How to set up cartridges and tonearms for DJ’s. DJ only tutorial!

The one and only DJ Short-E walks us through setting up a technics 1200 with shure m447’s for optimal performance. From counterweight adjustments to tonearm height to cartridge angle and overhang, Short-E covers it all!

Check out her site at studioscratches. She offers scratch tutorials, great beats, and a friendly vibe! Check it out!

Proper Turntable Setup

Finding a home for the turntable

To perform correctly, a turntable must be place on a level, sturdy surface. This is especially true with DJ’s, as touching and manipulating the moving vinyl record with cause the table to shake slightly.

Isolating the turntable in high SPL environments

In a night club setting, extra care is needed. The turntables will sometimes be placed on absorbent materials, such as cinder-blocks or paving tiles. I have found the best method for isolating vibrations in turntables to be using a combination of concrete bricks and rubber landscaping tiles. You can also use tennis balls cut in half to replace the feet of the turntable.

For the best isolation possible:
Make a sandwich of rubber tile/brick/tennis ball foot. This will provide outstanding vibration protection and be sturdy enough to scratch and juggle on.

Leveling the Tonearm

For optimal tonearm performance and skip resistance, as well as superior audio reproduction, the tonearm must be parallel to the vinyl record. This is achieved by using the height adjustment at the base of the tonearm. One thing to note is that height changes with different slipmats.

How to level the tonearm

  1. Get at eye level of the turntable.
  2. Unlock the height adjustment of the turntable. (On Technics 1200 this is a small lever at the back of the tonearm base.)
  3. Place the needle on the record.
  4. Raise or lower the height adjust ring until the tonearm is level to the record.
  5. Put the tonearm back on the rest and lock it.
  6. Lock the height adjustment lever.

Research the Cartridge Specs

Consult the manufacturer to find the optimal weight for the cartridge.  This weight will be in grams, and is usually listed as a range.  For example 2-3 grams. This rating is what you will apply to the counter weight.

Setting the counterweight

  1. Make sure the cartridge and needle are attached to the tonearm.
  2. Ignoring the numbers on the weight for now, unscrew the counterweight so that it moves away from the needle, towards the back of the tonearm.
  3. This will cause the tonearm to want to point up from the extra weight on the back, like a see-saw.
  4. Slowly rotate the weight forward, a half gram or so at a time.  The goal is for the arm to free float level without your hands holding it.
  5. Once the tonearm free floats, move the indicator ring of the counterweight until the zero mark is lined up with the mark on the top. (Zero is no weight on the arm, thus the arm free floats)
  6. Lock the tonearm in place on the tonearm rest.
  7. Rotate the entire weight assembly forward until the Manufacturer’s recommended weight is achieved.
  8. Enjoy your properly weighted tonearm!

Setting the Anti-skate

There is much of a debate about the proper anti-skate setting for DJ turntables. My personal opinion is that the best setting for DJing is to turn it off completely, and set the anti-skate to zero.

Anti-skate is meant to center the needle in the groove of the record. This is done by countering the centrifugal force of the spinning record with a simple spring to pull the tonearm back towards the outside edge of the record. The problem lies in that once you place your hand on the record and stop it, the spring overcomes the now zero centrifugal force. This can cause extra skipping issues.

But for normal playback of records, a general rule is that half the weight will equate to a close antiskate setting.

For a more exact anti-skate setting:

  1. Find or purchase a record with a blank unprinted side.
  2. Put the needle on center of the record.
  3. Start the turntable and adjust the anti-skate until the needle stays in the middle of the record; it doesn’t move towards the label or towards the outside edge.

Be sure to also check out our article on proper needle care!

DJ Needle Maintenance


Most turntable cartridges and needles require little maintenance. The most important aspect of all things turntables is cleanliness. The easiest and most healthy step to getting long life out of cartridges – and your vinyl collection – is keeping everything as clean as possible.  This article will cover phono cartridge maintenance and cleaning.


Cleaning the dirt and dust off a stylus is rather easy. Most phono cartridge kits come with a small soft bristle brush for just this purpose.

Basic Cartridge Cleaning Steps

  1. Lock the tonearm in place.
  2. Carefully remove the cartridge from the tonearm.
  3. Holding the cartridge upside down, carefully brush the dust off the styli.  Be sure to only brush towards the tip of the needle, going up the “ramp” of the needle, not into it.  Brushing into the needle can easily damage it.

Deep Cleaning

Sometimes a more aggressive approach is required to remove many nights of built up dirt and grime on your styli. There are a variety of liquid cleaners on the market. Stanton and RCA both make a stylus cleaner that works decently well.

Magic Eraser Needle Cleaning

Another great way to clean styli is using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Yes you read correctly! The densely populated fiber structure of this miracle sponge is great for kitchen countertops, and DJ needles too! :)

Magic Eraser Needle Cleaning Steps

  1. Cut a small piece the magic clean eraser, small enough to fit under the needle when mounted on the tonearm.
  2. Position the sponge under the needle.
  3. Using the drop lever, drop the dirty needle onto the sponge.
  4. Raise the lever again to pull the needle out of the sponge.
  5. Repeat a few times until the styli looks brand new!

Warning! Do not move the needle front to back or side to side when using this cleaning method!  The sponge can grab the stylus quite strongly, and moving it any direction other than straight up and down will damage the stylus!