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Welcome Licorice Pizza (LP) lovers! Setup guides and Vinyl FAQ.

A complete guide to grading records

Visual grading (what most dealers and ebay sellers use):

-- Look at the record in SUNLIGHT if possible, and if not, under a very strong incandescent (not halogen or flourescent) lamp

-- First look at the label around the hole. Are there spindle marks caused by a careless person putting the record down fast and then moving it around until it slips on the spindle? If so, there is a 90% chance that the record will not play mint, no matter how the vinyl looks. Always mention spindle marks in an ad. Also if you see spindle marks and the vinyl looks clean, then play the record (see play grading below)

-- Now look at the vinyl. do you see:
• dirt?
• scuffs? (mostly caused by being slid in and out of a paper or cardboard sleeve)
• light marks?
• gouges?
• scratches?
• mold?
Each of these needs to be noted in your description.

• Does the record have overall "gloss" and "shine" like a brand-new LP, or does it appear dull and worn? A huge clue to the condition of the record.

-- Finally, tilt the vinyl so you're looking at it almost from the edge of the record. If you don't have good close vision, use reading glasses. Are the light marks or scratches still visible? If not, these are "surface marks" or "hairlines" and probably won't sound on most turntables. You need to mention this as well. While you're at it, inspect the record to see that it's not warped.

-- Remember to check both sides fully!

• Play grading (this is far preferable to visual grading, but has the defect that you need to play all the way through... probably best to grade visually, and then play "problem spots". Always play records with spindle marks even if the vinyl looks clean. Most dealers and sellers of large collections do not have time to play grade. Always specify if you've play graded. It makes a big difference to a smart buyer.)

-- Play the record from the beginning of track 1 on side 1. This is usually where the most damage has occurred. (If it's a pop record, it might be right at the "hit track".) Do the same for track 1 on side 2.

-- Then spotcheck at various trouble spots, or just randomly throughout the record

-- You will be listening for:
• crackle (general noise between tracks and during silent passages)
• pops
• scratches that repeat throughout a song (these are highly annoying and should bring down any record 2 grades)
• skips (these are extremely rare on turntables that track correctly... of course not everyone has a decent turntable)
• jumps (usually caused by a piece of crud ingrained into a groove -- removable with care)
• pitch instability -- usually caused by warpage
• "edge warps" -- hard to see by just looking at an LP, since it's a tiny little (but often severe) warp that occurs near the edge in one place. These are actually much more damaging than general warpage. Best way to see is by playing the record and crouching down to see the edge as it spins. The tonearm will go up and down noticeably as it tracks (or fails to track) the edgewarp. Edgewarps are a major cause of skipping.


DO: Use the Goldmine (US) or Record Collector (UK) grading system. Here are the grades that I use:

• M basically doesn't exist. A new, sealed record. (Also SS)
• M- a clean used record that plays without any noise (though may need cleaning). Has gloss and shine. (Also NM)
• VG+ plays fine but has some small defects that don't detract from enjoyment. No pops, but maybe a little crackle that could clean up with a good record cleaner. Has lost gloss but doesn't look totally dull.
• VG has occasional pops or crackles, acceptable in pop records, problematic in classical records
• VG- has many defects, including possibly a repeating skip, general crackle, but listenable for pop, rock, techno, rap, Latin etc. The surface of the record is dull from repeated usage.
• G is noisy but plays all the way through. A trial to listen to. Some people might want to buy these because they're good deals (probably 5-10% of the mint price) or to fill holes in their collection.

* The lower grades Fair and Poor (or Poor and Bad) are rarely used, except for monster, monster rarities (like private pressings of 99 copies from the '60s or '70s) where a collector needs a copy to hold him over till he can find a mint one.

DO: Grade the cover too using the above grades! Conventionally the cover is graded first with a slash between. For example, M-/M- means mint cover, mint vinyl. Cover defects to watch out for: split seams (a HUGE liability for most collectors), sticker residue (removable), sticker tear (not reparable), writing on cover, writing on back cover, writing on label, cut-out hole, cut corner, ringwear (where the raised groove around the label or around the edge of the LP has caused like wear on the jacket), etc. There are common abbreviations for most of these: stckr, WOC, WOL, COH, CC, RW etc.

DO: Specify what grading system you're using, and do specify that you're a strict grader. This gives the consumer confidence against all the grading shysters out there. For example: "All records strictly visually graded using the Goldmine system."

DO: Buy the Goldmine and Record Collector Price Guides (both from Amazon) if you're going to do this a lot. They will give you much guidance, specifying their grading systems in more detail than mine, and giving you guidance as to price and rarity too.

DON'T: Use extra minuses and pluses or parentheses when grading. A grade like VG+(++) means nothing. It's just bullshit on the part of the dealer. I know a dealer who gets away with murder on his overpriced stock because he plays around with so many qualifiers.

DON'T: Use inexact language. Conventions exist for record grading: use those instead. "A very STRONG VG+" confuses the issue. "Looks clean, just a few scratches" is a nightmare -- could mean anything.

DON'T: Use the grade EX. This is an intermediary grade that's supposed to be between M- and VG+, but in fact almost always means VG+ and not M-. Even though the Record Collector guide sanctions it (and you'll find it more with British and Continental dealers), I believe that EX is not normally used to the benefit of the buyer. Again, it confuses the issue.

Hope this helps! Post with more questions if you have them. I've been buying, selling and trading records for 20 years (no, I'm not a dealer -- just a collector.)


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