Record grading

Introduction
3-records
I had some extra hours and decided to transfer my old notes on record grading to this site. I also tried to help out the ones not having English as the native tongue with the terminology used. – There are two systems for record grading; the American Goldmine grading system and the UK Record collector grading system. They are both quite similar. Buying records I have realized that many sellers seems to have developed a hybrid of these two systems based on the following order (best condition first), Mint (M), Near Mint (NM), Excellent (EX), Very Good+ (VG+), Very Good (VG), Good, Fair, Poor. The two latter are “junk” grades. I catalogue all my records on discogs. There are some who grade their records in EX+, EX- or VG- as well, I don’t. In this article you find the hybrid grading system and some examples of the terminology.

If you buy records you might see that two grades are presented, like EX / VG+. In this case the record is in EX condition and the sleeve is in VG+ condition. Normally any insert is graded together with the sleeve.

Record grading overview
Record Mint

The Record – Mint means absolutely perfect by all means. The vinyl has no hairlines or scuffs. It is perfect. Just sliding a record in and out the sleeve can create small imperfections. Possible SS (Still Sealed) have this condition, but to you really want to break the seal to check?

The Sleeve – Once again – Mint means absolutely perfect by all means. Don’t think your sleeve is perfect just because it SS (Still Sealed) or brand new. Most sleeves have minor shipping and handling damages.

Many collectors would state that at least two good graders should verify a Mint record or sleeve. Simply don’t use it unless it is absolutely perfect.

Record Near Mint

The Record – Near Mint (sometimes called M-) records are close to perfect. Under light you will see a 2 or 3 hairlines or a tiny scuff. There is no dust or fingerprints on the record and label and spindle hole is perfect.

The Sleeve – You will not be able to find any flaws on the sleeve without looking close to it. A Near Mint record has very minor imperfections, there is absolutely no creases but possible a tiny frying on a one of the corners.

Record Excellent

The Record – The grade Excellent (Also called VG++) seems to have been developed as many are very conservative using the Near Mint grading. These records have no scratches but a 3 – 5 hairlines and minor paper scuffs. Most people would view it as brand new. Frankly most Near Mint records I buy on Discogs seems to be in EX condition

The Sleeve – The flaws will be very limited but quickly identified. The sleeve might have a minor frying or slight corner crease. An EX sleeve have not price stickers, seam wear or even the slightest tendency of ring wear. Once again, many collectors will consider this condition best possible.

Record Very Good Plus

The Record – A Very Good + record plays like a Mint record, meaning that the grading is about visiual aspects. There are no pops or surface noise when the record is played, possible a minor ones on the silent part of the introduction groves. Many collectors are happy with this condition, I am. The record still have luster but the record shows wear and hairlines and paper scuffs are visible without strong light. There are minor spindle marks. It is evident that this record has been played. This is the condition that is okay by me. However, I end up buying “EX condition” records to get it due to over-grading among many sellers.

The Sleeve – The flaws will noticeable but the sleeve is still to be considered “clean”. It could have beginning of ring wear, small writing, small seam wear, small creases, fraying, minor dents or some sticker residue. However not all of them in combination.

Record Very Good

The Record – We are now coming to the grade which seems to be the most common. Note! Very good does not mean very good at all. The record got sme scratches. Spindle marks are evident, it might be writing or minor damages on the label. The surface is somewhat dull, you could not claim that it’s shiny anymore. The record plays with surface noise, it might be a pop but the record still play without skips. Loud music like metal and hardcore punk is a little more forgiving for the audio flaws. Collectors of classic music or jazz would not own records like this.

The Sleeve – The sleeve have more of the flaws above (Very Good +). It might have minor tear (45s), large dents, a small seam split. If VG+ is called clean, you possible would call this condition “worn”. Sleeves with many of these flaws would be graded VG-. Most of the records I see on eBay seem to be in this condition.

Record Good

The Record – We now moving close the “junk” grades. Dull looking vinyl, several scratches which are notable when playing. There is surface noise but the record play without skips or repeats. The disc may be wrapped.

The Sleeve – If the VG grade is “worn”, this is more “beat-up”. There could be seam splits, magic marker writings, the sleeve might be repair with tape of the tears. There might be a minor piece gone or larger tears (45s). Honestly, most collectors would only hold this grade for very rare records, waiting until they find a better copy. As mentioned above, we will not even cover the Fair and Bad grades in this article.

Some more on grading
Turntable

- SS (Still Sealed) is no guarantee for a Near Mint grading. A sealed cover can still have a large dent, be bent etc.

- I have also on a few occasions debated the DIY releases. In this case the band themselves make sleeves, cut and glue them together. Of course they will have minor imperfections. Frankly in cases like this the high level grading becomes meaningless.

- Bad pressings are not unusual as some bands use cheap pressingplant where every record seem to come with misaligned labels, badly cut edges or audio-flaws like pops. Are these records Near Mint? Or could it be claimed that there is no available Mint record as the whole pressing was bad. For a record that is pressed today, possible no-one cares, but in 30 years they might be sold as collector items and someone is supposed to grade them. Looking at the grading above they might be VG+ as best even though it’s a stock copy.

- To command top-prices for records the Inserts should always be included. For rare items you see that sellers grade the insert separately. Myself I see the inserts as a part of the release. A record without insert has no value to me even if it would be in Near Mint, I know others could care less about this.

Last but not least – Stickes is a turn-off unless there original label stickers. Price stickers move an otherwise NM record into the VG+ category

Terminology and advice
Details of the groves of a vinyl record
As you read descriptions on Ebay, Discogs or Swedish Tradera there is a lot of words used, so let’s sort of the terminology! I would also take the opportunity to add translations for the Swedish readers. Let’s start with the record:

Hairlines (Swedish – ytrepor) are very faint scratches. On NM records they origin from either bad paper quality of the inner sleeve or caused by record has been placed on another surface and rubbed against it. Hairlines should not be noticeable when the record is played.

Scuffs (Swedish – märken) are handling damages like paper scuffs as the record is pushed into the sleeve or similar.

Scratches on a vinyl recordScratches (Swedish – repor) break in the grooves and they can be felt with your finger nail. A scratch will create a click or a pop as you play the record. The origin of scratches is from the needle of the turntable or bad handling like where the record has been on contact with a sharp or rough surface. It should be noted that records graded above VG+ cannot have any scratches. Really bad scratches will the record to skip (Swedish – hack), those records are in the junk-grading category.


Spindle marks on a vinyl recordSpindle marks (Swedish – ????) are flaws related to putting the record on the spindle. It could be small marks around the center hole or even on the label as the record has not been put on the spindle correctly (for new records).

Audio defects like pops (related to a tiny damage on the surface) and repeating clicks (Swedish – Knäpp) are really turn-offs for many collectors and will command a grading of VG or lower. Surface noise (Swedish – brus, knaster) comes from grove wear (Swedish – spårslitage) either by just playing the record too many times or the use of a bad needle, turn-table settings or playing dirty / dusty records. On VG records these surface noise is more evident on the silent part. However – some people mix up static electricity with surface noise. This noise can be removed by swiping the record with an anti-static brush.

So that was the records, some words about the sleeve;

Reading the ads there are many words used like crease, wrinkles, fraying, stains, tears, seam wear, seam split and ring wear. These terms might be clear for someone having English as their first language but far more challenging for others.

Ring Wear Vinyl RecordRing wear (Swedish – Ringmärke efter skivan) is the circle on the sleeve from the record that is stored inside the sleeve. Records that are stacked on each other will get this problem faster than records stored vertically. I keep the record and the inner sleeve behind the sleeve to avoid any risk to get ring wear on the sleeve.


Record sleeve with a dent and a crease A Dent (Swedish – stötmärke) are found in the corner of the record whilst a crease (Swedish – veck) comes from a bent or folded area. Both of them can be seen on the image to the left. Wrinkles and Puckers (Swedish – Rynkor) are more serious damages than small creases. A Tear (Swedish – Reva) refer to the paper having been torn.


Fraying-S

A Fraying (Swedish – Slitna ställen, fransar) is a worn area. The image to the left show severe fraying all around the cover. For the higher grading they typical appear on the corners only.


Record disc wrapA disc which is warped (Swedish – skeva) came from a bad pressing but it could also have been exposed to high temperature during storage. It’s said there are some miracle methods to get them fixed. I have however never met anyone who seems to have fixed a warped record / disc. Just slightly wraped records can be in the VG+ category (if it good otherwise), whilst severe warping will give the record a junk grading.


Seam Wear on a record sleeveAnd finally we got Seam wear and Seam splits (Swedish – skador resp hål i sömmen/kanten). These damages are created by the record inside of the sleeve. Seam damages are the main reason you should ask any seller to ship the record separated from the sleeve. Okay – that was my 5 cents on grading and vocabulary.

October 4 2014, the Editor

3 comments

  1. Simon

    Hey, just wanted to say that I really appreciated this info. I’ve had a hard time with the english terminology over at Discogs. Thanks!

    • the editor

      Great that it was helpful!

  2. Thomas

    Speaking of a warped record – there is a possibility!
    You can ‘iron’ the record – the method is similar to the operation mode of a waffle iron.
    E.g., here you can see the machine used for this routine: http://www.audiophile-vinyl.de/Unser-Service/Schallplatten-buegeln.htm?SessionId=&a=catalog&p=7
    It’s not cheap (around 9 or 10 Euros for one record), but I tried this for a few of warped 12″ records (not sure about 7″ records!) and to my surprise it worked and I could listen to them without any problems after the routine.

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