When it comes to collectibles, vinyl records are one of the most popular ones. Since they are considered collectible items, this means that each vinyl sold or purchased will have a grade or value to them. There is a way to identify a vinyl record’s value which begs the question, how are they graded and what does each mean?
Grades for different vinyl conditions identify the record’s current value and quality. Other features such as packaging are graded too. Grades for vinyl conditions range from mint to fair or poor. This grading system is not universal and will vary between retailers.
Grades for vinyl records will decide its value and whether or not it’s worth investing in. Let’s explore what each grade means and what determines its value.
Starting with mint condition, this is the best-of-the-best out of all of the grades that will be listed.
Mint condition is labeled as “M” and this means the vinyl record has never been played or even removed from its package. In other words, the vinyl record remains sealed and in pristine condition.
Though having a vinyl record in mint condition is possible, it is extremely rare to come by one for a few reasons.
First, for a vinyl record to be considered a “true” mint condition, multiple appraisals should be required for an official label to be placed on it.
Even with multiple perspectives, more often than not there are conflicting issues with one another, resulting in an undecisive conclusion.
Second, over time, products tend to be damaged and worn due to the environment or by the user.
For example, the vinyl record could be damaged due to moisture if placed in an area where rainfall seeps through. Another is if the user moves a lot and requires constant transportation of their good, including the vinyl record.
Third, not many collectors use the mint label.
Due to its extreme rarity, many collectors do not consider using mint as a label and instead rather use “near mint” as most vinyl records received have been played at least once or have one slight defect.
Near Mint Condition
Near-mint is labeled as “NM” and is given to vinyl records that have a very minor defect.
As we’ve said earlier, a vinyl record may have been played once or twice, but was handled with great care to not further damage both the record and the sleeve. Mostly, these vinyl records have been stored away after a couple of uses and nothing more.
Additionally, not only will collectors label vinyl records as near-mint, but they will also maintain that near-mint is the “highest” grade they will label any vinyl record.
Near-mint is the most attainable grade that a vinyl record can receive for anyone.
Next up, we have an excellent condition, labeled as “E”.
Much like near-mint, these graded vinyl records have been used only a few times. Unlike near-mint-graded vinyl records, they do feature some scratches and indications of several uses.
This also includes any defects the manufacturer produced, automatically making the vinyl record not qualified for near-mint condition.
The overall excellent condition of the vinyl record is treated with care with some exceptions.
This is where we also start to go into grades that are more common with an average collector.
Very Good Condition
The very good condition has two types: very good (VG) and very good plus (VG+)
Starting with very good condition, vinyl records that can still be used along with light visible scratches and slight distortion in audio quality (clicks and pops) will receive a very good label.
The vinyl record has been used regularly which means the packaging will also see some wear.
When labeled as a very good plus condition, the vinyl record can be used without any issues. The only issues that could arise are slight marks and wear, but not to the point where listening to the music is unbearable.
Both very good and very good plus gradings remain acceptable grades for many collectors.
A condition that many collectors should try to avoid is good condition.
Labeled simply as “G”, the good condition in the grading system will display noticeable marks on both the vinyl record and package. This includes a reduction in printed label quality and bent corners of the vinyl record’s sleeve.
When played, the audio somewhat resembles the music being played, however, is not optimal for daily listening. It will eventually irritate the listener.
The reduction in sound quality is attributed to worn grooves and warping to name a couple.
Overall, this and the next condition are ones that collectors shouldn’t consider selling or buying.
Fair or Poor Condition
Finally, we have either the fair or poor condition, indicated as “F” or “P”.
As one should expect, both fair and poor conditions are the least desired vinyl records to have. They cannot sell and no one wants to buy them. The only purpose that one would buy a vinyl record labeled as F or P is to just “have it” without any expectation of receiving anything in return.
Separating fair and poor conditions would seem arbitrary as each is extremely low in quality.
For fair condition, vinyl records are practically unusable as the sound resembles nothing that the record should produce. Significant damage to both the vinyl record and package makes the product unattractive.
With the poor condition grade, the vinyl record is unplayable.
There is no point in trying as the record may be missing pieces, warped, or stained from environmental factors (spilled coffee or moisture exposure).
In the end, these two graded conditions are the lowest and must be immediately ignored if purchasing a vinyl record.
Other Graded Components
Throughout the listed graded conditions, we mentioned a few times that not only is the vinyl record itself affected, but also the packaging.
For example, for a vinyl record to be labeled as near-mint condition, the record and everything included must be near-perfect in quality. This means that if a vinyl record included other products such as booklets, inner sleeves, or posters, these too must be in a near-mint condition.
Every aspect of a vinyl record bundle, if applicable, must meet the criteria for any of the desired graded conditions.
Grades Vary Between Stores
To conclude, not every store that buys and sells collectible items will appraise vinyl records the same way.
As mentioned in the “Mint Condition” section, multiple appraisals are needed to determine its quality. In addition, having multiple perspectives is not a bad idea as each will provide valuable information for the owner of the vinyl record.
Even for lower-graded conditions such as excellent and very good, these can vary.
To know the value of a vinyl record, have it appraised by trained professionals. These individuals are skilled in judging the value of the item.
Despite mixed results between stores, trained professionals will consistently grade the vinyl record close to another professional’s judgment.
Though the grading system can be interpreted differently, we should always look to these grades as standards for our vinyl records.
How to Keep Vinyl in Good Condition
If you’re looking to keep your vinyl in as good a condition as possible, you’ll want to consider the following when handling your records:
- Store The Records Properly
Storing your vinyl records properly is essential to maintaining their condition and preserving their sound quality. You should start with choosing the right location. The ideal location for storing vinyl records is a cool and dry area, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Avoid storing your records in areas that are prone to temperature fluctuations, such as attics or basements.
Additionally, you should always store your records upright vertically. Storing your records vertically and upright is important to prevent warping and damage to the record jacket. Avoid storing your records horizontally or leaning them against one another, as this can cause them to warp over time.
- Keep Your Record Player Clean
Keeping your record player clean is an important part of maintaining your vinyl records and ensuring optimal sound quality. This starts by regularly dusting your record player. This will prevent dirt and dust from accumulating on the turntable and tonearm. Using a microfiber cloth or soft-bristled brush will help gently remove any dust or debris.
When not in use, you should consider using a dust slip mat to help protect it in times of long term storage.
- Clean Your Records Regularly
Cleaning your vinyl records regularly is important to maintain their condition and ensure optimal sound quality. You should avoid using household cleaners, and instead opt for a record cleaning solution, which will have a less corrosive effect on records compared to most common types of cleaners. Follow the instructions on your preferred solution of choice, and always use a microfiber cloth when cleaning your records as to not damage their grooves.
- Avoid Using Damaged Records on Your Player or Turntable
Avoiding the use of damaged records on your player or turntable is crucial to prevent further damage to both the record and the equipment. Warped records can damage the needle, stylus, and arm of your record player, which can in turn damage other records that you bring into rotation. If you regularly play damaged records, it can create a cascading effect that damages other records throughout your collection. =
Other tips for general vinyl handling to promote good condition include:
- Always hold the record by the edges to avoid touching the grooves.
- Use the record sleeve when not in use to protect the vinyl from dust
- Keep the record and turntable surfaces clean
- Wash your hands before holding a record
- Avoid stacking records on top of each other, instead align them standing up like a bookshelf
We hope this article has helped one gain an understanding of what each graded vinyl conditions are.