GRADING RECORDS -- DOES "MINT" EXIST?
The true grade of a vinyl record can be a slippery slope for either buyers or sellers. In the world of vinyl, truth is often hard to reach. The approach to record grading can vary wildly. In a perfect world, every record would be played before it is graded. Some sellers will advertise their used or opened records as “play-graded” to attract buyers.
But used or opened records are usually visually graded, a highly subjective process of course, and quite dependent on the grader’s eyeballs. (Without my reading glasses on, my first pressing of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” looks “near mint” all the way.)
But lets talk about “Mint” condition and why it doesn’t really exist.
In my experience, no record ever qualifies for that “flawless in every way” grade. Many subscribe to the belief that a sealed record, never opened, handled or played, is rightfully designated as “mint.” And yet, the sealed copy of Nick Drake’s 2004 compilation LP A Treasury I purchased not once, but twice, played with more noise than my Marvin Gaye Let’s Get it On album once used during an out of control dorm party as a cheese serving platter. “Mint,” like many of our exalted dreams in life, is elusive and mythical.
“Near Mint,” however, is real, achievable, relays more honesty about unattainable perfection, and is the highest grade I would give a virtually flawless record. Some sellers will also refer to “near mint” as “excellent.” I won’t even get into the tap dancers out there selling records online as “very good plus-plus,” in an attempt to create an appealing alternative vinyl reality that stops short of using the trusted words “near mint.”
Hey, I said at the outset that grading was a slippery slope.
But rather than rattle your confidence as a buyer or seller of LPs, here’s a useful framework for getting a grip on record grading. Nearly all methods out there for grading records are based in some way on the system established by Goldmine Magazine, a respected collectors publication. This grading system, discussed below, is also endorsed by EBAY.
Mint (M) Absolutely perfect in every way. Certainly never been played, possibly even still sealed. Should be used sparingly as a grade, If at all.
Near Mint (NM or M-) A nearly perfect record. Many dealers won't give a grade higher than this implying (correctly) that no record is ever truly perfect. Basically, an LP in near mint condition looks as if you just got it home from a new record store and removed the shrink wrap.
Very Good Plus (VG+) A Very Good Plus record will show some signs that it was played and otherwise handled by a previous owner who took good care of it. Record surfaces may show some signs of wear and may have slight scuffs or very light scratches that don't affect one's listening experiences. In general, if not for a couple of minor things wrong with it, this would be Near Mint. All but the most mint-crazy collectors will find a Very Good Plus record highly acceptable.
Very Good (VG) Many of the defects found in a VG+ record will be more pronounced in a VG disc. 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, and light scratches will affect the sound. Labels may be marred by writing, or have tape or stickers (or their residue) attached. Sometimes you might buy a Very Good record as a placeholder, until you find a copy in better condition.
Good (G), Good Plus (G+) A record in Good or Good Plus condition can be put onto a turntable and will play through without skipping. But it will have significant surface noise and scratches and visible groove wear. A cover or sleeve will have seam splits, especially at the bottom or on the spine. Tape, writing, ring wear or other defects will start to overwhelm the object.
Poor (P), Fair (F) ONLY IF YOU MUST. The record is cracked, badly warped, and won't play through without skipping or repeating. The picture sleeve is water damaged, split on all three seams and heavily marred by wear and writing. The LP cover barely keeps the LP inside it. Except for impossibly rare records otherwise unattainable, records in this condition should be bought or sold for no more than a few cents each.