Understanding The Goldmine Code

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.

– 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!

Recording 78rpm vinyl at 45rpm – You need manufactured speed!

Most record players made after the 1960’s dropped the 78rpm speed setting. As the labels  switched to both longer playing records (the 33&1/3) and cheaper, more portable discs (the 45rpm single), the older format was quickly made a relic. But, if you have some precious vinyl that is meant to play at 78, but your recording deck only goes to 45 — it turns out that’s a fairly easy problem to fix, IF you have a tempo/pitch adjustment in your recording software.

– Simply record the disc normally at 45rpm.

– Open the file in your waveform editor.

– Set the Pitch/Tempo setting to 173.333% (the result of 78 ÷ 45) and select/apply the tempo to the entire file.

– Now, edit and split the tracks as normal.

– Pretty cool !


Still skipping? Rotate the cartridge…

If you’re having a tough time with your records skipping, take a cue from the DJs — Rotate the cartridge slightly. If your turntable has a headshell with adjustment grooves, then you’re in luck! Follow these steps to stay in the groove… (Note: All directions are assuming that you are looking at the top of the headshell, with the stylus needle pointed away from your body)

1) Loosen the cartridge nuts slightly and gently turn the cartridge clockwise. You want to pivot the cartridge so that the left edge is fully forward (top of the groove), and the right edge is slightly back. If taken to the maximum extent of rotation possible, you would rotate the needle too much… It will distort the sound and won’t track properly. Just a little goes a long way, and you should limit the rotation to no more than 23• from the standard, straight alignment.

2) Hold the cartridge in the new position and re-tighten the screws, and assure that the cartridge is secure in the new position. You need to keep the left edge of the cartridge fully forward to maintain the correct amount of stylus overhang and weight balance.

3) Set the anti-skipping dial to Zero.

This rotation will point the cartridge toward the base of the arm, rather than being in line with the arm. Now, remember that this article assumes that you have already made the all of the basic adjustments to your deck, and you just need a little extra help. You must have already balanced the tone arm, have a level playing surface, and have a clean, working stylus. Any one of these other problems will impair your needle’s performance, and this rotation won’t really help. Skipping is bad, m’kay?



Copyright disclaimed. This figure comes from http://www.vinylengine.com/twisting-your-cartridge-headshell.shtml

btw, They have some great turntable manuals scanned in, some turntable protractors to print for tone arm balancing and alignment and even a DIY strobe light to confirm your deck speed. Super cool record geek stuff happening there.











Seven Significant Singles #4 – The Dub Narcotic Disco Plates

For installment four, we jump forward about thirty years but rely on the same idea as Stax Records. K Records guru Calvin Johnson loves the idea of a house band like at Stax, and created a series of singles to be the demos. These singles blend dub/dancehall reggae (every single has a Riddim version), punk rock, funk, and the spaced out reverb of Calvin’s vocal delivery. Listen to seven of these discs: Dub Narcotic, F*ckSh!tUp, Booty Run, Bite, Industrial Breakdown, Shake-A-Puddin, and Wasted/Groove. Hear them all on my Mixcloud page: http://www.mixcloud.com/tboyreid/seven-significan-singles-the-dub-narcotic-disco-plates/


Seven Significant Singles, Issue No. 2 – The NoSo Box Set


For the first issue, we heard the 50’s – so, fast forward ten years or so… And a whole new sound is being heard. Soul music that is harder, faster and stronger. Here is Seven Significant Singles, #2 – A Northern Soul Box Set – Original Labels, authentic vinyl noise, featuring the sounds of: Young Holt Unlimited, Shades Of Blue, Major Lance, The Ronettes, Jr. Walker & The All-Stars, The Intruders, and Ike & Tina Turner



Seven Significant Singles (No. 3) – Stax Records in the Sixties


For the first “Label Issue” of Seven Significant Singles, we take a listen to Stax. Born in Memphis, TN, this label pressed some of the sweetest Southern Soul records ever. There is a fusion of gospel, funk, jazz, and the blues recordings. Since the last issue was about Northern Soul, we’ll take a listen to what was going on down south in this era. It makes the most sense to put these in straight chronological order, and to start with not only one of the most important instrumentals of the 20th Century, but also the first single from Booker T and the Memphis Group. Also in this issue: Rufus Thomas,Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor (twice), and Judy Clay & William Bell. Here’s 35 minutes of the sweet soul of Stax.

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Seven Significant Singles – Issue No. 1

Here are seven 7″ Singles, in what I hope will be an irregular series: “Seven Significant Singles.” Since the 45rpm vinyl single was introduced in 1949, and rock music came shortly thereafter, it seems best to start with early rock and roll.Top 40 music, portable players and affordable records all played a valuable part in making the vinyl single an important leap in music and culture. This mix features seven 45rpm singles that were all made between 1953 and 1959. These discs bring together a lot of different styles that gave birth to rock: blues, pop, jazz, folk and more. These seven discs are all from my personal collection, recorded to CD, then strung together into one mp3 for 31 minutes of easy listening pleasure.The first Significant Seven are: Eddie Cochran, Bill Haley, Gene Vincent, Jimmie John, Fats Domino, Jimmy Clanton, and Ricky Nelson. Hep cats one and all, ya dig?

Capitol F3450 - "Be-Bop-A-Lula" b/w "Woman Love"

Capitol F3450 – “Be-Bop-A-Lula” b/w “Woman Love”

Recording & Editing Software

The king of CD burning software in the Mac world is Roxio’s “Toast.” The full version includes a very nice piece of software called “Spin Doctor.” It’s extremely intuitive and super easy to use. The software will capture your recording as a single stream for up to 2 hours of recording time. Once you stop a session, you can either save to a file or edit it down into tracks on the spot. The interface allows you to send the mix to Toast for a CD copy.

Spin Doctor allows you to adjust the track lengths easily. This is where you want to find an accurate reference for the track lengths of the published CD. If you have matched the track lengths perfectly, then the disc will be recognized by Gracenote. iTunes will fill then in all the artist info, titles, year and other disc info. You may have a bit of editing to do there. I, for one, despise the genre name “Alternative.” To what? The CD will often have a different year from the vinyl, etc… Still, you will be assured that you have set the tracks correctly if everything matches.

After you open “Spin Doctor,” you will want to set the levels, check the turntable speed, and make any EQ adjustments. Listen with monitor headphones to verify the sound. Hit record and play the disc(s).

A few practical notes:

If you’re recording a double album, you will generally have one CD for each LP, as the standard CD holds only 80 minutes of audio recording. Look at the reference docs for the CD to see if you have the same track order, etc.

If making a mix of 45s, you can hit pause in between flipping discs to make sure you don’t extend beyond the two-hour session limit.

Set a timer if you’re going to walk away from the disc. Most LPs are about 20 minutes a side.