.

Even if your records sound fine now, you should still know how to replace a needle on a record player. Needles have varying lifespans depending on the make and model, but they typically last between 200 and 1,000 hours, although some can last thousands of hours. 

Regardless of your needle’s lifespan, there will inevitably be a day when you will need to know how to change a record needle. As a general rule, the average listener will need to replace their needle every few years, but of course, that figure can vary widely. Consider your typical listening habits, and when in doubt, change it out.

Find the Correct Direct Replacement

So you’ve determined that cleaning your records isn’t the solution and that you do indeed need to find out how to replace a needle on a record player. The next step is to find your cartridge’s model number so you can purchase a replacement needle. Record player parts aren’t universal, so this step is crucial.

Hopefully, your cartridge’s model number will be printed right on the cartridge. In that case, you can simply search for that number and order your new needle. If the cartridge doesn’t display the number, try checking the owner’s manual. If you don’t have a physical copy, search for it online.

If you can’t find the model number, put out some feelers online. The vinyl community tends to be a friendly bunch, so join a forum or social media group and let them know you’re trying to figure out how to replace a needle on a record player. Post detailed pictures of your record player and cartridge. With any luck, someone will be able to guide you in the right direction.

Replace the Needle

A close-up of a cartridge and needle

Okay, so you found your cartridge’s model number and received your replacement needle. Now it’s time to learn how to change a record needle. While there are many different record players and cartridges, changing the needle is usually a similar process across the board. Make sure the player is unplugged, and there’s no record on the platter, and then follow these steps:

1. Secure the Tonearm

If you’re not able to move or screw your tonearm into a locked position, use a bread tie or piece of removable tape to secure the tonearm to the rest. As you learn how to replace a needle on a record player, you’ll want to keep everything stable while you work.

2. Disconnect the Cartridge

Unscrew the screws on the cartridge to remove it from the headshell. Place the screws and any extra nuts or washers somewhere safe (a shot glass is a handy holder). Disconnect the cartridge from the tonearm by gently removing the four wires with needle-nose pliers.

3. Remove the Worn Needle

Gentle grasp the old needle and pull it away from the cartridge. If you’re not able to remove it by hand, try your pliers. You may want to cover the metal pliers with a thin cloth for better grip and to prevent damage to the cartridge.

4. Attach the New Needle

Before moving on with learning how to replace a needle on a record player, wash your hands or put on some latex gloves so you don’t get any dirt or oil on the new needle. Next, slide the new needle into the slot where the old needle once lived. Make sure the pointy end is facing down.

5. Reconnect the Cartridge

Congrats — you know how to change a record needle! Now, simply reattach the four wires to the cartridge and remount it to the headshell.

6. Give It a Test Spin

Just to be safe, use a cheap record when you soundcheck your new needle. As long as everything sounds right, you should be ready to return to your regular listening.

Shop Premium Vinyl Record Supplies

A vinyl enthusiast holding a record

We hope this guide on how to replace a needle on a record player helps you out when the time comes. While you’re here, check out our selection of premium vinyl supplies. Big Fudge is the ultimate resource for in-the-know vinyl aficionados. We have vinyl cleaning, vinyl protection, and vinyl storage and display products — everything you need to keep your collection clean, pristine, and seen! 

You don’t have to be an avid audiophile to appreciate the highest quality vinyl supplies, but it helps. Check out our blog for more record-centric content, and shop Big Fudge for all of your vinyl needs.