Hey fellow vinyl fans,
I have some great new additions coming up soon, but a friend was talking about record grading being really confusing. Here’s an overview of what the fine art of record grading should look like, but often does not. For many years now, the “gold standard” of record grading has been Goldmine Magazine. Even though the terms seem pretty basic — the truth is that many retailers, private detailers, and even collectors get an “F” in real world when they set about to apply these grades to their own discs.
The biggest problem is usually lack of objectivity. As a collector or retailer, you have a personal stake in making sure that the disc has the highest grade. Ideally, two or three people who are extremely knowledgeable about collecting should be giving the grade, and this is especially important when the stakes are high. So why bother with grading at all? Well, the truth is, you should make sure you’re always being honest with yourself when you are out hunting for records. You should also use these standards to all discs, whether they were pressed in the 1920’s and to those that were pressed last week. Sure, extraordinary value is made by an excellent condition over time, but acceptable condition is the only thing that matters to the needle. Carefully check over that new release before you walk up to the counter…
Another small point is that I only buy the records that I like to hear. In many years of collecting, I have purchased very few records on speculation. I’ve never sold anything except those rare, unintentional duplicates. I’m not in the game to make money on the Goldmine grades, and I think this makes me a perfect voice on the subject… Let’s break these grades down.
MINT (M) – Absolutely perfect in every way, like they just came off the press. This is really just an ideal standard. Even sealed records or brand new discs off the shelf at the store are not automatically mint. Any record can get scuffed, or possibly cracked inside that thin layer of plastic and sleeve. Almost worse is that the plastic wrap usually shrinks over time, which bends the sleeve and can actually harm the value. Mint should mean absolutely perfect, in every way. No exceptions.
NEAR MINT (NM) – Since very few sleeves or discs can actually be 100% perfect, this is the correct grade for the “best of the rest.” These records are shiny, perfectly clean, and have no visible defects — none. When played, this disc will have no surface noise of any kind. Perfect fidelity. On the outside, the sleeve has no creases, ring wear, split seams or writing of any kind. It looks and sounds amazing, but is it really perfect? Probably not…
EXCELLENT (E) – These records are perfect in nearly every way, except… the one or two obvious problems. Any defects to the disc or sleeve are barely noticeable. Even though there may be a bent corner, ring wear on the jacket, or even slight scuffs or light scratches, the disc should play perfectly. For LP’s, watch for excessive wear on the center hole which can give a little wobble during playback. Another point is that “cut-outs,” those deliberately scarred by the distributor by cutting or drilling a corner, can never be “Near Mint” – even though everything else may be perfect – the highest score for a cut out is “Excellent.”
VERY GOOD (VG) – This is the sweet spot for people who actually play the records in their collection. The records in this class usually don’t shine like new, and often have very light, but superficial scratches. The playback can have very light surface noise, (the kind you hear in the “silent” bits, or in the grooves between songs, but the noise levels on a VG will not detract from the listening experience — it’s barely there. On the outside, VG records can have light wear on the sleeve, maybe a tiny splits on the side, or perhaps even something like minor sticker damage (bubbling, but not torn), maybe a stamped price, or some personal “branding” (any handwriting, but usually the original owner’s name or an address label). But remember that these important defects are on the cover, but the VG disc itself must be really nice and clean.
GOOD (G) – The record that is “Good” will play without skipping, even if there is mild to moderate surface noise or groove wear. The sleeve can have significant wear, marks, stains, or significant damage from tape or stickers. But here’s one point where I part company with Goldmine… Personally, I don’t believe in the nuances of “Good Plus’ or “Very Good minus.” Both of these attempts to make some fine distinction are not just cop outs, but they create confusion in the market place. If the disc is not up to the high standards of Very Good, just deal with it. If the asking price is in line with the condition, this could be a really great purchase. Take this one, but look for a better copy if you fall in love.
FAIR (F) – These records are sad. They skip, they’re warped, and the hiss is so bad that it overwhelms the playback. The sleeves are often split, water damaged, torn or bent (and sometimes all of those). Don’t try to play them, don’t look them in the center hole… just walk on by.
POOR (P) – These records can’t play because they are so badly cracked, warped, or deteriorated. They usually smell bad too. They can’t play anything but a memory, and we’d all be better off if they were just in the dumpster. That’s it.
As you can see, this is partly an aesthetic value. I’ve pawed through hundreds of thousands of records, and it’s devastating to see an awesome record in terrible shape. Hopefully, this little guide will help you sort the good from the bad, from the ugly. If you’re being honest with yourself, you won’t buy the record if it is not at least “Good,” or better… Happy disc hunting!