How To Use A Carbon Fiber Brush on Vinyl Records

Vinyl maintenance: how to use a carbon fiber brush on your vinyl records

The vinyl record has many known enemies besides the user’s fingers; dust and static charges are common unwanted guests when the groove is trying to do its thing. Even a clean record handled by experienced hands is subject to retain a static charge and attract dust particles. Several instruments and cleaning solutions can be used to minimize or eliminate the issues. An affordable and relatively effective option is the use of a carbon fiber brush, however its correct usage is frequently subject to debate. The following guide explores the different techniques employed by vinyl enthusiasts by weighing the pros and cons of each approach to determine which method works best. Watch our video or keep reading for further information.

New to turntables and vinyl? Check out our detailed guide for beginners!

Purpose of using a carbon fiber brush

A carbon fiber brush is used to remove dust particles and static charge from vinyl records. The two rows of fine bristles are made of a carbon composite that has the advantage of being incredibly fine, sturdy, soft and conductive. Keep in mind a carbon fiber brush is not designed to clean your old dusty records or remove static charge forever. It’s a day-to-day maintenance tool that should be used on clean records with the usual dust particles attracted to it.

vinyl record with dust

Causes of Dust & Static on Vinyl Records

Many factors account for dust on vinyl records; location, climate, the way the records are stored and the cleanliness of the listening room are only a few causes. Dust particles are attracted to the vinyl record mainly by the electrical charge it may hold.

Static electricity is a variance between the electric charges on a given surface caused by the friction with another object or surface. A vinyl record can get electrically charged when it enters in contact with the inner sleeve it’s placed in or taken out from. The record holds the charge until it can be moved along by discharge to another surface. If the record is played, the variance in the electrical charge between the record and the stylus results in loud audible “pop” sounds at different times during playback.

How To Use The Brush

1. Place a record on the platter and start the turntable. Don’t play the record while using the carbon fiber brush. Using the 45 (or 78) RPM won’t get faster or better results.

2. Holding the brush straight, by its body and handle, place it perpendicular to the record groove.

3. Lower the brush onto the record exerting minimal pressure to optimize dust removal and minimize potential damage to the groove or the turntable. The platter should always spin freely.

Hold the brush tight; a spinning record has more force than you’d think!

4. After 3 or 4 rotations, the bristles on the right side retain most of the dust particles; gently tilting the brush on the left side captures the excess dust on the second set of bristles.

Note the first four steps are general consensus among vinyl enthusiasts; the fifth step is where the debate rages on.  The three different approaches are denoted A, B and C.

5. A) Moving the brush toward the outside of the record

This technique consists in slowly moving the brush towards the outside, away from the spinning record.

The downside using this technique, it may leave the carbon fiber brush electrically charged since friction occurs between the bristles and the spinning record.

5. B) Moving the brush toward the label

The second approach involves in slowly moving the brush toward the record label and making contact with the turntable spindle to discharge the brush. The idea behind this technique is to use the turntable spindle as a medium to move the electric charge from the bristles to the grounded turntable.

Two problems may occur when using this method. The first issue; dust particles contained on the bristles are transferred to the record label will end back on the record as soon as the platter spins. Additionally, if fingers come into regular contact with the label, the bristles could get tainted with residues and natural oils our skin produces.

5. C) Lifting the brush upward,

Lifting the brush away from the spinning record is another approach.

Downsides include leaving excess dust on the record and an electrically charged brush.

6. To remove dust caught on the bristles, hold the brush by the handle and move it from side to side. Ideally don’t perform this step close to your turntable for obvious reasons and don’t touch the bristles with dirty or even clean fingers; natural oils on the skin shouldn’t be transferred to the vinyl record.

7. Stop the turntable. Notice if there’s any excess dust on the record.

8. Repeat steps 2 to 7 until satisfied or when the brush bristles are exempt from dust.

Some users remove the remaining dust particles while the turntable platter is not spinning; remember lightly brushing in the same direction as the record groove optimizes dust removal.


Extra Tips on using a carbon fiber record brush:

Always keep the brush perpendicular to the record’s groove.

Always hold the brush by the body and handle.

Always exert very minimal pressure on the brush; the bristles collect dust more efficiently when its tips aren’t stressed into the grooves.

Always use the handle with caution to remove dust caught onto the bristles; the handle’s terminals are usually the most fragile piece on a carbon fiber brush.

Always store the brush in a dust-free case with the handle protecting the bristles.

Never touch the bristles to remove dust with your seemingly clean fingers; even after washing your hands there are natural oils (and whatever soap residue’s left) that our skin produces that shouldn’t be transferred to your favorite LPs.

Never use a carbon fiber brush on dirty, gunky, greasy records; they require a lot more than a simple brushing.

Never put any (cleaning) fluids on the brush or your record; the carbon fiber brush is not designed to wet clean your records.

Never hold the brush at an angle; the body may enter in contact with the record and cause scratches.

Final Thoughts And Recommendations

The different techniques used all seem effective to some extent. Keeping in mind a carbon fiber brush doesn’t do miracles; satisfactory results can be achieved by weighing the pros and cons of each approach and testing which method works best for you.

On a personal note, I’ve been using a Stanton CFB-1 carbon fiber brush for many years with pleasing outcomes by combining two methods. A cheaper brush works as well but I noticed the bristles wearing off much faster.

First I use the “lifting” technique, which consists in lifting the brush upward, away from the record.  Using this method, most of the dust is contained on the set of bristles. Next I remove the dust caught on the bristles by holding the brush by the body, moving the handle from side to side. Placing the brush on the record a second time and slowly moving the brush toward the outside of the record removes the excess dust. Finally while the turntable platter at rest, I take a last look and if necessary, collect the remaining dust particles by lightly brushing in the same direction as the record groove.

After testing the methods above, I came to the conclusion that a carbon fiber brush retains a certain electric charge after use, even if the bristles come into contact with the turntable spindle as shown in this guide.

In case dust and static issues persist, other more expensive approaches may be needed to minimize the effects. Properly wet cleaning your records and using an anti-static gun such as the Milty Zerostat are much more effective solutions. Replacing the record’s generic paper inner sleeves with anti-static inner sleeves also helps. For those living in a dry climate, a low humidity levels in the listening room may cause static, investing in a humidifier is something to consider.

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this post might be affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you I will receive a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through this links.

Any questions or comments? Please use the comment form below!

how to balance a tonearm

How to Balance a Tonearm, Set Stylus Tracking Force And Adjust Anti-Skating

Getting the best sound out of a vinyl record doesn’t necessarily require spending a lot on a cartridge. Achieving the highest fidelity from your gear begins with precisely setting key turntable components namely the tonearm counterweight and anti-skating. Proper calibration has many benefits: obtaining a good balanced sound across all the frequency range, an accurate groove tracking, minimal vinyl and stylus wear. The following guide will show you how to calibrate these parts. Plan yourself time as it involves a minimum of understanding, patience and dexterity. Watch or read until you feel comfortable, it’s a skill every vinyl lover should master.

New to vinyl? Check out our Beginner’s guide to turntables and vinyl.

Understand Your Turntable

Stand in front of the turntable and focus on the tonearm area; the long “s” shaped or straight shaped arm holds the headshell with the cartridge stylus at one end and the counterweight at the other. Looking closely at the tonearm assembly and its surroundings, notice an anti-skating dial. These are user adjustable parts and are essential to calibrate the turntable for optimal vinyl playback.

Tone arm assembly

The tonearm counterweight applies force (pressure) to stylus located at the other extremity. Calibrating the stylus force is the general term when referring to this setting. Also called vertical tracking force, it’s simply the weight, in grams, applied by the stylus to the vinyl groove. The ideal weight setting will depend on the cartridge stylus used. Applying too much tracking force will wear out the vinyl record faster as the stylus will “dig” more heavily in the groove. On the other hand, insufficient weight causes the vinyl to sound thin as the stylus doesn’t have enough tracking force to correctly read the groove. The tonearm could also skip resulting in irreversible damage to the vinyl record and stylus.

Tone arm Overview

Next to the tonearm assembly is the anti-skating dial which basically applies a slight frictional force to the tonearm and keeps the stylus aligned to the groove. The anti-skating setting will essentially have to match the stylus tracking force used, unless you are a disc jockey.

Before calibrating your turntable, make sure it’s perfectly leveled horizontally. Some turntables have feet/legs also called insulators used to adjust the height. Placing a level meter on the platter will reveal any tilt; don’t forget that the turntable has four sides, make sure to place the level from side to side and front to back.

How to Balance The Tonearm

In order to set the stylus tracking force correctly, the tonearm has to be balanced first. The balance point indicates that the tonearm applies zero grams of tracking force to the stylus. To achieve balance, the weight must be equally distributed at both ends of the tonearm. Rotating the counterweight adds or subtracts weight. The balance is obtained when the tonearm floats perfectly horizontal without user intervention.

1) Stand in front of the turntable, remove the dust cover and focus on the tonearm assembly area.

2) Locate the anti-skating and set it to “0”. It will ensure that the tonearm won’t move outward while you find the balance point.

Anti-skating dial on turntable

3) Remove the stylus cover if present and take extra precautions not to damage the stylus during the process either by touching it with your fingers or dropping the tonearm on the platter. Don’t leave the stylus cover on, the extra weight on the cartridge will result in an inaccurate tonearm balance.

Stylus cover on

stylus cover removed

4) Hold the headshell by the finger-lift, using the right hand’s index finger on the bottom and the thumb on top. Unclip the tonearm from the armrest with the left hand. The cue lever should stay lowered.

Hold the headshell

unclip the tone arm

5) Lift the headshell and move the tonearm as if you were to play a record from the beginning. Keep holding the headshell by the finger-lift using the right hand index finger on the bottom and thumb on top. Do not let the stylus touch the platter or any surface.

6) While holding the headshell, use your left hand to rotate the back of the tonearm counterweight using this logic:

tone arm counterweight

Finding the balance point requires the user to let the headshell barely enough room (1/4 inch/6.3 mm) between your fingers to see if the tonearm tilts towards the counterweight (back) or the headshell (front) at a given weight.

A clockwise turn decreases tracking force.

A counterclockwise turn increases tracking force.

Counterweight Tonearm

An unbalanced tonearm tilting towards the headshell is a sign that there is too much weight being applied. Slightly rotate the counterweight clockwise to decrease tracking force.

An unbalanced tonearm tilting towards the counterweight is a sign that not enough weight is being applied. Slightly rotate the counterweight counterclockwise to increase tracking force.

Unbalanced tone-arm

Balancing the tonearm can be frustrating, proceed with patience; always turn the counterweight very slightly in the desired direction. Don’t forget that the stylus, the tonearm and its assembly are fragile. At all times be in control of the tonearm’s motion when increasing or decreasing the tracking force. The tonearm is extremely sensitive, any sudden movement from the user part can make the tonearm tilt and cause damage.

If your turntable was set with some tracking force, chances are the tonearm will tilt towards the headshell if you leave the headshell barely enough room to tilt. It indicaties you to slightly rotate the counterweight clockwise to decrease tracking force. The idea here is to apply a perfect weight distribution along the tonearm resulting in a balanced, perfectly horizontal tonearm floating without the user holding the headshell.

Near the balance point, releasing the headshell results in the tonearm floating by itself. The balance is achieved when the tonearm floats horizontally without the user holding the headshell.

balanced tone arm

Once the tonearm seems balanced, inspect it from the turntable perspective. Stand on the right side of the turntable and have the eye levelled to the tonearm. You may need to make very small adjustments before finding the perfect balance point. Remember, the tonearm is extremely sensitive.

8) Return the tonearm to its rest and clip it. If the value on the outer ring of the tonearm counterweight doesn’t align with “0” it’s normal, don’t panic.

Stylus Tracking Force Calibration

Next we will set the stylus tracking force applied to the vinyl during playback. Before going further, refer to your specific cartridge stylus’ instructions for the recommended weight and as you will need the value to accurately set the stylus tracking pressure. Every cartridge stylus model is different, hence the weight needed will be different. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the accurate weight range suitable for your cartridge stylus.

1) Focus on the tonearm counterweight. Notice the values on the stylus tracking force control and the marker line on the tonearm next to it. Make sure the tonearm is clipped to its rest.

2) Use the left hand to hold the back of the counterweight steady. For this step the counterweight should not move from its balanced position.

Keeping the back of the counterweight steady is important to maintain the tonearm balanced.

3) While holding the back of the counterweight steady with the left hand, rotate the front ring and set the stylus tracking force control to “0” with the right hand. Remember, only the front part of the counterweight should rotate. Now the tonearm is balanced and shows a “zero” tracking force.

By rotating the front ring only, we are keeping the tonearm balance and are simply adjusting the setting of the stylus tracking force control to zero. No weight is added, neither subtracted in this step.

counterweight dial

4) To apply tracking force, hold the counterweight from the back and turn it counterclockwise to the desired value. The stylus tracking force control will indicate the weight applied to the vinyl groove.

stylus tracking force

Remember, setting the tracking force too high will wear out your vinyl faster. If the cartridge stylus manufacturer recommends a tracking force range from 2 grams to 5 grams, try setting it around 2.5 or 3 grams and do a listening test. Ideally use a record you know very well.

A thinner overall sound may indicate there is not enough weight, increasing the stylus tracking force will improve the sound.

Louder lower frequencies and distorted sound may indicate there is too much weight, decreasing the stylus tracking force will improve the sound.

5) The tonearm is now perfectly balanced and the stylus tracking force has been correctly set.

How to Set Anti-skating

When playing vinyl, the tonearm moves from the outside of the disc to the inside. Due to the laws of physics, the rotation of a vinyl record and friction with the stylus’ tip draws it slightly towards the inside of the groove. To counter this offset, anti-skating applies a small frictional force to the tonearm and keeps the stylus aligned to the center of groove.

Set Anti-Skating

A general rule of thumb is to adjust the anti-skating to the same value as the stylus tracking force for regular vinyl playback.

Disc jockeys that spin and scratch vinyl might want to alter their anti-skating settings because the stylus might skip during cueing and scratching.

Set anti-skating

Potential issues…and how to fix them!

If the tonearm does not seem to properly balance, the main issue encountered is often related to the weight distribution: the tonearm counterweight is pushed to its limits either too far back or too close to the tonearm assembly. The culprit is the cartridge stylus’ weight… it’s too light. To make things clear, we are not talking about the stylus tracking force weight, we are talking about the weight of the cartridge stylus itself. To correct this issue, headshell manufacturers include a shell weight; a small piece of metal that either sits between the headshell and the cartridge or is attachable on top of the headshell.

If the issue persists, the last option is to attach an auxiliary weight to the rear of the headshell: a small cylindrical shaped metal piece.

shell auxiliary weight

auxiliary weight

If you bought your turntable brand new and a headshell with a cartridge stylus is supplied with the product, then you shouldn’t have any issues as all the necessary parts come packed in the box. However if you purchased a used turntable or are planning to do so, make sure you have all the pieces, or be prepared to hunt them down!

Experiment a little and final thoughts

Now that your tonearm is perfectly balanced, the stylus tracking force and anti-skating are accurately set you can enjoy an optimal and balanced vinyl playback. Remember if you purchase a new headshell, a new cartridge or both you will need to readjust everything.

I strongly suggest trying the guide at least two or three times to be perfectly comfortable with the process and potentially teach others how to properly balance the tonearm, set the stylus tracking force and the anti-skating.

Pushing the experience further, you could do the steps in reverse.

1) Hold the tonearm counterweight from the back and turn it clockwise back to “0”.

2) Set the anti-skating to “0”, hold the headshell and unclip the tonearm.

3) Move the tonearm is if you were to play a record from the beginning.

4) The tonearm should be back to its balance point, floating horizontally.

4) Clip the tonearm back to its rest.

5) Turn the tonearm counterweight counterclockwise to the desired value and match the anti-skating accordingly.

Although not a mandatory tool, a stylus tracking force scale can be used to verify if the stylus tracking pressure has been accurately set. Inexpensive ones can be purchased for about 15$, they do a good job revealing any imperfection.

Stylus force scale

I hope you enjoyed this guide and now can brag about being able to balance your tonearm, set the stylus tracking force and anti-skating.

If you have any questions or would like to add something, please use the comment box below.

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