My turntable started distorting, can you assist me?

Hi friends!

My 40 yr old Pioneer PL-41 turntable began distorting higher frequencies recently after years of enjoyable play. It sounds like an audio signal clipping. High voice notes break up like they’re going through a guitar distortion effect.

Cleaning the needle did not help. The rest of the signal chain is fine; it’s certainly the turntable. It even happens on like-new records. Replacing the cartridge did not help.

I aligned the cartridge. I don’t know how to correctly set the tonearm height (it’s about parallel to the platter during play) so this may be an issue, but that doesn’t explain why it happened suddenly. I’m going to rewire the tonearm with Cardas wire and RCA sockets, replacing the factory RCA cable.

I’m pulling my hair out. It’s a $500 turntable and suddenly wants to distort my MFSL, and other, records?? AHHHH!!
Between the grinding (your prior post) and distorting (this post) I would take it to the shop, or more likely buy a new turntable, given the age.
Inspect the diamond with a loupe, do you see any chips? Is the cantilever bent? How old is the cartridge?  Check the ant-skate and stylus force.Try adjusting the tonearm base down, just a tad, so the arm looks like it is going downhill from the headshell to the pivot point.
Horror is setting in as the problem was incorrect tonearm height.  I think I may have damaged ALL of my favorite records by setting the tonearm too high. This may have also caused my diamond to break off.  All is well that ends well, I finish with a big bill that my car repairs still exceed.  Nepal: "No food today, bummer."  America: "Bummer!  I'll have to replace some records instead of buying another camera!" Lol 
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Setting the rake angle, high or low should not damage the records. I suspect the stylus is toast. It is way past time to replace the cartridge if it is 40 years old. When you install a new one, be sure you have the correct overhang, stylus force, antiskating adj. and start by setting the tonearm  parallel or slightly down from cartridge to base when the stylus is resting on a record.
You need to calm down brother.

Incorrect VTA will not damage records. You may not get optimal sound from them, but it will not hurt them.

Reread both of Dills posts again. High distortion is usually from a bad or worn stylus. And this will damage records. So how old is the cartridge/stylus? Is it 40 years old too? A stylus is only good for about 1200 hours of play if your lucky and playing unworn, good vinyl.

Since the PL-41 was never $500 new, I am assuming you bought it used. Moving forward, when buying any vintage TT or resurrecting an old one from the attic, the stylus should immediately be replaced.  No matter what the seller tells you.
You may want to check the speaker (unless it is ok with another source) & interconnect connections. 
*stops breathing into a paper bag*

I'm so relieved to hear that I haven't damaged my records!

The stylus that fell apart was a vintage MC Supex SDX 1000.  My interim cartridge while the Supex was being repaired was a brand new cheap diamond cartridge.  My problem is a combination of dirty records and bad SRA. 

Thanks for the tips about buying vintage equipment.  

I'll be purchasing an ultra sonic record washer from EBay (the $350 kit) to deep clean these records.  Thanks again!