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How to Grade Vinyl Records & What Vinyl Condition Grades Mean

Rick Sunday

How to Grade Vinyl Records & What Vinyl Grades Mean

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

Vinyl Record Grading Condition Scale

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 vinyl record 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)

Mint Vinyl Record Condition Meaning

What Does “Mint” Vinyl Condition Mean?

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.

Mint Vinyl Grade Characteristics

  • Album cover is flawless with no bent corners, creases, or discoloration
  • Still sealed in its original shrink wrap
  • Discs have never been played are presumed to be perfect

Near Mint (NM or M-)

Near Mint Vinyl Record Condition Meaning

What Does “Near Mint” Vinyl Grading Mean?

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.

Near Mint Vinyl Condition Characteristics

  • Album cover is nearly perfect
  • Shrink wrap has been opened
  • Discs appear nearly perfect and have only been played once or twice
  • Likely stored properly in a temperature controlled environment, upright in an archival quality record sleeve

Excellent (E)

Excellent Vinyl Record Condition Definition or Meaning

What Does “Excellent” Vinyl Condition Mean?

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.

Excellent Vinyl Grade Characteristics

  • Album cover has been taken in and out of storage rack several times
  • Shrink wrap has been opened or removed
  • Vinyl discs are nearly flawless but have seen the turntable a handful of times
  • Clear, like new sound with minimal surface noise
  • Likely stored properly in a temperature controlled environment, upright in a premium quality record sleeve

Very Good Plus (VG+)

Very Good Plus Vinyl Record Condition Definition or Meaning

What Does “Very Good Plus” Vinyl Condition Mean?

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 Plus Vinyl Rating Characteristics

  • Album cover has noticeable wear from frequent use including creases and a bent corner or two
  • Shrink wrap likely removed decades ago
  • Vinyl discs are showing obvious wear and may have visible surface scratches
  • Still sounds great to the listening ear but will have some surface noise from normal wear and/or dirt and grime
  • Likely stored properly in a temperature controlled environment, upright in a standard record sleeve

Very Good (VG)

Very Good Vinyl Record Condition Definition or Meaning

What Does “Very Good” Vinyl Condition Mean?

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 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.

Very Good Vinyl Rating Characteristics

  • Album cover shows significant wear and tear from improper storage
  • It’s been decades since the shrink wrap was peeled away
  • Vinyl discs are showing advanced wear and shows visible surface scratches
  • Noticeably heavier surface noise, popping, and probably a skip or two
  • Likely never stored in an outer sleeve and probably spent a summer or two buried under some tarps in your grandpa’s garage

Good (G)

Good Vinyl Record Condition Definition or Meaning

What Does “Good” Vinyl Condition Mean?

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. It’s probably best to avoid picking up anything rated G or lower.

Good Vinyl Rating Characteristics

  • Album cover has significant discoloration, bent or missing corners, and maybe a hole puncture or two.
  • Vinyl discs have obvious scratching that distorts the quality of both the aesthetic and sound of the record
  • Not a good listening experience at all with heavy surface noise, popping, and some skipping
  • Likely stored laying flat on its side in a closet with a history of water damage

Poor (P) Or Fair (F)

Poor Vinyl Record Condition Definition or Meaning

What Does “Poor” Vinyl Condition Mean?

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?

Poor Vinyl Condition Rating Characteristics

  • Album cover has substantial damage, discoloration, and may have split seams and/or tears
  • Vinyl discs are unplayable due to severe scratching
  • Don’t even attempt to play these albums or you may damage your stylus
  • Likely stored under a box of used motor oil in a dingy basement for the last 30 years

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

Rick Sunday is a writer and a traveler who’s been writing professionally about music and culture for over a decade. His creative work has appeared in a variety of publications of note, exploring the strange while finding inspiration in the in-between. He loves driving. He loves talking to strangers. And he loves the Grateful Dead. In his spare time, he writes a newsletter called COOL MUSIC, a semi-regular outlet for experimental writing, photography, and playlists.

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