Antique Phonograph Needles: Choosing the Right Size & Type

Updated November 29, 2021
Antique phonograph needle on a record

Antique phonograph needles come in many types and sizes and can be considered the secret weapon to making lovely music on these turn-of-the-century players. Which specific ones you choose can depend on the period that your phonograph was made in and the type that it is, but their low costs makes them a must-have for routine maintenance and peace-of-mind.

Which Needle Should You Choose?

The specific material of your needle will make a difference in the tone you get from your player. If possible, you should always try to replace a damaged needle with one of the same type. If you do so, your record or cylinder will sound like it was originally intended to.

The problem with this method is that any needles can actually cause minute damage that adds up over time. Eventually, your record will be stripped bare to the point that it's not good at all. You can choose to play your vintage music only rarely or to use a needle that will minimize the damage but not give a historically accurate sound. In terms of longevity, the best choice is to have a digital recording made for you to listen to and then you should keep the records and cylinders for display.

This allows you to enjoy your music while retaining the value of your collectibles.

Steel Needles

Steel needles were used on the manual windup phonographs as well as on some of the early electric ones. There are four types:

  • Soft tone - Used to mute the sound for a softer, quieter tone. The manual players did not have volume control, and this makes it a simple thing to control the volume of the music. The soft tone will also help to mask the buzzing that can happen with a scratched record.
  • Medium tone - Can be harder to find than either the soft or loud. They're exactly like they're described and create a sound that's in between the soft and the loud.
  • Spearpoint - Almost looks like a fountain pen nib with the same thickness as the loud, these needles are used to emit a medium, clear sound.
  • Loud tone - Using these antique phonograph needles allows you to hear a louder version of the music, and they work best on records made prior to 1920.

It's important, since you're often working with one-of-a-kind antiques, to change the needle after every one or two plays. This'll keep it from damaging your record with a dull needle, as steel needles aren't built to be particularly long-lasting. Also, since the needles aren't expensive, it should be easy to keep a ton of them on hand. If you have a phonograph without volume control, consider keeping all three types of needles on hand as well.

Diamond and Sapphire Stylus

Diamond needles or stylus were used on phonographs made after 1950. This type of stylus was better suited to the new vinyl records being produced and gave a cleaner sound. It often came with a diamond side for 45s and 33 1/3's and you could flip it to the sapphire side which worked well on 78s. The sapphire needle will usually be good for about 75 full-length album plays. The diamond stylus will often last for 150 or so full plays.

Other Needles

Other, less common, types of needles you can find from the late-19th and early 20th centuries include:

  • Nickle plated
  • Brass
  • Hardened steel
  • Osmium, a platinum alloy

Phonograph Manufacturer's Own Needles

Along with the phonograph machines themselves, so many of these late-19th century and early 20th century manufacturers released their own line of phonograph needles and other accessories. While it might seem like an appealing idea from a stylistic point-of-view to try to find needles from your phonograph manufacturer's own stock, it's not necessary. Almost every type of phonograph can take the same kinds of needles, save things like the Edison's Diamond disc and the Pathe. That being said, some of the more popular manufacturers to create their own needles--which you might be able to find genuine boxes of them online--include:

Where to Buy Antique Phonograph Needles

collection of phonograph needles

If you have an antique dealer that specializes in old phonographs, you may be able to find the needles you're looking for there or through their connections. If there isn't an antique shop specializing in phonographs nearby, you'll probably need to order them off the internet. Make sure that you know what make and model your record player is before ordering so that you get the right type of needles. Once you've got that information, you can find antique needles at the following places.

Antique Needles

Antique Needles stocks steel needles for use on phonographs made before 1920. They have both the soft and loud tone needles, as well as other items to help you restore your player to perfect health.

Victrola Repair

Victrola Repair carries steel needles as well, but they have a medium tone needle to give you three choices for your sound. The needles are all for record players made prior to the 1920s.

Victrola Needles

Victrola Needles has been providing reproduction phonograph needles since 1991, and has an ingenious cross-platform e-commerce function where you can choose to get your needles from them through either Etsy, Amazon, or eBay. So, no matter where you're the most comfortable spending your money, you'll always be able to purchase phonograph and gramophone needles with ease.

Find the Right Needle for Your Records

Finding the right needle for your antique phonograph or vintage audio equipment is an important part of keeping both your antique player and your vintage records in tip-top shape. There's no point in cutting corners with these antique machines as something as simple as a dull needle can ruin one of your old records forever. So, take your time looking and don't accept anything but the best quality that you can find.

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Antique Phonograph Needles: Choosing the Right Size & Type