A Note on Grading

In my experience, receiving a record that was graded accurately often seems to be the most difficult and daunting part of collecting. Despite the different grading systems that exist, it is a nuanced art, rather than a science. There are multiple grading systems out there that use the same values, but describe the condition differently. A Goldmine G+ might be described the same way as a Record Collector VG+. I try to take a common sense approach to grading, and I take the time to thoroughly and accurately condition check the records I sell. 

In most cases, records I grade VG+ or VG are the equivalent of the condition you will get from buying online via Discogs or eBay, and will be enjoyable to most listeners. I would rather the next owner be completely satisfied, or even pleasantly surprised to receive a record in better condition than they expected, rather than squeeze out a few extra bucks. I use VG++ and VG to denote +/- of a standard condition record, and the majority of what I list will fall in this scale.

These grades are mostly based on the visual. Play grading takes too much assumption into account. No one who buys an album from me can replicate the exact variables of my playback experience: cartridges, stylus shape, tracking force, tone arms, and other differences in equipment will yield a different result. Something with marks that plays perfectly for me may not for you. I will give general comments about playback, especially if there are specific areas of concern on a record, but these are a guideline, not an empirical judgment of how it will sound to you. I have included images so you can see what I am seeing, in a way (you can also open or download larger version of all images here at the bottom of the page).

Original and vintage pressings were never made with audiophile standards in mind. Records were commercial, mass produced items, or small pressings made on a budget. The pressing quality varies widely for any given record. As a collector, I naturally expect some level of surface noise, light ticks, or crackle on any record I buy, even if it is pristine looking. That is the real sound of vinyl!

This is highest grade that I will assign to opened, handled records, and then only very rarely. The vinyl is nearly flawless, bright and shiny. A very minor, barely visible scuff or fine hairline is only visible when thoroughly viewing under a raking light. The label is bright, clean and unmarked.

Sleeve: Should look like it just came off the printing press.

I don’t like to use this grade as it should basically be how the record is the first time you unseal it and play it.



Disc appears bright and shiny, but may have some visible surface wear, very minor marks and/or scuffs, such as from removing the record from a paper innersleeve. There can be a few hairlines but nothing that is too obvious outside of a raking light or that should have a major affect on play. Label is clean and unmarked, but might show signs of being handled.

Sleeve: Faint corner creases or bumps, maybe a faint crease or two. Perhaps an abrasion or two. Artwork is clean and unworn.

This record and sleeve has been handled with intentional care.

In short, this is an in-between grade. The vinyl will have some visible surface wear, more obvious hairlines and scuffs, but will still require through inspection to see them, and will only cover a part of the record surface. Vinyl will still have good luster; labels may have minor imperfections (small labels or initials, minor imperfections such as bubbling, spindle marks, etc.) but otherwise clean. Less likely impact on the sound quality, and may play with light surface noise on occasion or some light ticks. 

Sleeve: There will be more visible wear than an EX, some edgewear, corner dings, some possible rubbing and pigment loss, smaller creases at the edges. There will be no seam splits or cutouts. Possible fading from sunlight or other minimal blemishes such as discoloration from age or light foxing, or small indentations and light abrasions. Light disc impressions and the start of ringwear in a raking light might be present.

You can tell this record has been played, and the sleeve pulled off the shelf more than a few times. 

Vinyl has surface wear, scuffs and hairlines will be apparent from a cursory glance, but no detrimental impact on the sound quality, and will likely play with some surface noise, intermittent light ticks, or the occasional light pop. Vinyl may begin to show signs of wear from play and lose its luster; labels may have imperfections (writing, labels, tears, spindle marks, etc.) but otherwise clean.

Sleeve: There will be obvious wear in this condition, the corners and edges can have bumps, creases, chipping and/or rubbing loss, and the spine may have wear. There may be discoloration or staining, seam wear, and cracking that could lead to splits. Some scratches/abrasions or indentations can be expected. There may be ring wear, where the disc has created a raised area on the cover that resulted in the ink wearing off the paper, or obvious disc impressions. 

This is the most common condition of used records and will be evident that an albums has been played may times.

Vinyl will have hairlines and scuffs that will cover the majority of the surface, and could have a few tiny scratches that are not raised or can be felt by running your finger over them. The surface may appear somewhat dull as groove wear may be present.

These condition issues can cause more than occasional surface noise during playback, including pops and ticks, and crackle that can be persistent, but not overpower the music. There will be no skips or issues preventing playback. Labels may have small tears, tape marks, larger writing, etc. but still easily legible. There may be wear or deformation of the spindle hole.

Sleeve: Cover is worn and used. Corners may have damage or creases and there may be scratches or gouges that otherwise damage the artwork. There are likely larger creases or bends. Seams may be starting to split or may have been unobtrusively repaired with clear tape. (I use special archival-quality, non-yellowing, clear tape for all repairs.) There is moderate ringwear, but the artwork is still attractive. There may be yellowing or discoloration, heavier foxing, and there may be larger writing, labels, or marks. Might have light water damage that only covers a small portion, or causes waviness from humidity. 

This record has seen a lot of play and might have been left stacked out of its sleeve, or passed around at parties.

This is my other in-between grade. The vinyl will have numerous hairlines, scuffs, larger marks, and/or a handful of non-raised scratches. Maybe 1-2 small raised scratches that won’t emit more than a lighter pop. Essentially it looks pretty bad, but is not trashed, or the wear doesn’t get deep in the grooves. 

There could be significant surface noise, crackle, pops and ticks, but not through the entire record. More likely than not the music still overpowers the flaws, and it’s listenable if you don’t mind the imperfections. 

Sleeve: This type of grade will before a sleeve that has one or two major issues, or a number of smaller issues that stack up to make it look pretty rough. Will likely have larger seam splits up to about six inches, maybe some water damage or larger stains. 

This is the kind of record you don’t set out to buy, but will settle for at the right price if you really want it, or it’s cheap/rare.

The record will have a lot of notable marks and scratches, but still plays through without skipping. There could be significant surface noise or groove wear. Lots of crackle, pops, clicks, might skip once. This is the tipping point where you’re balanced between hearing the music and losing it to the noise. The label might be worn or torn.

Sleeve: Has significant ring wear, heavy writing, or obvious damage caused by someone trying to remove tape or stickers and failing miserably. Has seam splits larger than six inches, up to the entire side. Could have heavy water damage or peeling of the cover.

At some point, no one cared about how they handled this record, but it will still play the music. It can serve as filler until something better comes along, or you’ll struggle to afford a rarity in better condition and just want a copy.

Sealed before coming into my possession and never opened. Disc is assumed to be undamaged and mint, but this cannot be proven until the album is actually opened and the disc examined. Consider it Schrodinger’s Vinyl. The cover can be seen through the shrink and is graded to the above standards.

I tend not to sell records in any lesser condition than the above, but will offer them if they are rare or notable pressings, or if the condition issue only affects small parts of the record (i.e. a warp affects the first song on each side, but the rest of the record plays with no issue).

Images (click to open in a new window and magnify, or right click to save):

NM Vinyl | NM Sleeve
EX Vinyl | EX Sleeve
VG++ Vinyl | VG++ Sleeve
VG+ VinylVG+ Vinyl | VG+ Vinyl | VG+ Sleeve / VG+ Sleeve Back
VG VinylVG Vinyl | VG Vinyl | VG Sleeve / VG Sleeve
VG- Vinyl | VG- Vinyl | VG- Sleeve | VG- Sleeve
G+ Vinyl | G+ Sleeve | G+ Sleeve

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