Tracking Force - Where to set it?

So a few weeks back I posted regarding distortion I was getting out of my right channel (Rega p25 w/ shure v15 xyz). I got a lot of help, much appreciated. It turned out that my real problem was not with the cartridge or table, but that I had followed Shure's recommendation to set tracking at 1-1/2 grams! Turns out that the bottoming-out and distortion I was hearing was cured by turning the tracking force up to about 1.75 to 2-1/4 grams, depending on the record.

The question now is, (1) is there an optimal tracking force, and (2) will force as high as 2-2.5 grams damage the stylus or vinyl?
The cartridge VTF should be somewhere near the range recommended by the manufacturer. Sometimes going slightly out of the range is okay. High VTF forces, in the range of 2.5g - 3g will not damage records, if the cartridge is designed to work at those forces. If anything, going too low in VTF is more likely to cause mistracking, which is that major cause of record damage.
Remember that tracking force dials are notoriously inaccurate. If you used the dial on the arm as your reference for tracking force, try using a separate gauge to get a more accurate idea of the actual tracking force.

I second Jim's suggestion -- check the VTF with a gauge. Even an inexpensive gauge such as Shure's SFG-2 is far more accurate than the dial on your tonearm. I have owned many Shure V15 models over the past 30 years, and have always found them to offer excellent performance at the recommended 1.5 grams VTF.
If i can remember correctly, you have to adjust tracking force appr 1 gram higher than normal to compensate for the brush. As such, you would have to adjust the arm for 2.5 grams to achieve an actual tracking force of 1.5 grams. Sean
Do get a gauge, do not rely on the calibration found on the arm. The Shure V15's tracking force has to be set higher (the 1 gram stated above, I believe, is correct) to compensate for the brush stabilizer. In fact, the V-15 normally tracks perfectly well at the minimum tracking force recommended and does save hardship on the delicate grooves, just be sure you actually have set that weight correctly. If in doubt (which should not be the case when using a gauge), set it a tiny bit higher. Good day.
Thanks for the responses. I do have a shure stylus force gauge that I use to set the actual tracking force. My actual tracking force is close to 2 grams (accounting for the brush on the V15), quite a bit higher than the 1 gram recommended by shure. I can back it off a bit, but at the recommended force it distorts at certain frequencies. I guess I'll leave it at 1.5-1/75 as long as that won't hurt my records.
Exactly which V15 are you using ? Your post does not make this clear. I ask this as some of the earlier V15's are known to produce non-linear distortions as amplitude increases. If what you are experiencing is not a volume related issue, i would think that something is not set up correctly. Any of the V15 cartridges are reasonably good "trackers" and should be able to easily stay in the groove with a "real" 1 gram of tracking pressure applied. Sean
His first post indicated the most recent model, so that should be a V15 V xMR, I guess. So with the proper tracking force set with a guauge and with the proper compensation for the brush stabilizer, maybe the anti-skate should be varied slightly to see if that works better. BTW, what tracks better than this Shure?
If in fact it is the latest V15, you can lock that stupid brush in the up position and pretend it does'nt exist! Then go back and check your alignment, over hang, azimuth,anti scate, Etc. Finnaly re set your force. Start with a gram and if that won't track then move up slowly but I would not got above 1.5 with this thing. I think that too much force kills the life of the sound with this cart. and makes it sound closed in and dead.
Pbb, my comments were based on the earlier V15's. I do not know how well the newer series compare to the earlier ( V15 Type IV, Type III, etc... ) series. Sean
The trick to setting tracking force is to not use any sort of gauge at all. Simply look at the stylus (use a magnifier if need be) as you set it down onto a record with the cue...

Note the deflection vertically. The position of the cantelever should be precisely in the middle of the opening from whence it exits the cartridge body. In the case where that is hard to see (often it is) you can watch the deflection as you start with a very light tracking force, and slowly move it up... the deflection has a center *linear* region due to the suspension in the cartridge. You can see this region by eye with out too much practice. Below the region, the styus "stands up" too much. Above the region, the stlus looks "low" and too close to the body.

The ideal is usually in the center of this region. Since no two cartridges are ever exactly the same, this makes it easy to set the tracking to the exact condition of the cartridge you are using every time.

It may take a few times through - and checks with your gauge, but after that you can do it quickly and by eye every time!

Note, that it is important to ZERO the arm accurately, if you want to use the built in gram calibrated feature of many arms...

And, yes, I think Sean is correct you have to change the weight to compensate for the brush thingie...with my method you can ignore that and just look at the cantilever.

Imho, in MM carts there are *many* that sound way better than the venerable old Shure design... Ortofon, AT, and a few others come to mind.
Bear: I agree about the old Shure's "lack" of sound quality. I personally liked some of the older Ortofon's, Stanton's and AT cartridges, but found that the AT's almost all exhibited a pretty hot top end. The cool thing about some of the AT's and Signet's was that you could buy one of their higher end cartridges and then experiment with the various stylus assemblies. I remember one specific cartridge that they made that had something like 17 or 18 different user replaceable stylus'. Some had different shaped diamonds, some had different cantilever materials, etc.... Each one had a sound of their own. As such, you could literally buy one cartridge and a handful of stylus' assemblies and have the sound of a different cartridge in a matter of seconds every day of the week.

Outside of all of this, it is pretty funny how doing some simple changes to cartridge loading within the phono stage can make such drastic changes. You can literally get the tonal balance, transient response, noise floor, etc... to do a 360* change by simply swapping a few resistors and capacitors. Sean
I bet you are right that there are better cartridges out there, but I got the shure as a gift, so I don't even want to hear what else is out there and get the itch to spend $!
Doug, which V15? is it the typeVxMR? Or another version? Yes there are almost always better cartridges out there no matter how much money you just spent.
Bear: After re-thinking your comments, they make perfect sense. Your method would be akin to setting "ride height" on a vehicle. If the suspension was "perfectly centered", it could make large excursions in either direction without fear of "bottoming out" or going into compression. This also keeps the coils or armature somewhat centered in the magnetic field. This should result in increased dynamic range, higher s/n ratios and slightly higher output levels. That is, if the cartridge is actually designed correctly to begin with.

The one drawback to this is that one might run into added stress on the cantilever and cartridge suspsenion, not to mention that the tracking force would probably be slightly higher than what we think we can get away with. I don't really see that as being a problem though so long as the cartridge / arm are properly aligned and the stylus is in good shape. Having "clean" records is mandatory if you want the best in performance and want them to last, regardless of the tracking force being used.

THANK YOU for opening my eyes. Hopefully, my ears will agree with you : ) Sean
The final judgement always needs to be done by ear. Too much tracking force will close down the sound much like improper VTA, from my experience. The cartridge sould let you know if everything is working well by the sound.Bears idea seems like a good place to start from.Turntables are a tweekers dream come true!