If you play enough records, it will happen eventually.
The tonearm suddenly slips out of the groove while the record is playing.
It skates across the surface of the record and potentially leaves behind a vicious scratch.
Why does a turntable stylus suddenly slip out of the groove and skate across the surface?
Keep reading to learn the most common causes of a record player needle sliding, plus an easy fix for each possible issue.
Record Player Needle Sliding
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer for this issue because it has several different possible causes.
The best course of action is to take a few minutes to read this guide and pinpoint the issue, then take the appropriate action!
When the tonearm slides on the record, it is called skating. Let’s take a look at the most common causes and the solutions for each.
Possible Causes And Solutions For A Sliding Tonearm
If your tonearm is skating, check to see if any of the following issues are causing the problem. Once you’ve identified the issue, follow our instructions to fix it.
Surface Not Level
Your turntable (or the surface it is on) could uneven. This will cause the sensitive tonearm to move down toward the center of gravity.
This is more common than you think and can affect even the best turntables. And depending on how sensitive to gravity your setup is, it can present a significant problem.
Either change the location of your player to a level surface or make the surface it is currently sitting on level. To do this you will need a simple bubble level available at any hardware store for about ten bucks.
Set the level flat on the surface and move the surface up or down until the bubble is exactly in the center of the 2 middle lines on the level. There are also phone apps that work as a level.
Too Much Pressure On The Stylus
The way a record player works is by the stylus contacting the grooves on the record (duh you know that)! The pressure that is exerted on the stylus is called stylus pressure.
When the stylus pressure is too low, your tonearm will barely contact the record. This makes it susceptible to skating because there is not enough friction to stop it.
Most good units have an adjustment for stylus pressure. Refer to your manual and make the necessary adjustments.
If your unit does not have this adjustment, you can always go old school and tape a small weight like a dime or something on the cartridge. This is frowned upon, but it will do the trick in a pinch.
It can be bad for your stylus and records but at least you will be able to listen to them until you find a better turntable.
The Old Stylus Is Wearing Out
If your stylus is old and worn down, it will sound bad, so that is a good clue. It will also cause your tonearm to move all over the place and it may even scratch your records.
The stylus sits in the grooves and that action plus the pressure of the stylus and the anti-skate pressure (that is covered next) add up to a well-positioned stylus that does its job.
To determine if your stylus is worn down, look at it closely and check the little point. If it looks like a flat saucer, the game is over.
Many budget record players come with cheap needles that should probably be replaced immediately. The same is true for any compact player. Even the best portable turntables have cheap needles and cartridges.
You guessed it, its time for a new stylus. In many cases this means a new cartridge as well since some styli are not replaceable. Truth be told, if your stylus is shot it is most likely time to replace you cart as well.
Insufficient Anti Skating Pressure
Physics. This is physics. Turntables use mechanical parts to perform the job. This means certain things need to be held in place with springs, and those springs have pressure adjustments.
Most good turntables have an anti-skating adjustment. This is usually back by the tonearm up and down lever and it is usually a dial with numbers up to 6 or so on it. Every turntable has a recommended setting for this anti skating adjustment.
Anti-skating is the adjustment that keeps opposing pressure on the tonearm which wants to follow the grooves of the record to eternity. It keeps the tonearm on the record and in the right place.
Check your recommended anti-skating adjustment in your manual. If you lost your manual the internet probably knows.
The anti-skating adjustment can sometimes override other issues in this list, but keep in mind it is not good to overcompensate with this. Even though it may work for a while, it may eventually wear out the spring.
Worn Out Vinyl Record
Some old worn out records have hardly any grooves left. This will not only sound like crap, but because there are no actual grooves for the stylus to ride in, it could go off on a journey all by itself.
If you insist on buying 100 year old records that have been played a billion times, do not play them. Just get a reissue to play and keep your old antique for nostalgia.
Cartridge And Head Shell Alignment
The cartridge is arguably the most important link in the audio chain. It has sensitive magnets attached to a magic needle that can hear sound buried in wax.
If it is misaligned, it can cause skating and sliding and scratch your precious Abbey Road LP. Nobody wants that.
If your head shell is out of alignment, it can cause the same issue. This is bad, but it is easy to remedy, if you have a little patience and a user manual.
Check your user manual for the instructions on how to properly align your head shell and cartridge. It is usually a simple matter that requires a little patience and nothing more.
Dirty Or Static Charged Record
This is not the same as the worn out record problem. I have bought brand new records and had this issue.
If you have purchased brand new records before, you know that it is not uncommon for them to have a lot of static electricity. Not only can this shock you but it can cause your tonearm to move erratically.
Static is a physical force, like somebody pushing on your tonearm. Only you cannot see it because it is invisible, like an evil ghost.
Dirty dusty records may not cause intense skating like static can, but if your record is exceedingly dirty it could.
Lucky for us, there are anti-static sprays and brushes you can buy. This is a great set on Amazon. You simply slightly moisten the brush with spray and gently brush your record. Just like that, the static is gone.
If your record is simply dirty you can use a different special spray for cleaning your record. Also be sure to use your record cleaner device (you know that thing with tiny hairs on it that looks like a shoe polish brush with no bristles).
This will clean out all the junk that you let accumulate on your record. You should be ashamed of yourself. Clean your records more often!
Sliding Turntable Stylus: Final Thoughts
If you find your record player needle sliding out of its groove on a regular basis, go through the list of possible issues above and see if any of them are causing your problem.
In almost all cases, it will be one of the issues detailed here. Once you know what is causing the problem, follow the instructions to fix it. It should only take a few minutes to have your turntable playing records without issues again!