Memories No. 8: Cactus Needles and A String of Pearls

It was in the summer of 1942 that I bought my very first record, a 10 inch, 78 rpm vinyl recording of Glenn Miller’s famous hit, “A String of Pearls.” I paid 73 cents, more than twice my hourly wage of 32 cents. That was my favorite song then and I love it still. It’s on my iPod.


I bought it at a record shop, the kind that had listening booths in which you could play a record before you bought it. The shop was somewhere near the Loews theatre in downtown Dayton, OH, the top theatre then. I think it has disappeared now. And there you could see a movie and a stage show on one admission. I remember movies like “DuBarry Was a Lady” with Lucille Ball, followed by a live stage show such as the band of Ozzie Nelson with his singer Harriet Hilliard (Ozzie’s wife who used her maiden name), the stars of the long-running TV series.


I had no record player but planned to play it on the table model that my oldest brother, Wendell had. He and his wife, Virginia Williams, also lived in the rooming house where I was staying. Such old model players (modern for the time) relied on heavy arms to hold the needle in the grove of the record. The needles were steel and considerably harder than the vinyl and thus slowly reamed out the fine sound carrying structure in the bottom of the grooves over playing time. I wanted to avoid that as much as I could and thus looked in the store for new needles that might reduce such effect. The salesman suggested the new (to me at least) cactus needles were excellent for record care. Maybe my desire to be among the vanguard of new needle technology owners hastily led me to purchase some cactus needles before I did a “full systems analysis” or “end-to-end life cycle analysis” or, more simply described, use common sense!

The picture shows a package of such needles, maybe the brand I bought. In addition to the 12 needles in the package there was a small finger nail file and, as I remember very similar to today’s non-metal files. Its inclusion should have been a cautionary warning that the needles wouldn’t last long. Yet I included the needles with my “String of Pearls” purchase and went to the rooming house to try them.


The record sounded fine with the cactus needle, but after a few plays I had to file a sharper point. The original point became more flexible and soft. Yet one had to admit that the sound was mellow. Much of the high frequency range was being lost as the needle end lost its strength.  But the salesman was right; the needles were excellent for record care. 

I only bought the one package of needles!

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