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Turntable Repair Guide: How To Fix a Broken Record Player

Turntable Image

Most of the time, your record collecting journey will be a smooth ride. With vinyl, you get to enjoy great sound quality, hold physical copies of your favorite albums, and immerse yourself in a musician’s work the way it was meant to be heard.

However, as is the case with any great hobby, part of the vinyl-collecting experience is hitting some bumps in the road. Records get scratched, turntable belts wear out, and tonearms become unbalanced. It all comes with the territory.

While there are plenty of obstacles that you might run into as you get more and more into the world of vinyl, there’s often a simple solution to get your turntable back up and running in no time. In this post, we’ll be covering some of the most common problems vinyl fans run into with their turntables, as well as the diagnoses and fixes for them.

Let’s get started!


Key Turntable Components and What to Do if They Break

A turntable is an intricate and fascinating piece of technology, and understanding how yours works is key to knowing how to fix it up if it breaks. Below is a quick explanation of the key components found in all vinyl-listening setups. After explaining each part of your turntable, we’ll cover diagnosing problems and figuring out solutions.

The Cartridge: What It Is and How To Replace It

This little device is one of the most crucial parts of your record player, and if something goes wrong with it, it’ll leave you with inferior sound or no sound at all.

The cartridge holds the stylus, also known as the needle, which reads the grooves in a record as it spins. Also inside the cartridge is a small coil, which generates an electrical signal. The signal allows the vibrations picked up by the stylus to travel from the cartridge to the tonearm, which then sends them to the preamp to be amplified.

In many cases, a broken or damaged cartridge will make it impossible to get a good sound out of your favorite records. Luckily, cartridges are easily replaceable, and upgrading yours might majorly level up your vinyl listening experience.

If you’re having problems with your cartridge, you’re likely to hear a bunch of noise or distortion in your sound. If your cartridge is missing a component, such as the stylus, you may not get sound out of your records at all. Luckily, anyone can replace a cartridge—you just have to know where to start. 

There is quite a lot to be said about this, but we’ll cover the gist of the process below.

  • The stylus on a turntable cartridge is held in place by a small plastic cap. You can slide this cap off with your fingers, but make sure to be gentle: you don’t want to damage the cartridge, even if it’s already giving you problems!
  • Rotating the end of the tonearm will loosen the headshell, the front piece of the tonearm that holds the cartridge. The headshell is typically attached to the cartridge with small screws.
  • Using a small screwdriver, separate the cartridge from the headshell by loosening the pins. Once the cartridge is loose, you’ll see a set of wires linking the headshell and the cartridge to each other. These wires can be pulled loose by hand.

Replacing your old cartridge is just as simple as removing the previous one. You’ll be working backward, attaching the color-coded wires to the end of the cartridge, then using the same screws to attach the new cartridge to the headshell.

Want to know more about turntable cartridges? Check out our article on which turntable cartridges to look for here

Replacing a Worn-Out Belt

There are two main types of mechanisms that allow turntables to spin – belt-drive and direct-drive. A belt-drive turntable relies on (as the name suggests) a small belt wrapped around the plate that holds a record and is attached to a motor.

On the other hand, direct-drive turntables rely on a motor located directly underneath the plate, eliminating the need for a belt. There are pros and cons to both types of turntables, which we cover here.

If you have a belt-drive turntable, it should be fairly easy to tell. You’ll notice a small belt that is looped around a motor, which usually sits on the top left of your turntable. This belt is wrapped around the plate that a record sits on as it plays. If you bought your turntable new, you most likely had to install this belt on your own.

Turntable belts can wear out over time, but they’re inexpensive and easy to replace. All you have to do is slide the old belt off of the plate—it should loosen easily—and pull the other end from the motor. Then, take a new belt and wrap it first around the plate, then around the motor.

It’s important to note that some turntables are set up to play records at different speeds depending on where you set the belt on the motor. Make sure to refer to your turntable’s instruction manual if it is playing records at 45 RPM. That might mean your turntable is set up to switch between 33 and 45, depending on the belt setting. Setting up your turntable correctly is incredibly important. 

Why Is My Turntable So Quiet?

If your turntable isn’t producing any sound at all while attached to a pair of passive speakers, it’s possible that there is something wrong with your preamp.

The preamp is the component in your signal chain that amplifies the sound picked up by the stylus as a record spins. Without a preamp, a record is too quiet to hear, so you’ll need one somewhere in your chain to hear your favorite albums. Some turntables come with a built-in preamp, while others do not.

If your turntable isn’t making sound, don’t give up on it – it most likely isn’t broken, just missing a key part! First, check your turntable’s instruction manual to determine if it has a preamp installed in it. If not, you’ll need to pair your record player with a pair of active (powered) speakers or a standalone preamp. 

If you still aren’t getting sound after making sure you have a preamp in your signal chain, you might be dealing with a different issue. Make sure to take a look at your cartridge for signs of wear or damage, as well as at your belt. It might sound silly, but always make sure your volume is turned up, too.

When to Visit a Pro

There are several circumstances when you might want to bring a busted turntable in to be fixed by an audio professional. These are situations when you’re dealing with severe damage, missing parts, or other issues that are too big for you to handle on your own. 

A professional can help diagnose problems with your turntable and even order parts and make repairs if necessary. It’s always helpful to have a contact you can call to take a look at your turntable in the event that a big issue arises, so make sure to find a shop that does repairs in your area!

Solution Sounding Board

Once your turntable is back to its former glory, you can return to listening to your favorite music.  To learn more about how record players work, make sure to check out our blog, Vinyl 101. 


Sources:

The 7 Best Cartridge Upgrades for Turntables | Vinyl Restart

Belt drive and direct drive turntables - everything you need to know | What hi-fi

How to set up and maintain your record player | Wired

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