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How to Grade Vinyl Records

How to Grade Vinyl Records LP Condition

The Ultimate Guide to Vinyl Record Grading

Record stores can be terrifying places. Don’t get us wrong. We love them of course, but the fact is that these beautiful shops are meccas of taste built by music enthusiasts (*cough* snobs *cough*) who have spent their entire lives not only trying to understand why certain music is considered “better” or “more respectable” than other music, but why that taste matters.

In other words, these snobby places are run by snobby people who like to show off their snobbery. We don’t blame you if, even if you can name every Neil Young bootleg that’s ever been rumored to exist, walking through those record store doors is a little intimidating.

One way to combat that insecurity is to arm yourself with knowledge. The first thing that you can do in order to maintain a successful vinyl collection is to understand the mechanisms of how this stuff works. (Why does this speaker sound better than that speaker? Why is this copy of this record so much more expensive than the same record?? Wtf is a Discogs???) But fear not, we’re here to help. The number one skill you can add to your vinyl knowledge is understanding how grading a vinyl record works.

While it isn’t an exact science, knowing how to grade vinyl records can help you get the best bang for your buck or or help you avoid adding “duds” to your record collection. Below we provide an overview of the vinyl record grading system, going into detail on each of the 8 possible grades.

The Vinyl Record Grading System

Each vinyl record is assigned an acronym/abbreviation that displays its quality relative to industry standards. The better the grade, the better the sound quality and potential lifespan for the record. We’re not dealing in rocket science here. Moreover, the grading system can also be applied to the album cover and inner sleeve. Here’s an explainer on what vinyl record grades are and how you can apply them in your music lovin’ life.

Mint (M)

A mint record is perfect in every way. It has not been played before and has likely never been removed from its package. These records are typically new or have been collected, stored well, and left in the shrink wrap. Mint records typically come with a higher price point than other used vinyl, which is understandable. However, if someone is trying to sell a record they’ve labeled as Mint condition, don’t be afraid to double check everything. Things should be impeccable. No questions asked.

Near Mint (NM or M-)

These records are typically excellent investments. The vinyl has a quietly glossy look and has likely only been played a couple of times. The packaging will look nearly untouched with no wear and tear. Buyers of Near Mint vinyl should also expect no sound distortion or surface noise. If something is billed as Near Mint, don’t be afraid to ask where it came from and its history of use. Sellers should have an understanding that they’re attempting to sell something that’s considered almost perfect.

Excellent (E)

Excellent graded records have minimal scratches and audio distortions. Most of these records have only been out of their sleeves and on a turntable a handful times. They may show a few signs of use but have been treated with great care. They’re a bit more used than Near Mint, but not by much. These are the kinds of records that you would find in someone’s pristine collection.

Very Good Plus (VG+)

A record with Very Good Plus rating is without any major noticeable faults. There should only be very, very minor audio distortion. On the downside, you may find a few inaudible marks and a slight background crackle, although if that’s the case, there’s a strong argument that the record should be graded a level down. On the whole, despite a few flaws, these records are generally good investments and should last for years to come (if you take care of them).

Very Good (VG)

A Very Good rated record has generally experienced significant use. Imagine someone’s favorite record: They play it a lot, and they take care of it. The record will have plenty of life in it, but there will likely be a few minor sound distortions and surface noise. These records often carry light pops and clicks and may have a few light but visible scratches. While they may have seen better days, you’ll still get some good use out of them — and you should be able to get them at a fraction of what the VG+ and higher versions may cost.

Good (G)

A Good rating is misleading. Because in vinyl records, when something is labeled G, its value should be seriously questioned and the vinyl record quality is most likely poor. You’ll likely experience distortions in the sound quality and notice visible scratches. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything rated G or lower.

Poor (P) Or Fair (F)

Either of these ratings indicates a vinyl that is in relatively poor condition. Discs that have these ratings will have poor sound quality. Records in Poor or Fair condition often have deep scratching and will regularly skip, repeat, and/or have a significant amount of surface noise. In short, don’t buy this garbage. It’s garbage. Do we really gotta explain that?

Questions on How to Grade Vinyl Records?

Thanks for checking out our quick explanation on what the terms of the vinyl record grading scale mean. If you have any additional questions on grading your vinyl collection, drop us a line in the comments below.

Rick Sunday

Rick Sunday is a freelance writer based in New York City who’s been writing professionally about music for over a decade. As dedicated and hardworking journalist, his work has appeared in a variety of publications throughout his career. In his writing, he embraces the absurdity of the modern era and strives to not take life too seriously, because what makes sense these days anyway? He is frequently found talking too much about the influence of the Grateful Dead.

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