Investigations of the torsional vibration characteristics of shaft systems which transmit pulsating torques are an important part of a machinery designer's responsibility. Satisfactory operation of such systems depends to a large extent on successful treatment of this vibration problem, since incorrectly or insufficiently controlled torsional oscillations can lead to fatigue failure, rapid bearing wear, gear hammer etc. The problem is particularly severe in engine crankshaft design where numerous failures have been traced to abnormal vibration at "critical" speeds. Traditionally, the monitoring of torsional oscillation has been performed using strain gauges, slip rings and a variety of mechanical and electrical "torsiographs". More recently systems employing slotted discs or toothed wheels together with proximity transducers have been preferred, but a disadvantage arises from all these methods in that they require contact with the rotating component which necessitates "downtime" for transducer attachment. Moreover, physical access to the rotating surface is often restricted thus making the use of such methods impractical. The "cross-beam" laser velocimeter provides a means of measuring torsional vibration by a non-contact method, thus effectively overcoming the disadvantages of previous measurement systems. This well established laser-based instrument provides a time-resolved voltage analogue of shaft tangential surface velocity and laboratory and field tests have shown it to be both accurate and reliable. The versatility of this instrument, however, is restricted by the need for accurate positioning, since the velocimeter must be arranged so that the rotating surface always traverses the beam intersection region, which is typically only a fraction of a millimetre in length. As a consequence use is restricted to components of circular cross section. This paper compares and contrasts the "cross-beam" system with a new laser instrument, the laser torsional vibrometer. The optical geometry employed in this new instrument offers a means of producing a hand held laser tool which the operator can simply "point" at the rotating surface of interest. Other important advantages include Insensitivity to operator or shaft radial movement and the ability to measure torsional oscillations of any rotating component of arbitrary cross-section.