I clean the stylus on my Grado Reference using a Signet vibrating brush cleaner that I bought many years ago. I don't know if it's still sold, but it has a small circular pad (about 1/3 inch in diameter) of short, stiff bristles which are vibrated at about 400 Hz by a battery-operated motor. The whole gizmo is about the size of one of those fat Waterman / Mont Blanc pens. To clean the stylus, you turn on the vibrating pad, rest the stylus on the pad, and then slowly draw the pad across the stylus from rear to front. I've used this product with success (no damage to cartridge) since the early 1980's.
The other product that you might want to consider is a new offering called the Zerodust Stylus Cleaner. I'd describe the product as looking like a half-dollar sized, hemispherical blob of gelatinous material, like a soft Sorbothane. To clean the stylus, you lower the cartridge so the stylus comes to rest on the surface of the Zerodust. Apparently the gizmo cleans the stylus by making any dirt/crud adhere to the sticky surface of the Zerodust. The product claims it's good almost forever, and there is no danger to the stylus because there is no scrubbing action or liquids involved. I have no personal experience with this product, although I saw it advertised in a promo flyer from Music Direct (www.amusicdirect.com). The price is $69, which seems a little high, but if it saves even one cantilever on an expensive cartridge from damage, it may be a bargain.
I have one of those Signet gizmos Scott mentions too but I just cue the stylus down onto the pad while the unit rests on the platter and let it sit while the thing does it's stuff, I find you don't have to move it for it to work. I think it is safer that way, less chance of damaging anything. It is almost ultrasonic and does a great job, which I have witnessed under the microscope many times. I always use a drop of fluid on mine though and can't say how well it works without it. I like the idea of the Zerodust blob too, and that is available. It's worth a try.
Fro years, I have been using a Discwasher brand stylus cleaner before playing each record. It is similar to SDCampbell's Signet, but without the vibrating action. The flat, 1/2" round brush has short,very compacted, fine bristles that one draws over the stylus to remove dirt.
The flip side has a 1/2" round mirror to inspect the stylus, but the mirror isn't much good.
I haven't tried any of the solutions that are supposed to clean caked-on crud, but several brands claim to do that. Maybe SDC can weigh in with any experience he has had?
Hi, Jim. I have avoided using cleaning solutions with my cartridges, because it is possible for liquids to migrate up the cantilever and possibly cause degradation of the cantilever suspension. The dry approach to cleaning seems to have worked well in my experience, although I am tempted to try the Zerodust Stylus Cleaner (just wish it were about half the price...).
THanks, SDC, I had forgotten that there was the problem with migration of the fluid, which is why I never used it when getting started years ago. (I knew there was a reason, but couldn't remember- y'know, for us old guys, the mind is the second thing to go.....)
Anyway, for Philjolet's information, I've found that cleaning with a stylus brush before playing EVERY record doesn't allow gunk to build up, making a fluid cleaning unnecessary.
The pressure on the tip even tracking at one gram is, in terms of PSI unthinkable, which generates some heat at the stylus, and even if you try to keep your records clean and are cleaning the diamond each side I would think you may still get some sort of baked on "crud" build up possible. I have worried myself about some of the solvent based fluids screwing up the suspension or even loosening the adhesive that holds the tip on. You really need a quality microscope to know if you have no gunk on that tiny diamond surface. I looked at "needles" under an expensive Swiss scope for years that people brought in from their "record players" and some of them looked like the villan in a sci-fi space movie under that thing, with all the crap you can imagine glued to it.Hard to imagine that they played at all! It seems like distilled water would be harmless and help get rid of some small amounts of build up, but I may be wrong. If you don't have a wet vac record cleaner or some good method of removing the mold release agents from your records before you play them, that alone can leave a film of schmooze on the tip. Their IS stuff on your diamond you can't see by just looking at it I assure you. This is a good discussion and good a good cleaning "ritual" will go along way to keeping everything working well and sounding good.
Linn used to hand out matchbooks I am told with their logo on it as stylus cleaner given that your stylus was well made and they knew theis were.Try 300 grit paper.Or Extremphono has a gel which is much cheaper than the one recently favorably mentioned by Fremmer in Stereophile for something like $75.Gel compound that you just drop arm onto.Ask Casey here on 'Gon or go to his web site www.extremephono.com
I can verify that matchbook strikers work well. I can also verify that Linn gave out the matchbooks with their logo on them that had "Linn Stylus Cleaner" printed on the cover. I personally watched Ivor Tiefenbrun clean the stylus of a Linn Karma cartridge with one. I then used this method on my Linn for many years with good results. You lightly stroke the sides of the stylus once or twice with the striker from back to front on 45 degree angles to remove the baked on microscopic residue from the contact areas of the stylus. I owned some of the Linn matchbooks, but have now lost them. They are no different than any paper matchbook that you may have laying around.
As a designer of Extreme Solid State Cleaner (TM), I like to clarify a few things.
Do note that stylus (diamond tip) mounted to the cantilever via 2 methods. One is a hole, and diamond mounts in, the other way is a fork that clamps the diamond. Both method are typically reinforced with adhesive.
Liquid cleaner may weanken the adhesive over time. If the manufacturer recommends against it, perhaps their adhesive has some weakness towards certain kind of solvent. However, even when the adhesive is totally lost, the diamond may not fall off the cantilever, due to mechanical attachment. However, I don't think this is the best way to treat cartridge, especially something mightily expensive.
In addition, most of the better cantilevers are hollow. So liquid cleaner will go up via the tube as a result of capillary action. In most instance, it will just gum up the inside. If anyone opens up their cartridge after a few years, you'll see the inside fairly dusty. The sound slowly degrades over time because the coil is damped by the attachment of foreign substances, as well as added mass. Lost of detail and degraded frequency extension.
As of Zeordust, the main complaint I have is that it only works when new, and after the first wash, the adhesive quality is compromised. Also, the form factor is rather tall and quite impossible to use if the tonearm/record surface has limited clearance. Of course the cost is quite ridulous too.
I used to clean my stylus with a matchbox but always worried that little particles of grit may stick to the stylus and thus wreak havoc in the grooves over time.
Then my dealer suggested cleaning with the bare skin on my finger - just place your finger under the stylus and move finger forward in a smooth motion with very light pressure. I never became comfortable with this method either so now I just use the Stylus cleaner by Last (fluid applied via nail polish brush).
For years now I have used denatured alcohol and a number 4 artists brush with bristle's shortened to about 1/4 inch long. Whatever you do, don't use rubbing alcohol, it must be denatured alcohol. Cheap and effective.