A Comprehensive guide to grading vinyl records

When buying and selling vinyl, a good understanding of grading is absolutely essential. Unfortunately though, it’s not an exact science; and the inevitable element of subjectivity is often a source of dispute, especially as trading has moved online.

There is, however, a fairly universal grading system in place and a set of commonly held guidelines to help wade through murky waters – as Tom Fisher of near-mint second hand emporium Rat Records details below.

Words: Tom Fisher

Vinyl Grading System

Mint (M) – Absolutely perfect in every way. Never been played and usually sealed.

Near Mint (NM) – The record has been on a shelf between other records. The vinyl looks glossy and clearly has only been played a few times. There are no marks on the vinyl and the whole package is complete.

Excellent (E) – Same but I’d tolerate very light marks where the vinyl has been in and out of the inner sleeve a few times, or tiny signs of use generally.

Very Good Plus (VG+) – A few further faults are acceptable, but nothing that really compromises the record visually or audibly. A little rub, light inaudible marks, a little background crackle.

Very Good (VG) – It’s seen a bit of life, but is still usable. Light pops and clicks, an edge split, light visible scratches. You can still listen to it and enjoy looking at it, but it is visually and audibly USED.

Good (G) – To be honest you’re making trouble for yourself here, as Good means Bad. I’d only be selling something really desirable in this condition, with a bargain price and a full, no holds barred description to match.

Poor (P), Fair (F) Attempting to listen will be a disturbing experience. Expect major noise issues, skipping or repeating. The record itself is cracked, badly warped and has deep scratches. The cover is also approaching death.

There’s currently a bit of a dichotomy between the Record Collector gradings and those on Discogs, around ‘Excellent’.

Discogs (and Goldmine) don’t use Excellent, they jump from VG+ to Near Mint. Record Collector has no ‘Near Mint’. If you read their descriptions, ‘Excellent’ is a little less good than ‘Near Mint’.

There’s currently a bit of a dichotomy between the Record Collector gradings and those on Discogs, around ‘Excellent’.

Discogs (and Goldmine) don’t use Excellent, they jump from VG+ to Near Mint. Record Collector has no ‘Near Mint’. If you read their descriptions, ‘Excellent’ is a little less good than ‘Near Mint’.

Grading When Selling

You’ll need a large, flat table, with a strong overhead light, ideally daylight, or lights with daylight replacement bulbs. A big magnifying glass. A record deck set up. A cup of coffee, glass of red or a dram and some peace.

Remember you are grading the sleeve (and any bits and pieces), and then the vinyl as two separate entities.

Unless I had something sealed I’d avoid ‘Mint’. You’re asking for a return or a complaint. I’m wary about ‘Near Mint’ on Discogs. It better be good or I’m inclined to say VG+. On eBay I’m happy to say ‘Excellent’ if it is. Either way I add a line of description to my listing below the grading.

Have a look at the sleeve from various angles. Front, back, corners, edges, laminate. Look for damage, wear, splits, creases, bends, dirt. You can wipe a sleeve with a clean, damp cotton cloth, and a clean soft white eraser will help on ringwear and grime on a light coloured sleeve. It may even get off some writing in ballpoint.

Next, does it have the original inner, inserts or anything else it needs to be complete? What is their condition?

Take the record out of the sleeve completely, thumb on the edge, fingers on the label. Have a look from various angles. Form a general impression, is it lovely and glossy or has it lived a bit? Any serious damage?

If you have a record cleaning machine like us, this would be the time to use it. Either way, spin it on a turntable and look from the edge to check for warps.

Have a look at the label, any writing or marks? Check exactly what you have here using the catalogue number, matrix numbers in the runout etc.

Now have a really good look at the vinyl, use your big magnifying glass on any damaged areas. Form your opinion about the condition.

Put the record back on the turntable, clean off the dust with an antistat brush or similar and put the needle through the intro before the first track, a few tracks here and there, a couple of gaps between tracks and especially any faults or damage you’ve identified. You want it loud or use some decent but undynamic headphones. If this is a really expensive record I’d just listen to the whole thing whilst grading other records, and make little notes about faults for the description.

Now you’ve done all this you can clarify your first impressions. I would add that faults can be cumulative, a rub here, a mark there can pull down the grade as much as one glaring piece of damage.

Grading 2

Grading When Buying

Ok, so now you’re on the frontline and you don’t have a mobile lab with you. You’re in a jumble sale, at a boot fair or a street market. If you’re lucky you’re riffing through the new in stock in Rat Records on a Saturday.

If time is not on your side, get a general impression of the seller and their stock as a whole. First impressions count – is everything a bit ‘used’ looking? It’s probably a bit bashed then.

Glance at the sleeve, front, back, edges and corners.

Take the record right out of the sleeve. Look at it from a few angles in the best light you can get. Quick check for a warp.

Are the inner sleeve and inserts you were expecting there?

In this situation I generally only use ‘Excellent’, ‘Very Good’ and ‘Good’. In my head. I can refine this further when I’ve got it home. I’m grading for a price negotiation….

If you have a bit more time, apart from the examination above I tend to up the psychological profiling a bit.

When I’m invited into an immaculate house with cream carpets and asked to remove my shoes I’m already getting a good feeling about the condition of the record collection. It’s also helpful to know if the records belong to person selling them to you (and not their mate or dead dad). If so, then ask where they got them from, did they generally buy new or used, how were they kept…. Again, I like to hear about the records being someone’s pride and joy: they always used a Linn Sondek, no-one else was allowed to touch them and so on. All these things are pointing to the condition being strong so you can hope that the grading you see on the spot with a quick examination will hold up once you get them back to your grading lair.

Alternatively if I’m on my knees in a dark, dusty and damp garage (or on one occasion, boat) and the records generally look VG, they probably won’t once you get them home. Get that drink and start to go over them.

Finally, try to divorce yourself from that fact that you really want this record and are willing it to be ‘Near Mint’. Keep some perspective. It’s only a record. How much sweeter would it be if you got a better copy, for less, later, by being a little patient.

Grading 3

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How to press a vinyl in 60 seconds

It’s no mystery that vinyl is back in a big way. But for all the talk of a revival, very few people have ever been able to see how the things are actually made.

As the UK’s original pressing plant, we receive requests practically daily from people keen to visit and see the process for themselves. While we can’t possibly invite everyone to the factory floor to see it first hand, we can give you an up-close-and personal look at how records are pressed at The Vinyl Factory, following the process from start to finish in just 60 seconds.

From the metal work and galvanic processes that grow the stampers from which the records are pressed, to the iconic EMI presses that have produced some of the most important records in music history over the last fifty years, we’ve condensed the birth of a vinyl record into just one minute, an intimate snapshot of the craft behind one of the most intricate and complex processes in music.

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Jack White creates Ultra vinyl, featuring hidden tracks and holograms


Jack White recently broke a record for the fastest ever creation of a vinyl cut, by recording the title track to his new album Lazaretto, then pressing it to wax and packaging it all in less than four hours. Now, his vinyl-based conjuring continues with the announcement of an ‘Ultra’ LP version of the album, which comes packed with bizarre curiosities.

The 11-track album on White’s label Third Man Records, includes different mixes and sequencing to the digital version, and will play at 33.3rpm as normal. However two secret tracks hidden in the centre label will play at 45 and 78rpm respectively – a repeat of the trick White pulled with his Dead Weather supergroup and their album Sea of Cowards.

Side A meanwhile demands that you place the needle on the inside of the record as it works its way outward, eventually getting caught in a perpetual locked groove at the outer edge (the more jaded White fan might suggest that you won’t be able to tell when said groove begins). The first song on Side B however, has two different intros, one acoustic and one electric, which differ depending on where the needle is dropped. The two grooves then blend into one halfway through the song.

If that wasn’t enough to play with, there is also a hologram on Side A hand-etched by artist Tristan Duke, featuring a spinning angel appearing to float in the blank area between the groove and the label. Side B is given a matte finish so it resembles a shellac 78rpm record.

“We’ve pulled off a lot of interesting ideas all within this one LP,” White says in an introductory video, adding how he thinks that the locked groove, the three speeds within one record, the dual groove, and the hologram vinyl extras have never been attempted before, but with a caveat: “Of course there’s no knowing unless you go through every record ever made.”

This release is far from the first innovation that Third Man has attempted. They’ve printed records on old medical X-rays, created ‘Texas-sized’ 8-inch and 13-inch vinyls, and encased 7-inch singles within 12-inch albums that need to be destroyed to access the secret record. 2013’s collaborative release with Revenant Records, that compiled the bluegrass, gospel and blues songs released by Paramount Records in the 1920s, was housed in a velvet-lined oak cabinet with LPs kept inside a “laser-etched white birch LP folio” and digital files stored on a brass USB stick.

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Eno on Analogue

Digital technology has enhanced music production, recording and distribution in ways unimaginable just a few decades ago, but are we losing something more essential in the process? Chris May talks to ambient pioneer and friend of technology Brian Eno about the dangers of digital dependence in modern music.

Words: Chris May

Back in the early 1970s, Phil Spector launched a Bring Back Mono campaign. More of a publicity stunt than a real protest movement, it fizzled out after a couple of stories in Rolling Stone and failed utterly to change the course of history. Four decades on, another, more serious guerrilla-action is being fought, this time against the digitisation of recording and production.

Recording history since the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll can be divided into two halves, analogue era and digital era. In this model, analogue is equated with authenticity, digital with artificiality. Proponents of the model argue that, from the mid-1950s through the mid-1980s, analogue recording was primarily concerned with making musicians sound as good on record as they did on stage. By contrast, since the adoption of digital technology in the late-1980s, studios are said to have been expected to make musicians sound not merely as good as they are, but better. Digital tools have made it possible for the most indifferent singer, drummer or guitarist to sound like the business. Real music made in real time by real people has become an endangered species.

The model is a crude over-simplification, of course. It ignores the conveniences and benefits of digital technology, not least the fact that affordable, home-studio set-ups have democratised recording. But is the price we are paying for digital’s upside too high? By embracing the new tech, are we losing the human factor which has been at the heart of music making? Are we ceding too much power to the machines? Is gloss replacing substance?

MixerB shot

Techphobics are not the only people asking these questions. Brian Eno became an early adopter of new technology as a teenager. At art school in the mid 1960s, Eno studied under the modernist art-theorist Roy Ascott, who introduced him to the idea of “process not product” and encouraged his first experiments with tape recorders. In 1972, Eno began working with Robert Fripp on the tape-looping system later known as Frippertronics, and, in mid-decade, introduced his own tech-rich, ambient music. Eno’s current enthusiasms include generative music, which, in essence, involves writing some algorithms, pointing them in the right direction and standing well back.

After 50 years at the sharp end of technological innovation, Eno is the last person you might expect to have doubts about digital recording.

Yet in an interview for Jocks&Nerds magazine recently, Eno said: “As a record producer, digital technology makes me wonder about the whole direction recording is taking.”


Last year, Bob Dylan went old-school, though not across-the-board analogue, while recording his album Shadows in the Night. In an interview published in US magazine AARP this February, Dylan explained: “I could only record these songs one way, and that was live on the floor with a very small number of mics. No headphones, no overdubs, no vocal booth, no separate tracking…The engineer had his own equipment, left over from bygone days, and he brought all that in… There was no mixing. That’s just the way it sounded… We used as little technology as possible.”

Far from diminishing, the debate about authenticity and artifice is building. Artisan music is not about to roll over and surrender. Neither is digital technology going to disappear. But if commercially-successful producers such as Eno can find a humanistic accommodation between analogue and digital aesthetics, the sun will continue to shine.

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Sculpting Sound

For this short film, we visited three of the foremost mastering engineers working today. Travelling to Berlin, we joined Andreas ‘Lupo’ Lubich at Calyx Mastering, renowned for its astonishing attention to detail in cutting some of the most demanding avant-garde records around. Also in Berlin, we stopped by Rashad Becker’s home studio; the stalwart of the legendary Dubplates & Mastering who last year dipped his toes into producing, his Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. 1 on PAN records making the top 10 in our rundown of the best vinyl releases of 2013. Finally, back in London, we joined Noel Summerville (formerly of Pye Studios and Metropolis, now running his own 3345 Mastering studio) to cut a record live-to-vinyl and hear of a career spent mastering for the likes of The Clash, Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, and more recently Boards of Canada.

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X-Ray Audio – The Documentary

The strange story of Soviet music on the bone.

The iconic images of gramophone grooves cut onto x-rays of skulls, ribcages and bones have captured the collective imagination way beyond the music scene. Now for the first time, the complete story of the Soviet x-ray record has emerged, as told by the people who made it happen.

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Six Classic Albums Re-issued with ‘half-speed’

Hear The Rolling Stones like never before.

Six classic albums have been newly mastered at half-speed to extract every last detail from the original recordings.

One of the most sought after means of reproduction, the artisan process takes more than four times as long as regular mastering and involves playing original master tape back at 16 2/3 RPM and turning the cutting lathe at half-speed to give the cutter head more time to render the dynamic details of the recording into the groove on the lacquer.

The six records lined up to receive the treatment include: The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, The Police’s Ghost In Machine, John Martyn’s Solid Air, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream and Fire And Water by Free.


They will be cut at Abbey Road Studios by Miles Showell, one of the world’s leading mastering engineers, who describes the benefits of half-speed mastering in simple terms: “It brings a clear, crisp sound with much better stereo separation and attention to detail than previous versions.”

Expected to retail at £32 each, these six releases mark the start of a campaign to half-speed master several other albums from the Universal catalogue. [via The Independent]

Watch Miles Showell demonstrate the fine art of cutting records at Abbey Road Studios in our short film below:

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Philipp Straub on ‘vinyl vs. digital’

Philipp Straub is from Vienna, Austria. We’re glad that he also shared his thoughts with us on one of the most discussed topics in DJing: vinyl records or digital? Philipp, as a former record collector with a collection of 26.000 records tells us from his own experience, how the way of DJing changed since the rise of Traktor, Beatport and lightweight Laptops.

What do you think? Do you prefer playing MP3 tracks and CDs or do you count yourself to those audiophiles who still keep to the old tradition and play vinyl records in clubs?

“I started DJing in 1993 but already bought the first records for my future electronic music record collection some years before. At some point I had to get the tunes that moved me the most on my weekend events. From 93 I bought almost everything that I somehow liked vinyl wise and due to this until around 2000 my collection grew up to around 26.000 copies which is still the current status. Some releases I bought twice – one for my gigs and one sealed copy for my collection.

Due to reconstruction work in my old apartment the whole system got messed up somehow and for a while I had no time to get things right. The girl I was dating back in the days then surprised me totally when she spent a full weekend with 2 of her friends sorting my complete collection in alphabetic order again. Of course I had to marry her and we had our wedding some years later in Thailand on a nice hidden island. Since some years I do not even get any new record anymore so I for now I call the collection finished.


In the year 2000 I was asked by Richie Hawtin if I want to become one of the selected beta tester for a new system with which you can manually control digital files. I of course joined the team and the system became Final Scratch which is now known as Traktor. So after 7 years of playing vinyl I switched in 2000 to coded records and digital files. Around 2005 or 2006 I switched to playing totally digital with the support of some controllers due to a deal with Allen & Heath. Around 3 years ago that got boring again and I found a challenge in manually syncing CDs, but it was not as easy as I thought to deliver the set I wanted so I kept playing and enjoyed it as much that I switched completely and now play on CDJ-2000 which made my work perfectly easy.

For me personally there is no right or wrong nor bad or good. In my opinion every artist has to chose his individual setup that helps him expressing what he wants perfectly. The equipment is the instrument for a DJ – nothing less and nothing more and the only point is to spread your message to the crowd in the way you want.

Personally I am not sad about the good old days of vinyl. No doubt this was a great period of time but I always try to look into the future and go with future trends and challenges. This is very important to me. Also I think some people simply do not got the message when I hear them play vinyl sets on huge completely digital sound systems which of course cannot work such as it should. I have seen that for instance in Miami on Ultra and it was obvious for everybody that this was not the perfect choice from the artist. Also I think it is poor how some of the young kids try to insist on vinyl culture in a nearly militant way. They were not even born when vinyl had the big and dominating years! I am missing tolerance for the others and honestly tolerance was one of the key messages for the scene back in the days when it was founded. For me vinyl is still great due to its history, it’s feeling and the touch of it, but I think it is limiting a Dj as an artist nowadays. Also because many tunes are simply not even available on vinyl anymore. But of course, such as I said, everybody should chose the equipment and music format they like for themselves ;)”

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Wood Slices Record player


Music from mother nature – At the first it feels a little bit odd to see a wood slice on this record player. But this is something special. Bartholomäus Traubeck rebuilt a record player for playing sound from unique and thin wood slices with his ‘Years’ art project.

The tone arm analyses the wood slices year rings strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. Every wood slice and every year ring is unique, so the music will always play differently.

Check out the video for a look and feel of this outstanding audio and design project setup:

If you want to read more about the designer, visit his page http://traubeck.com

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Stefan Sagmeister and the art of album covers

Stefan Sagmeister is graphic designer and typographer that made album covers for many famous musicians. He co-founded Sagmeister & Walsh Inc. a design firm based in New York.

Sagmeister vinyl cassette

Here´s the man himself telling the story from playing in obscure prog rock bands to designing covers for Lou Reed, OK Go, The Rolling Stones, David Byrne, Jay Z, Aerosmith and Pat Metheny.

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Iconic Album Covers

Is the design of album covers important?
Who are the people who create the vinyl and cassette covers?
Can we go so far saying that people buy records because of their look?
What makes an album cover become iconic?
These are just a few question for a future debate.

beatles vinyl cassette led zeppelin vinyl cassette

King Crimson vinyl cassette pink floyd vinyl cassette

rolling stones vinyl cassette nirvana vinyl cassette

elvis presley vinyl cassette the clash vinyl cassette

iron maiden vinyl cassette metallica vinyl cassette

green day vinyl cassette rage against the machine vinyl cassette

Emerson Lake and Palmer vinyl cassette sex pistols vinyl cassette

and more…
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The Vinyl Experience

A short movie that shows the vinyl creating process in about 8 minutes. We think this is one of the best videos to show how our LPs and maxis are made out of little black pellets. Pure eye candy for every vinyl lover.

The movie shows Pallas Records in Germany, one of the last vinyl manufactories there.

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Worlds Largest Record Collection


Yes, some of you already had the chance to view this video, but it’s absolutely breathtaking for all of you who did not watch and feel it, yet. Paul Mawhinney, founder of Record-Rama in Pittsburgh, Pennsilvania is the owner of the worlds largest record collection. It contains about 3 Million vinyl records from the last decades and was valued at 50 Million $. As the record store was closed in 2008 and his health was of great concern, Paul tried to sell all the records, again. The collection went for sale on eBay in March 2008 but did not end in a sale…

The most current plans for The Archive were enacted by William Vanden Dries. Vanden Dries, decided to do something to save the collection by forming a non-profit organization, The Audio Preservation Fund, with the intent to open a museum, online database, and shop under the name The Worlds Greatest Music Collection, while expanding the collection via both donations of records by individuals and by incorporating other major record collections from around the world.

Paul is still working on archiving his records to the database every day.

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For the record

for the record

Short documentary about the love of vinyl records and their manufacturing process. 16 minutes, recorded over 6 weeks, travelling through Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the UK.

“For The Record exposes a number of notions about why vinyl is such an indelible medium and how it continues to remain popular in the the face of opposing format change.” Must see!

Featuring: Dr Dub, Vinylium, Vinylrecorder.com, Audiowerker, MY45 vinylpress, Centraldubs, Duophonic, Metropolis Studios, The Vinyl Factory and Dub Studio. For The Record is an ongoing research project exploring the world of vinyl.

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Submerged Turntable by Evan Holm

Evan Holm

Artist Evan Holm uses vinyl in his projects a lot. He built this stunning art installation combining nature elements like water and wood covered with moss. The spinning turntable creates a huge whirl in the black inked water basin.

“There will be a time when all tracings of human culture will dissolve back into the soil under the slow crush of the unfolding universe. The pool, black and depthless, represents loss, represents mystery and represents the collective subconscious of the human race. By placing these records underneath the dark and obscure surface of the pool, I am enacting a small moment of remorse towards this loss. In the end however this is an optimistic sculpture, for just after that moment of submergence. Tone, melody and ultimately song is pulled back out of the pool, past the veil of the subconscious, out from under the crush of time, and back into a living and breathing realm. When I perform with this sculpture, I am honoring and celebrating all the musicians, all the artists that have helped to build our human culture.” Evan Holm

The making of

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