Tool kit for cartridge setup

I'd like to be able to setup my own cartridge. What tools do I need? Is there a good instruction book/dvd on how to do it?
go to music direct's website and you can buy the new Michael Fremer dvd on how to set up.
And/or read the FAQ's articles at Vinyl Asylum. It's a less organized presentation, but there's a wider and possibly deeper knowledge base.

Phono cable (if not included with tonearm)
Phono Stage
Bubble level
Cartridge screws (nuts/bolts/washers for unthreaded cartridges)
Tiny screwdriver (for mounting screws)
Small hemostat/needle nose (for cartridge clips, be CAREFUL)
Wooden toothpick (for spreading/compressing cartridge clips)
VTF scale, preferably a decent digital one
Alignment protractor (many choices, often tonearm-dependent)
Strong, moveable/pointable light source
Magnifying glass or loupe
The ability to see small objects
Some familiar LP's (but not your mint condition copies)
A calm, patient and methodical state of mind
No caffeine
No kids/pets/significant others distracting you

Test record (I don't bother, but they can help a newbie make sure he's covered all the bases)
Probably some stuff I forgot
Dear Doug and Steve,
Thanks for the information. Do you have a specific recommendation for a reasonably priced VTF digital scale? Thanks again. I bought a denon 103r for practice before I try tweaking my Helikon SL.
Buy the digital stylus force gauge that is listed on
Audiogon below. It is incredibly accurate and easy to use as well as an incredible value. Several Audiogoners have posted their positive reactions to this scale:
This one's a no brainer and it will arrive quite quickly.
I'll second Larry's suggestion. It will be the last VTF scale you will ever need or want.

One thing that I have found to be of a most particularly troubling nature is the starting point. Do you start with the arm level? Or the cartridge body level? Etc., etc. Drove me nuts until Nsgarch (thanks again, Neil!)posted a methodology that is logical, somewhat easy to use and takes most (not all,depending on your eyesight) of the guess work out of this finding of a good idea of the starting position.

This is the thread:
How to set SRA after determining true vertical?

I won't go through it here, but I would say that if after reading that post the concept makes sense you will want to add a first surface mirror and at least a 10x (or a little more) magnifying glass to your tool box.

From there all you need is a good set of ears, either yours or someone you trust, and a tonearm with easy VTA adjustability.

Best of luck,


I also agree with Larry on the scale recommendation. Best bang/buck ratio out there, and as accurate as you'll ever need. If you want to spend more, you can buy the same scale from Acoustic Sounds for $90 more. ;-)

BTW, you will hear few differences adjusting VTA/SRA with a Denon 103R, so don't go crazy over that particular parameter. The Helikon's elliptical stylus will be more sensitive, so save your arm height fine-tuning for that cartridge.

One of the few areas where Nsgarch and I disagree is the (fairly minor) point of "where to start" with VTA/SRA. Armtube level is easy, no doubt, but it's arbitrary. VTA and SRA are both cartridge/record relationships, so the starting point should be expressed in cartridge/record terms. This gets you thinking about the right thing and lets you take advantage of knowledge gained by previous users of the same cartridge.

Most cartridges perform best when level. A Shelter, however, likes to be slightly tail down while VdH recommends a nose down attitude for his cartridges. I don't know about a Helikon, so the optimal approach is to ask other owners of that cartridge.

The rest of Nsgarch's method is spot-on.
I still don't get it, Doug. In Nsgarch's method you start with the stylus as close to perpendicular as you can get it. Assuming a 1.5 degree (manufacturer depedant) stylus to surface angle is desired, and you change the heighth of the arm to get that angle, how can this not give you a good starting point, regardless of where the arm ends up?

Sorry if I misunderstood. I thought you were saying Nsgarch recommended starting with the tonearm level. That would be fairly random IMO.

If his starting point is a 1.5 (or so) degree SRA, then I would concur. That method was first published by Jon Risch in the VA FAQ's, in 1999, and I've recommended that article many times. It's a more accurate way of achieving a reasonable starting point than the method I recommended, though of course it's also more time-consuming.

Since we have to fine tune by ear anyway, I stopped using visual SRA adjustment several years ago. But for a first timer it is probably very valuable - especially because it gets you thinking about the right things.
Thanks for clearing that up, Doug. I know by the way your setup sounds that you've got it right, but I'm curious now if the ZYX stylus is set at a little more of an angle to the cantilever since your arm is tail down. I'm certainly not second guessing anything about the way you've got things set. The tinkerer in me just has to know! :)

BTW, you should get the adapters today and I received my Borodin yesterday. Also found a copy of the trio of ladies, Parton, Ronstadt and Harris.

It's a peculiarity of my arm. Every cartridge has been that way: multiple ZYX's, two Shelters, a Koetsu and a Denon. The 4 or 5 other arms we used at Cello's had their armtubes fairly level when using the same ZYX's.

Whether it's just my particular TriPlanar or all of them I don't know. Maybe we can compare when you get your rig. (Soon!)

Hmmm, the dealer who sold me this demo TriPlanar was smart enough to ship it with silicone still in the damping trough. (Yuck! What a mess.) Maybe he adjusted VTA at the headshell, with pliers!

Love that Trio. If you only own one C&W record...

Thanks again for the adaptors. Let's A/B with Nick's and post a review!