By Jeremy Justice
So you’ve got a few records and you want to delve into the vinyl hobby a little further. One place to start would be your turntable. There are an endless amount of options when choosing record players from $10-dollar yard sale finds to $250,000 ultra high-end reference turntables. Stashed somewhere in the middle, there is the DIY turntable. A DIY turntable is exactly what it sounds like; a turntable you build yourself. There are many options when building your own turntable, in fact you are only limited buy your own creativity. I will layout a couple of different approaches to give you with some basic knowledge of turntable design. Armed with this seed of information and Google you can build your own turntable and have a lot of fun doing it…
Custom creations can range from minimalistic designs like this turntable made by fellow tattoo artist Mike Tweed,
to this more elaborate, albeit less practical, multi-tonearmed table, complete with DIY unipivot tonearms, made by myself.
Here is a basic overview of the essential parts that make up a turntable:
· Plinth- the plinth is the base of the turntable
· Platter and bearing- the platter is the part the record sits on, supported by a spindle which sits in the bearing.
· Tonearm- the tonearm is the pivoted arm that allows the cartridge (needle) to track the record.
· Motor- for this article we will be using external variable speed motors available online.
To start, you must first decide on the parts you will be using. A plinth can be made out of just about anything: wood, slate, and acrylic are a few of the more popular materials used. The material of the plinth does have a great effect on the sound of the turntable. You could choose to experiment with different materials or go with tried and true methods for more predictable results.
When looking for a platter I recommend using a platter and bearing from a vintage transcription turntable as demonstrated by Mike Tweed’s turntable. These platter and bearing assemblies can be found online and work great. It is possible to cut your own platter out of wood , however it is essential for the platter to be perfectly round so a CNC or water jet-type of cut will be necessary.
Moving on to the tonearm- The possibilities are endless here. Many different tonearms are available in just about every price range. If you choose to buy a tonearm, do some online research. Reviews of just about any tonearm model are available and can help you find the one best suited for your project. You may also choose to build your own DIY tonearm. The first place to start with DIY tonearms is a unipivot design, where the arm pivots on a single point. Much like tattoo machine building, tonearm building tends to suck you in. It can be really fascinating, difficult, and rewarding.
Once you have chosen your parts, plinth design is as simple as marking the distance from your center spindle to the tonearm. This is the only really essential measurement of the plinth design. The plinth is your opportunity to really get creative, the shape, size and material are all up to you. Here are a couple of different approaches.
Mike built this turntable out of red oak and Padauk hardwood. He opted to use a platter and bearing from a QRK transcription turntable. Transcription or broadcast turntables make great donor tables because of their sturdy design. These bearings were designed to give trouble-free operation for radio stations, 24 hours a day, day after day, year in, year out. Mike then chose the Rega rb250 tonearm. This tonearm is an elegant design with strong aftermarket support and endless upgradeability. Using the mounting distance needed for the tonearm, he plotted his center point and tonearm mounting hole on the Red oak. He then cut away the unneeded wood, shaping the final product into a strong and functional tear drop shape. Mounting the motor outboard allows its placement to be moved around to find the best configuration.
For my turntable I wanted something a little different. While its design is certainly wild and attention grabbing, its main element is function. By keeping the plinth diameter close to that of the platter and placing the supports outside of that diameter I can mount up to three tonearms quite easily. Why would you need three tonearms on one turntable you ask? Well for me I wanted to have a set up where I could design different tonearms and have a reference platform to test them on. I started with the platter from a Transcriptors hydraulic reference turntable (the one used in Clockwork Orange!). Then using downloaded crop circle geometry I plotted my center point and three outboard mounting points for tonearms. I cut out the plinth into a four interlocking circles design using a simple jig saw and some extra plywood. The really fun feature on this table is the tonearms. The first one is made from a drumstick.
I used the dimensions of a 12” tonearm. There are many benefits to the 12” design and it is a little easier to work with. I used mostly household items for this arm, including nuts and bolts, some foam core board and a penny. I even used some needle bars to add some tattoo flavor to it. For my second attempt,
I used some flat Zebra wood and a scratch awl for the pivot point. This arm uses the geometry of the smaller 9” Rega tonearms and again nuts and bolts were used for the adjustable counter weight.
Overall this is a very brief introduction to DIY turntables. If you would like to build one, an enormous amount of information is available online. This has been a very rewarding experience and I highly recommend it to anyone. You can also join our Facebook group, Tattoo Artist Analog Association where we discuss records and all things analog and art. All the best and keep those records spinning!
(Jeremy Justice can be found at Apocalypse Tattoo in Seattle, WA.)