Nothing is more important in determining the value of your record collection than knowing how to grade the condition of your vinyl. But how do you do so correctly - according to the goldmine standard? That is a question many collectors struggle with. This guide will provide you with all the information necessary to grade like an absolute pro.
First things first:
If you're an individual selling a small handful of records, playing the vinyl to check for crackle and other imperfections is ideal. However for professional sellers this strategy is near to impossible given the amount of records that need grading. They often opt to grade their records only visually or check only the higher priced records in their collection audibly.
The best way to grade records visually is under a bright house light, where it's easiest to spot even the smallest signs of damage such as paper scuffs or hairlines, which sometimes escape the eye otherwise. Hold the record to the light and try to check them from all angles. As a seller, you are better off grading conservatively and surprising the buyer with a better record than was expected, than by grading based on wishful thinking and losing a customer. Always try to mention defects as clearly as possible when selling online.
Let's get started, shall we?
Get yourself a cup of coffee, a record cleaning set to get the dust off your record and some real peace of mind, cause... this "grading thing" can take a while...
Mint records are new. They are still sealed, never played and appear in absolutely perfect condition. The sleeve does not have any shelf wear or other damages such as corner dents. This grade should be used very sparingly as most new record sleeves do show some imperfection, even when still in shrink wrap.
NEAR MINT (NM)
A Near Mint Record is a fantastic investment. They are almost perfect and look glossy, meaning they have most likely never been played or only very sparingly, say once or twice. The record should have no signs of wear or damage, not even hard to spot hairlines or paper scuffs. When played the vinyl will spin without any imperfections, such as cracks, to be heard.
The package of the record is either untouched or nearly untouched, meaning the sleeve of a near mint record should have no creases, folds, seam splits, cut-out holes, or other noticeable defects. The same should be true for any other inserts, such as posters, lyric sleeves, etc that are included with the record. In essence: A NM record is imperfect only in it being opened or its one-or-two-time use.
An Excellent record is similar to a VG+ record. However, its very light marks (hairlines and paper scuffs mostly) will be difficult to spot, as are its audio imperfections during playback. A lot of excelent rated records have been in and out of their sleeve only a few times. Their minimal signs of use - generally - reflect high-quality care. Discogs and Goldmine standarts do not use Excelent as a qualification. They immediately jump from near MINT to VG+. If you are unsure in which category your record fits, it is best to chose conservatively and opt for VG+.
VERY GOOD+ (VG+)
Very Good Plus+ record will show some minimal signs of wear by a previous owner who took good care of it. The record might show very light scratches (so called hairlines) or paper scuffs. During playback the record plays without defects, apart from some very slight background crackly, but only very slight! Nothing that compromises the sound comprehensively. Very Good+ Records are a solid investment and for most buyers the minimum grading they look for.
The label of a Very Good+ Record may have some ring wear or discoloration, but it should be barely noticeable. Spindle marks may be present as this record is played a couple of times. In general the sleeve of a Very Good+ Record will show slight signs of (shelf)wear, slightly bummed corners, or a slight seam split. The record cover may also show a cut-out hole or corner. In essence: if not for a couple of minor things wrong with the record and it's cover, this would be EX/Near Mint.
VERY GOOD (VG)
This is where things get tricky...because when a seller states that the condition of the record is very good, you might think: wow, that sounds excellent. But in reality this can cause some disappointment. 'Very Good' graded records will have experienced a lot of use and will therefor show the same defects found in a VG+ record, but much more pronounced. Surface noise will be evident upon playing, especially in soft passages and during a song's intro and fade, but will not overpower the music otherwise. Groove wear will start to be noticeable, as are light scratches that will effect the sound. These scratches are deep enough to feel with a fingernail. In essence: You can still enjoy the music on the record, if you aren't afraid of a few pops and crackles here or there.
Labels of Very Good records may be marked by writing, have tape, stickers, or their residue attached or show serious ringwair. The same will be true for the record sleeve. However, it will not have all of these problems at the same time. Very Good graded record are to sum it all up: Visually and Audibly USED.
Again, 'Good' graded records are hardly any good... which can cause confusion and disappointment. In essence, good means bad. Good or Good+ records can be played without skipping...but that's about it. The record will have significant surface noice, ticks and pops caused by visible groove wear and serious scratches. The cover isn't the most beautiful either tormented with seam splits, tape, writing, ring wear or other damages.
FAIR (F) / POOR (P)
You can attempt to listen to a Poor or Fair Album... If you do, we wish your ears and your turntable good luck, cause it won't be a pretty experience. You can expect major noice issues, skipping or repeating... cause these records are badly damaged by deep scratches, cracks or other warps. They are approaching the end of their musical career.
Let's see about the sleeves shall we... well they look more dead than alive as well. The cover is water damaged, has split on all three seams or is heavily damaged by (shelf)wear and writing. In essence: It is a sad piece of cardboard.
FAQ - MOST ASKED QUESTIONS
Can I grade records by Genre?
No, the goldmine grading standard is universal for all kinds of music. So you can't grade jazz records any different form hardrock records for instance. However, we have experienced that some genre-lovers tend to be pickier then others. Classical music and Jazz enthousiast tend to be most perfectionistic when it comes to vinyl condition than metal fans. This may effect your asking price...but again, the grading system works the same for every genre.
Do you grade every "used" record in the store?
We are VERY picky when it comes to the quality of second hand records that we offer at our store. We therefor check all second hand records visually, and filter out the ones with scratches or damages. Visually almost all our records are therefore EX/NM, with a few VG+. Our customers are nearly always surprised by our quality control. If a playback problem does occur we always try to find a personal solution.