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Phonograph Needles

As an addenda to the article which I wrote on 'How Phonograph Needles are Made', and which appeared recently in our newsletter, I submit the following further information.

Besides the steel needles described in the previous article, 3/4 inches long and made in three diameters to play loud, medium and soft volumes, there were many more varieties of needles produced. For instance, the standard steel needle was also made gold and copper plated, which was supposed to increase the volume and tone; but this writer could find no appreciable difference in the plated compared with the plain steel variety. The steel needle was made in longer lengths in three diameters so the needle could be set in a longer or shorter position in the needle holder, giving more volume. This did work as advertised. Steel needles were also made with a tiny washer welded to the needle shaft, the closer the point the softer the volume, the further away from the point the louder the volume and in between gave medium volume. These also worked as advertised.

Steel needles also came with a stubby point and with long points. Still others were made with a wavy shape, advertised as being easier on the record because they had a spring effect. Still others came with an L shape which also purported to impart less pressure on the record and therefore less wear and longer record life. Still others were made with a spade type of point and others with the shaft flattened out at varying distances from the point to increase or decrease the volume. These also had the desired effect. Some needles were made with the standard size shaft at the top and a reduced shaft at the point end. This difference in size varied in length to increase or decrease the volume. Another type was the cushioned point type in which the point, inserted in the bottom end of the needle, was cushioned in rubber for a better tone. Other steel needles came with three coloured shafts, red for loud, green for medium and yellow for soft tone and volume.

Some needles were made to give longer life and more plays per needle. These were advertised as Pfanstiehl needles. Some were semi permanent, giving up to 40 plays per needle; still others were called permanent needles with the 'Pfanstiehl' point hardened in a furnace to 5000 degrees and then hand polished under a microscope. These were more expensive, initially selling for $1.00 each.

A unique device was invented to play hundreds of records. It consisted of a very small bobbin wound with very fine hardened steel wire. The bobbin was clipped to the back of the needle holder and the fine wire inserted down through a fine hole drilled in the back of the needle holder where it was held in place by the set screw. The wire could be adjusted at varying lengths to give louder or softer volume. When the end of the wire wore, it was cut off and pulled down to give a new surface for the record. This device worked fine except that the wire, not being pointed, was hard on the records and scratched them badly and ultimately the device was not very successful.

During the 1914-18 war, needles were declared unessential and manufacturers had to stop manufacturing them. Machine owners turned to sewing machine needles, breaking them off so the point could be used to play their records. These needles were not as hard as the steel needles and so didn't last as long. Others turned to using thorns, and some hard wooden needles were turned out with one end sharpened. Victor put out 3 sided bamboo needles that could be cut off on an angle to give a new point. You will see that Victor's Exhibition reproducer has a 3 cornered hole in the needle holder to hold these needles.

Special needles were made to play Pathe records, with a sapphire inserted in the end. Similar needles were made to play diamond discs. These had a cut diamond inserted in the end. To play Pathe or diamond discs with these needles one had to have a reproducer that could be turned so it faced vertical to the groove in the record. Some companies made reproducers with 2 heads that could be turned and allow playing of all types of records. Brunswick was such a company. If no needle is available to play Pathes on a 78 player, and if the reproducer head turns on your machine, the point from a fine ballpoint pen with a suitable-sized needle inserted in the back of the shaft to hold in the needle holder will suffice and work well without any wear on the record. This is not suitable for playing diamond discs however.