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Record Grading: A Definitive Guide?

Simon T

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What do people regard as the definitive guide to record grading?

There often seems to be quite significant differences between sellers.

Also differences between to UK and US as to the use of grade (M, E, Vg & G. The use of +’s & -‘s)

If a record is worth £100 in mint condition, what % of the £100 should you use for E, Vg etc?

Is there a ‘standard’ reduction for problems such as WOL, warps, cue burn, surface noise, crack etc?

Would it be worthwhile to create a definitive guide?

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Goldmine's gradings is the norm is it not in the majority of collecting circles?

MINT or M : Perfect! A mint record should look like it has just left the manufacturer, with NO flaws what so ever. It should look as though it had never been handled. No scuffs or scratches, blotches or stains. No stickers address labels, writing on the covers or labels. No tears or seam splits. No wear to the cover or record period! Age of the record has nothing to do with it. A MINT record from 1949 should look like a MINT record from 1996.

The number one complaint from collectors about grading over the years, have been the deteriorating standards that dealers and private sellers have had when grading. It is only natural for most people to turn to the "MINT" grade and read "highest prices" listed in price guides. Since most price guides have a high and low price range, the assumed grade most often is NOT mint, but near mint (NM). MINT COVERS: Simply put, a mint cover should appear to have never had a record inside it. No wear to the corners or any marring on the face or back of the cover. EP jackets and 45 single picture sleeves also apply to this rule. The record inside can cause an impression (rounded shape in the face of the cover/sleeve) Many dealers or sellers feel that the artwork (the ink) has to be worn or starting to rub off, before there is any ring wear.

NOPE!! Mint means perfect and nothing else!

SPECIAL NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that because stickers may involve promo and special track listings that were applied from the factory, it is still not a standard practice. Promo stickers and large white programming labels (on the bottom of the covers) are considered a turn off. Therefore even these stickers would lower the grade from a MINT status to perhaps only EX. For stickers that show special announcements, such as "Featuring the hit song...etc", were not applied to all the commercial releases. Some earlier copies may not have the sticker since the song in question had not even charted yet. It was to advertise the whole LP and draw attention to the buyer. Some stickers are worth money! That means they actually have value. Most companies applied the stickers to the shrinkwrap and thus, one should save these items, but if applied to the covers, lower the covers grade. If you wish to place value on the sticker (most are anywhere from 50 cents to $2.00) then do so but make mention of the sticker being on the cover to potential buyers! MINT VINYL: This should be very simple to define. A mint record should look perfect, as described earlier. Any defect from the factory pressing, such as bubbles or pits in the vinyl are not acceptable! Even if they do not cause any problem when played. It should, as we said, be a perfect pressing. Records often were packaged by hand and the simple placing of the record into a paper sleeve can caused minor scuffs. Probably very insignificant, but they are flaws as never the less. For this reason, it is impossible to call a sealed record mint, thus any sealed record that is sold, should be sold only with the guarantee that it is assumed to be un-played. Sealed records have sold for more than the high end of price guides. If you are selling sealed records, be advised that many collectors shy away from them. A sight unseen record is hard to sell. A sealed record is even harder to sell.


NEAR MINT or NM: Sometimes dealers use M- (Mint Minus)grade.

You may need to ask the dealer if he/she uses the M- grade the same way as NM. They should mean the same thing however many people have had used several confusing grades all based around the Mint status. We define NM and or M- as being almost mint. This grade should be, for the most part, the most widely used grade for records that appear virtually flawless. Virtually flawless records are not perfect. A very minor scuff and very little else can appear on the vinyl. This will most likely have occurred during packaging, or removing the record from the inner sleeve but had been handled with extreme care. It should play without any noise over the flaw. The flaw should be very hard to see. If a scuff covers more than a few tracks yet can be seen, it will not be NM, however it may come very close. Use strong judgment when evaluating the vinyls condition.

NEAR MINT COVERS: The cover should look as close to perfect with only minor signs of wear and or age. Minor impressions to the cover (due to the outer edge of the vinyl resting inside) may be acceptable, however the artwork should be as close to perfect as can be.


EXCELLENT or EX or VG++: This is truly NOT Goldmine defined grade, however it is becoming more and more mainstream among collectors and sellers. It is also a very conservative grade for those who don't want to grade NM, for fear they may over grade the record and cover. In which case it is very acceptable yet should not command the highest price based on NM value. Only NM records or better are considered collectable and WILL command top dollar. Anything less, the prices drop dramatically. However many very rare (collectable) items can command very close to NM value, simply because NM copies may not even exist. This will be explained under a different topic...

FAQ: How to value your collection based on grade (future updates forthcoming)


EX VINYL: An excellent (EX or VG++) condition for vinyl will allow minor scuffs which are visible but only slightly. There may be more than a few, so be careful not call a record that has wear to more than 15% of the surface. The wear should be minimal and of course should play mint! Any scratches that can be felt with your fingernail can NOT be called scuffs. Scuffs lay on top of the grooves. If any break in the grooves are felt, they ARE scratches. And most often, they will be heard when played (soft clicks or even loud pops). Once again, no scratches can make this grade!


EX COVER: Artwork should still be as close to perfect as can be. Some impression to the cover (minor outer ring wear) but no ink wear! Some slight creases to the corners, but not wrinkled and obtrusive to the eye. The corners can show white (where the artwork pasted slick was) meaning, slight wear. No seam splits or writing on the cover or taped repairs can make this grade. If you don't think a cover is NM than call it EX or less. There will be obvious reactions to the EX grade. But if you use a EX grade and price a bit lower, your risk of over grade will be reduced dramatically. You will also make more people happy, rather than trying to call it NM.


VERY GOOD PLUS or VG+: What does this mean? Some people will call a less than NM record VG+ and skip the EX grade. Goldmine defines it as Excellent (EX), yet commands only 50% of the value (for most records). It can easily be defined as 2 ways. VG+ should be the next grade below a NM value when grading 45 singles. EX can be used for EP's. 45 singles have only 2 songs and EP's (7" by the way) can have anywhere from 3, 4, 6 and 8 (rarely found) songs on the record. With 45 singles one side may be NM and the other side may not. If the flip side is not NM but still plays well (or great, no noise), VG+ is a conservative grade. Very few 45's should be called EX unless they are of rarities. Use careful judgment when buying and selling them with this grade!


VG+ VINYL: Now for LP's (the big ones ). VG+ will show wear, surface scuffs,(or spiral scuffs that came from turn table platters or jukeboxes for 45 singles) and some very light scratches. Surface scuffs are caused from blunt (not sharp) objects. Often the minor scuffs are caused from inner sleeves. The vinyl should still have a great luster, but the flaws will be noticeable to the naked eye. Sometimes holding the record up to a very bright light, you will see many tiny lines across the surface. If the flaws don't cause any surface noise, the vinyl can make the VG+ grade. Most (but not all) VG+ records should still play like a NM record. But because the vinyl has more than 15% (yet less than 30%) wear to the surface, it can make this grade. Remember, the record still should look as though it was handled with extreme care. Sometimes people find records that have no scuffs that are visible, yet a careless needle scratch causes a break in the grooves. Play the record. If there is any obtrusive clicks or pops, which cause the the song to be less than enjoyable, it may not even be VG+! Scratches are not acceptable to a serious collector in any way. If you call a record 95% NM but note the record as having 1 track with a bad scratch, many will only consider it as VG (explained next). You should seldom call a record "A Strong VG, plays mostly VG+". It does not explain the overall condition well enough. Use this very cautiously when grading.


VG+ COVERS: Now that we defined the EX grade, a few extra flaws will make this grade.

A virtually clean cover, but may have small writing on it. (Magic marker in big letters will not cut it. They are an eye soar, so be weary of over grading). The artwork should look clean with slightly more aging. The back of the cover usually gives away the age of the cover. Flat white paper will be somewhat yellow yet no stains or mildew from water damage. Some minor wear to the seams or spine, but no tears or holes popping through. The corners will be slightly dog eared yet no crackly bends, defacing the artwork. In essence, a VG+ cover should have no more than 3 flaws mentioned. If all apply, it is less than VG+. (see next grade below)


VERY GOOD or VG: The Very Good Grade does not mean Very good at all. At least not in the visual sense. A Very Good (VG) record will appear well played but still have some luster. The vinyl may be faded, slightly grayish, yet appears to have been handled as carefully as it could have been helped. Records that get continuous playing time will start to deteriorate. More and more surface scuffs and scratches, and audible sound defects WILL be heard. They should not overpower the dynamics of the music. With VG records, the surface noise will be minor crackle or a slight hiss, but should only be heard in between tracks or in low musical passages.

IMPORTANT NOTE: With Jazz and Classical recordings, the music can become very low to the point where no music is even heard. If any crackle, tics, clicks or pops are heard, these records will have very little value to a serious collector! Classical and Jazz is seldom wanted if they are in less than VG+ condition. It is wise to play these records (as should all records) when evaluating grades. Some classical records may look VG+ or even NM, however play less than than perfect. Beware of over grading these. They are difficult to grade and conservative grading is a must with them. Also equally as important. Most dealers truly will not have a lot of time playing every single LP they sell. It just is impossible. However when records have questionable flaws, the record should be tested at least where the flaw occurs in the playing surface. Visually noting the flaw may not be good enough. If the record skips, you will have made a mistake and the value would thus be less.


VG COVERS: VG covers will look worn, used. There may be some seam splitting (but not completely separated!). There will be some ring wear, where the ink has begun to wear off. Giving the cover a look of snow falling. If the artwork looks snowy all over, it is less than VG condition. There may be some writing on the cover (still not LARGE letters in Magic Marker).

It will look aged, and more yellowish due to contaminations in the air (sometimes looking like cigarette smoke). Still it should be decent. If damaged beyond any formable beauty, it will not make this grade. VG should at least still have some attractive life to it, and not have taped seams or water damage to it. If you decide to tape repair a cover, to prevent further damage, use clear scotch tape and place it on so that it is not obtrusive to the eye. If only a small split, only tape the split. Don't run tape across the entire spine or seams. Too much tape means too little interest. Use as little as possible. If the split is minor, it is best to just leave it alone. Note the flaw and go from there with the grade.


GOOD or G (including the G+ and VG- grades): A good record will look very well played, dull, grayish and possibly abused. However a Good record should still play. It will have distracting surface noise. Such as crackle that is continuous or some hiss. Will also have some loss of dynamics caused from grooves being worn. It should play without any skips or any obtrusively loud pops or repeated clicks, caused by deep scratches. If you can't enjoy the record, it is not no longer even good. Good means that it will play with some form of decency, so one can still enjoy the music even though you can still hear noise caused from the wear.

NOTE: Rock and Roll records generally play loud. G condition records for them will be the most likely thing that will still sell well. Jazz and Classical and easy listening in G condition are almost worthless to a collector, since the musical passages often get very low and surface noise is too distracting to the listener. Also check on 45 singles for the length of time. Records that play longer than 3 minutes, may not be as dynamic and thus any where will be heard more than the music (overpower the dynamics). Use conservative judgment when grading these types of singles.


GOOD COVER: a Good cover will have just about everything wrong with it. It will have seam splits (possibly taped repaired, but only with scotch tape. No duct tape or masking tape repairs. these are big turn offs. May have magic marker writing on the cover but still if they are in huge letters, it is a big turn off. In essence, the cover will looked trashed, but some artwork will still be noticed. If the artwork is worn, it is POOR and the cover is worthless. Huge tears or gouges in the cover will also make the cover POOR. Be careful about sealed records, that have been water damaged. Mildew still can get inside and cause great damage to the cover, and the disc. Use common sense and you will save yourself from an over grade. NOTE:Sealed records that have water damage should be opened. Otherwise you will be in trouble later on when the cardboard starts to deteriorate inside the shrinkwrap. Attempt to dry the covers using a hair dryer (be sure to remove the record first!)


G+ and VG-: This is separate from the above. Many records that appear in VG condition often play less than very good. Goldmine defines them as better than Good, but less than Very Good. The value should not increase more than the value of a Good record. Meaning they all should be priced somewhere within the same guideline (most often it is 10 to 15% for Good, and only 15% for Good Plus (G+) and Very Good Minus (VG-). With a G+ record, it will look just as the described condition for Good, yet may play better than it looks. Dynamics for are usually good enough to overpower the surface noise. Same for VG-, However VG- and G+ are of the same value. It is more of a visually and audible combined grade. There should be no large price increase for these records. Price them like G records and you should not have a problem.


FAIR, & POOR: The easiest way to define this is if does not meet the lowest grade above (GOOD), it is trash. It is worthless. Unless it is so rare, it won't sale worthy at all. It is ok to throw them away or give them to someone who just wants to have them. It won't be playable for the most part, and so they are not much good hanging onto them. Very few poor records are collectable. Some rare colored vinyl or picture discs are ok, and can still be nice to have, but they won't be good enough to play again.



Many people will buy reissues of past oldies. The era in which the vinyl is pressed makes a big difference to the way it will last and how well it will sound for years to come. Original 50's and 60's used quality materials to produce LP's. Smaller labels used less than great vinyl. A good pressing is often identified by it's thickness. Also the depth of the grooves. These will generally be better for the person who seeks quality originals. There is still the question as to the use of styrene. These are more brittle and damaged easily when played on poor equipment. Finding good playing styrene can only be found by playing them. Some styrene will play better than others. Styrene made 45s are all over the place. When they get worn, the grooves turn a brownish or even white grayish color. They may play but a great loss of dynamics will be noticed

as well, more surface noise will be a result. Most records of this nature are worthless.


Quick rundown in abbreviated Grading System



EX or VG++



G (with minor exceptions to G+ and VG-)

F and P (Trash) (some records in Fair condition will be wanted but very, very few.

GRADES THAT DON"T EXIST: Be weary of these grades!

M+ (Mint Plus) : They are trying to say the record is better than MINT! No such animal. If you see this grade, avoid the record like the plague. Mint is the highest grade anything can ever be. And 99 out of 100 times the record won't even be mint! Man is not perfect! So how can a an man made product be better than perfect? Answer: Impossible!

NM- : Near Mint Minus. Just another way of trying to get top book value for a record that is less than NM. If a seller uses this grade, ask what it means (thoroughly) as opposed to the NM or M- grade. It's your dollar and if they are selling it as less than NM yet for top dollar, you may be out of luck trying to convince them that it was an over grade on their part. If a record is slightly less than NM, then use EX or VG++.

EX+: If you read the above the same rule holds true here. No such thing as EX+. It is just another confusing grade that does not have any defined level of agreement among collectors. People who use this grade don't want to lose money on there collectables. By upping the grade, means upping the price. Just be fair. Use conservative grades When you grade a record, put yourself in the shoes of the potential buyer. Would you want to get a record with this grade and discovery some overlooked flaws? If you sell a record for big $$$ be prepared for criticism. People will examine the record with more than just a quick glance once they receive it. Over grading will only make you look bad. And too many unhappy customers, means very few repeats (or perhaps no customers in the long run).

VG+++: Come on, 2 plus marks are enough! No such animal!

G++ : Ok so I use it once in a blue moon. But at least I describe the way the record plays, to a tee! The price does not go up. The grade is just a good selling point. Realistically though it does not exist. Use it rarely if ever.

Other considerations:

Most dealers give a separate grade to the record and its sleeve or cover. In an ad, a records grade is listed first, followed by that of the sleeve or jacket.

With Still Sealed (SS) records, let the buyer beware, unless it's a U.S. pressing from the last 10-15 years or so. It's too easy to reseal one. Yes, some legitimately never-opened LP's from the 1960's still exist. But if you're looking for a specific pressing, the only way you can know of sure is to open the record. Also, European imports are not factory-sealed, so if you see them advertised as sealed, someone other than the manufacturer sealed them.

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Thanks for that Chalky.

My intention is to start selling stuff off and would want to purposely lower the grading a tad so that I don’t spend more time arguing over the grading, than the time I’ve spent collecting them!

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