Version: May 7, 1999

Styli for electric cylinder phonographs

by Rob Lomas, 1999


Suitable styli for electric cylinder pickups can be found or created in a number of ways. Either they can be procured from some of the dealers who stock or manufacture custom styli (Expert Stylus in England, KAB Electro Acoustic, Edison Shop, etc). Purchasing custom styli is quite expensive, generally around $100.00 per stylus mounted to Shure or Stanton stylus bars. For 78 rpm records this is the only solution, but for cylinders you have alternatives.

2-minute styli

The most obvoius solution is use original Edison styli cannibalized from original acoustic pickups or the replacements which are available. In my experience these types produce too much surface noise, especially the modern manufactured ones I've used. All in all I don't recommend this approach.

The cheapest solution is to make glass ball styli yourself. Instructions for one method of doing so can be found within these phonomakers' pages. Many years ago glass "thread" was available in hobby shops for copper enameling. I went to the local hobby shop and after many return trips the proprietor had been able to locate a small quantity for me which had been sitting in the stock room. With these "threads", all that was necessary was to hold the end over a butane lighter and a perfect little ball stylus was created.

In designing my electric cylinder pickups I had to find an affordable, reliable source for styli. I found a new solution and developed a method that allowed me to mount the styli to Stanton cantilevers myself.

4-minute styli

The Pfanstiehl company is one of the last full-line phonograph cartridge suppliers in the United States. Among their many offerings is a ceramic cartridge which has both an LP stylus and a saphire 78 stylus. The saphire stylus is approx. 3 mil [76 µ] with conical tip, exactly what I was looking for. The original Edison 4-minute styli were 3.5 mil [89 µ] but I use slightly smaller styli to minimize so-called wall noise.

These cartridges can be purchased for around $5.00 to $7.00 each. If your local supplier doesn't carry them I occasionally have extras. A clean, organized work area is important and I use the following tools:

  • small needle-nose pliers
  • large safety pin
  • sharp x-acto (or other razor) knife
  • tweezer which are spring loaded in the closed position. must have "teeth" as opposed to flat edge
  • cyanoacrylic adhesive (super glue - gap filling or slow setting variety)
  • cyanoacrylic adhesive accelerator
  • mounted glasses, jeweler's loupe or other magnifying device which allows hands free use
  • wood toothpicks
  • aluminum foil
  • tray to work over to catch dropped parts
  • well lit work area

Begin by breaking the original stylus out of the Stanton cantilever. This is done by gently squeezing the cantilever with needles nose pliers. The pliers are oriented so that one jaw is on the diamond stylus and the other is on the painted side. Gently squeeze until the diamond can no longer be seen. Sometimes this is sufficient to pop the glue loose, other times it only serves to weaken the bond.

With the tip of the x-acto knife, gently bend the end corners of the cantilever. This should allow just enough space in order to get the point of the razor knife under the glue and gently twist the knife point back and forth until the glue pops free. If this proves difficult try and bend the tips back further.

Once the glue is free you will need to "drill" a hole in the cantilever using the safety pin (or other suitable round, pointed object) approximately 2 millimeters back from the original stylus locations. Once this is done use the knife to cut from the sides of the hole forward to produce a U-shaped slot in the cantilever.

Now it is time to remove the stylus from the ceramic cartridge. My earliest approach was to carefully cut the plastic away until the stylus was exposed and then use the tweezer to extract it from the refuse. I've since found that with a little patience the stylus can be pulled out of the plastic.

Be sure you are working over a large tray with high sides so that if you drop the stylus it won't be gone forever.

The next step is to test fit the stylus in the cantilever. Carefully pick up the stylus and insert it between the teeth of the tweezers. Then see how well it fits into the slot that was made in the cantilever. There should be just enough pressure from the sides of the cantilever to hold the stylus in the bar when you open the jaws of the tweezers. If the stylus drops then carefully bend the cantilever sides in slightly and try again. Once the stylus will stay in place carefully inspect it from all angles to ensure that it sits perpendicular to the playing surface. If the stylus leans to the left or right the cantilever side will have to be bent slightly until good positioning is found.

Loosen the cap of the accelerator so that it will be ready for use. Instead of spraying, we will be using the end of the tube as an applicator.

After you are confident that the stylus is perfectly up and down, view the assembly from the side and adjust the stylus so that it is perpendicular to the bottom of the cantilever housing.

Put a few drops of cyanoacrylic adhesive (superglue) on a piece of aluminum foil and use the tip of a toothpick as an applicator. Carefully put a small amount of adhesive where the stylus and cantilever touch. Put the toothpick out of the way and apply a few drops of accelerator to the stylus/cantilever to make the bond permanent. Using a fresh toothpick add more adhesive to the top of the cantilever and stylus until the adhesive flows and covers both parts. Apply more accelerator and set your newly mounted stylus aside.

Now clean up your work area! Begin by recapping the superglue and disposing of the toothpicks and foil before you accidently get any glue on yourself. Carefully study your work. If any adhesive got on the tip of the stylus you can remove it by applying super glue remover to just the tip of the stylus. Wait a few minutes for the glue to soften and use a fresh toothpick to scrape the stylus tip.

In my own use I find this 3 mil [76 µ] stylus to work equally well on Edison Blue Amberol and Wax Amberol Cylinders as well as on Indestructible, US Everlasting and other celluloid cylinders, both 2 and 4-minute. In many cases I also use this stylus on my 2-minute wax cylinders. With brown wax cylinders I find I have to run at 1/2 speed in order to get good tracking with this stylus.

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