Can playing older 45's on modern turntables damage the cartridge?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by MikePh, Mar 23, 2012.

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  1. MikePh

    MikePh Song and Dance Man Thread Starter

    I'm in the middle of upgrading the cartridge on my Rega P3-24 from the Elys to the Exact. :cheers:

    My question is this -- I have a collection of 45's but rarely play them on this turntable. i had heard somewhere, maybe here, that playing the older 45's from the 60's and 70's can damage a cartridge or stylus and that the modern cartridges should avoid those older polystyrene 45's no matter how good a condition they appear to be in.

    Any truth to this? I'd like to enjoy the 45's that I've had sitting patiently as well as some newer Record Store Day and other new 7" records. :goodie:
  2. Doug G.

    Doug G. Well-Known Member

    Rochester, MN USA
    The only way a record can damage a stylus or cartridge is if there are big enough scratches or cracks in the record to actually try and pull the diamond out of the cantilever.

    Even that is unlikely, however.

    If anybody is trying to say damage can occur simply by virtue of a record being worn or the groove not being optimum for a given stylus size or shape, they are full of it.

  3. Sckott

    Sckott Hand Tighten Only.

    Hyannis Ma
  4. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Uh Huh

    Northeast Ohio
    I reconnected with my modest 45 collection recently, some of which are well-worn. No problem here.

    Some do sound much better though if I press the MONO button on my receiver. It cuts down on the noise, sometimes quite dramatically.
  5. Reader

    Reader Forum Resident

    e.s.t. tenn.
    The mono button can work miracles.
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    You can play a 45 with your table. NEVER PLAY A polystyrene 45 with anything but a conical tip. It won't damage the needle if you do, it will damage the RECORD if you do.


    If you do not know how to tell the difference between styrene and vinyl, ask.
  7. Raylinds

    Raylinds Forum Resident


    I'm asking.
  8. I have one answer and two questions.

    Styrene was used for pressing some 45s, along with vinyl. You can tell the difference between the two materials as follows: Styrene 45s have a smooth outer edge and look like the label is glued on. Vinyl 45s have a relatively rough outer edge and look like the label is pressed into the plastic.

    Styrene was only used for 45s; I'm guessing that if you pressed a 12" record with styrene, it would be fairly brittle and would break easily. So why was styrene used at all?

    I'm a little unclear on the stylus shapes. My Ortofon 2M Red comes with an elliptical stylus, and Ortofon gives a tip radius number. So the tip is rounded, and the base curve for the curvature is an ellipse. What's fundamentally different about using a cone as the base curvature?
  9. Trashman

    Trashman Forum Resident

    Believe it or not, but there are some LPs made from styrene. But they are relatively rare. I think some LPs released on the Philles label were made with styrene, for example.

    Styrene was used as a cost-saving measure. The records were made by injection molding, not the traditional high pressure stamping process that required a lot of heating and cooling of the stamper. This was easier on the stampers/molds and they would last a lot longer before needing replacement.

    A few rules of thumb:

    1. The glued-on label is the biggest giveaway to a styrene record. You can either feel the edge of the label with your fingernail or sometimes see bubbles under the label in places where it didn't stick to the record. Some labels, like Bell, even used painted-on labels.

    2. Styrene is lighter and stiffer than vinyl. You can tap it with your fingernail and it'll give a higher-pitched "clink" sound. Tap a vinyl 45 and the sound with be much duller in comparison. Also, styrene singles have a squared-off edge whereas vinyl 45s often have a more tapered edge.

    3. Styrene was mostly used for US pressings of 45s by certain labels. Columbia was perhaps the biggest label that regularly used styrene for their 45s from the 50s to the 80s. (I sometimes seek out the Canadian pressings, since those are on vinyl, not styrene.) Other labels, like Capitol almost never used styrene. So your yellow/orange swirl Beatles 45s are on vinyl, not styrene. Some labels like Mala (a subsidiary of Bell) used both vinyl and styrene for their singles. (I have copies of the Box Tops "The Letter" pressed in both styrene and vinyl.)

    4. Fresh, unworn styrene can be less noisy than it's vinyl counterpart. Styrene often sounds great until the grooves become worn out.

    5. Like Steve said, stick to conical tipped styli for your styrene and it'll last much longer. I prefer either the Stanton 500 or the Shure M44-7 cartridge for my styrene singles.

    I have copies of styrene singles from the 50s and 60s that still play great. However, I also have some singles that look to be near mint, but play with that characteristic fuzziness of a worn styrene record. One or two plays with a worn stylus (or a heavy tracking elliptical stylus) is all it takes to strip the grooves on these records.
  10. action pact

    action pact ^^ Sandy Warner, "The Exotica Girl"

    The only way a record can damage a stylus is if it is very dirty.
  11. MikePh

    MikePh Song and Dance Man Thread Starter

    Thank you, guys for all of your input.
  12. narkspud

    narkspud Well-Known Member

    Tustin, CA, USA
    A few notes to add here regarding styrene, it being kind of an obsession of mine for some reason ...

    Trashman's guidelines are all good, but none are absolute. For instance, although they're not terribly common, there are styrene records with pressed-in (not glued-on) labels, especially LPs. The best way to identify styrene is just to know it when you see it/feel it, and Trashman has given you the tools to do that.

    Styrene LPs died out around 1964, so unless you collect vintage, you don't have to worry about those. Watch out for 50s/early 60s mono releases on Decca (US), King, and certain budget labels (including Columbia's Harmony label).

    Styrene 45s disappeared for good in the mid-90s. In other words, you won't need to worry about styrene at Record Store Day.

    Your styrene experience will vary greatly depending on where you live. You'll find more and more styrene 45s the further west you go. California SUCKS for collecting 45s!

    I can't say one way or another about the Ortofon 2M Red, but I can tell you that the 2M Black and the 2M Blue are both very hard on styrene.

    I'm currently using an Ortofon Concorde Pro with a Stylus 30, a fine-line tip that plays styrene with no ill effects whatsoever. (Go figure.) I ended up with this solution after testing several carts and styli with a box of unplayed styrene promo 45s I keep around for just this purpose. I've found no advantage to using the conical Pro S stylus over the Stylus 30, even though conventional wisdom (as well as Our Host) would tell you that that's the thing to do.
  13. Trashman

    Trashman Forum Resident

    Interesting. I've never seen one of those before. Do you have an example of what label(s) have pressed-in labels for styrene? To be honest, I'm not sure I even have a styrene LP in my collection.

    It's also interesting to see some US Columbia singles on vinyl, when the vast majority seem to be on styrene. I recently got an original red label copy of Simon and Garfunkel's "Cecelia" pressed in the USA on vinyl. It's the first USA-pressed consumer copy of this single I've seen on vinyl. The rest have all been styrene.
  14. narkspud

    narkspud Well-Known Member

    Tustin, CA, USA
    Columbia vinyl 45s all seem to hail from the west coast, which is opposite the usual trend.

    Unless you are into budget labels, solid-black-label Decca is by far the biggest source for styrene LPs. Those will have an undersized label, and a perfectly flat surface. (IE neither the label nor the edge is raised.) And most will be shredded. :mad:

    Styrene 45s with pressed-in labels are scarce. All of them I've seen are from the mid to late 50s, and they seem to be concentrated in the NE. The only label that I find them on fairly consistently is Mercury, and even with Mercury, they're well outnumbered by vinyl pressings. About the only sign that they're styrene, aside from the lighter weight and the tendency to shred at the drop of a hat, is the label may have crooked hairline wrinkles radiating outward from hole to edge. Otherwise, they look exactly like vinyl pressings. Thank God they're scarce.

    A few specimens in my collection, off the top of my head: Only You by the Platters on Mercury, Don't Be a Bunny by Sugar & Spice on Wing, Stranded in the Jungle by the Cadets on Modern, and Ain't Got No Home by Clarence Frogman Henry on Argo. I distinctly recall coming across one on Sun several years ago (Lend Me Your Comb by Carl Perkins) but I didn't buy it, since there was a mint vinyl copy for the same price.

    Here's a styrene "Ain't Got No Home" that someone has up on ebay, on which you can see the wrinkles if you look closely (especially on the b-side). You can also see the shredding on the grooves!
  15. Grant

    Grant A Musical Free-Spirit

    First of all, there's no way a turntable can damage a 45 or vice-versa. It's clearly the cart you are concerned about. I know you know this, but this is for those who may not know.

    Most carts have an elliptical stylus. These should be just fine for styrene pressings. Some older 45s from the 60s and 50s have wide mono grooves, so the sound may turn out to be a bit noisy. That is why many people recommend using a cart with a conical stylus to play these records. Conical stili are usually larger, so they don't dig down too deep into the groove. They will gently wear the record down. I read that the Denon 103 is a good choice. But, this is why I like to use carts with stili described in the following paragraph.

    Now, the thing to be concerned with is if that stylus is a "Fine Line", Nude Shank" "Microline" Micro-ridge", or something along those lines. Why? These stili are modeled after the cutter-head used to cut the records. Carts with these stili must be meticulously mounted and aligned, and must not track too light or too heavy. It's best to go with the manufacturer's recommended tracking force. Use a third-party gague.

    The above-mentioned stili work fine with vinyl. The question is styrene 45 RPM pressings. They will work fine on a styrene pressing, but only if the cart is adjusted correctly. If not, you will carve up your styrene. I set up my cart very carefully, so I do play styrene 45s with no problem, and there is no damage to the records. They sound great because that type of styli dig deep into the grooves past the muck that may be on them.

    I have saved many of my styrene 45s that I thought were ready for the trash. They played clean enough for me to do digital transfers of them.

    Having stated that, I have cut up three or four styrene pressings from the late 70s and early 80s. All of them were on the CBS and WEA labels (Elektra, Tabu, Kirshner), and they used a certain pressing plant. This happened when the cart's VTA was off a tad.

    You also play styrene 45s with one of these styli at your own risk. I am a brave, experimental type of person, and that is why I succeeded!

    Anyway, that's my opinion and experience with the various carts/styli.
  16. Grant

    Grant A Musical Free-Spirit

    Styrene 45s are characteristically flat on the side of the record. Some look like they even have had it's two sided molded together.

    Yup, I live out west and have TONS of styrene pressings from the 70s and 80s. I also have wafer-thin vinyl pressings that seem more flimsy than styrene pressings.

    I have one styrene pressing that i've played dozens of times with elliptical and micro-line styli on several tables and the thing still looks and plays like new!
  17. Laservampire

    Laservampire (╯°□°)╯︵ ןıo ǝʞɐus

    What's the best way to clean a styrene 45? I'm assuming wood glue is out of the question!

    I've got a couple with otherwise unavailable Australian Jazz on them that I'd like to transfer for my dad.
  18. Grant

    Grant A Musical Free-Spirit

    No, it's not. I've done it.
  19. Laservampire

    Laservampire (╯°□°)╯︵ ןıo ǝʞɐus

    I'd hate to see what that ended up like!

    Is alcohol out of the question too? I'm assuming the best solution would be mild dish soap and warm water, with a distilled water rinse.
  20. Grant

    Grant A Musical Free-Spirit

    Man, you guys make it sound like styrene records are these brittle, fragile things. They aren't. In fact, they are less vulnerable to warping, too!
  21. Sid Hartha

    Sid Hartha Forum Resident

    The Midwest
    Styrene also has a noticeably quieter surface than typical vinyl 45s - at least that's been my experience.
  22. marka

    marka Active Member

    Related to the OP question, I have a 45 made of a flexible material that were sold in vending machines ~late 60's/early 70's. Do I need to be careful what kind of stylus I play this with? I currently have a Shelter 501 cartridge.

    (For the curious ones, I have the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing")
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