A basic overview of the grading system
Although many people develop their own grading systems there is generally one set that is commonly used when grading vinyl records:
Mint (M) Near Mint (NM) Excellent (EX) Very Good (VG) Good (G) Fair (F) Poor (P)
This basic guideline for grading vinyl records is often based around the “Goldmine Grading System” after the vinyl record pricing magazine: Goldmine Magazine.
Many people, however, will also use a combination of this grading system. You will often find vinyl labeled as VG+ which would mean it is very, very good but not quite excellent.
This vinyl grading guide is also used for pricing. The higher the grade of vinyl, the higher price generally.
People may try to pull some funky practices so knowing what each grading scale entails should help you avoid any purchases that are unworthy.
The vinyl grading system explained
(M) – Mint
Mint vinyl would basically mean they are completely perfect. No scratches, bends or other damages to any piece of the vinyl record and sleeve.
To put it in the most basic terms, to get mint vinyl you would need to get a record fresh off the press.
(NM) Near Mint
Near Mint is the next level down from mint. Near Mint vinyl should be as in perfect condition as possible as if it has never been roughly handled.
Near Mint vinyl is often never played or even opened. Sometimes there may be a the faintest abrasion on the sleeve which will often pass for Near Mint because it’s so minute.
On a Near Mint vinyl record, there should be no wear on any of the vinyl, sleeve or accompanying pieces.
In basic terms, think of Near Mint as a record that has been taken out of its sleeve just to look at the vinyl then placed back in and stored correctly.
Excellent graded vinyl is just above an average graded vinyl you may find in many stores. These Excellent vinyl records may have had a play or two but without damaging the vinyl.
The cover, sleeve and everything else will also be in top notch condition although it may have slight bends or folds.
In basic terms, Excellent condition would be like finding an owner of the original pressing that only played it a few times and took great care of it.
(VG) Very Good
Right in the middle of the vinyl grading scale is Very Good.
Very Good records will often have been played a few times and will show a bit of wear. The covers will often be a bit worn from the damages caused by air and light but nothing that takes away from the overall structure such as a completely torn cover.
In the simplest terms – Very Good vinyl would be vinyl you found that was in play rotation but the people took enough care of it without letting it get too damaged.
Good vinyl entails that the vinyl still plays well but it may have a few scratches here and there. At this point in the grading scale the vinyl will probably be making a hissing noise and cracks.
You’ll often find Good graded vinyl records at a lot of thrift stores or flea markets. They aren’t in any particularly great shape but you could still give them a spin and hear the music.
Fair is when you start to dip down a bit in quality. At the Fair level, you’re starting to get to the point where parts of the vinyl still plays but there may be some skipping on tracks.
The cover and other items with the vinyl may be damaged. The cover may be breaking up at this point or be non existent at all. You also probably won’t find any linear notes at the Fair grading level.
Think of Fair as being something that you may be able to play but you could risk damaging your needle and cartridge at this point. I say avoid Fair.
Poor means it’s pretty much destroyed and ready to be melted down into something interesting like a fruit bowl – it’s trash.
Poor vinyl will most likely be unplayable. If you happen to get the cover with a Poor record, it probably looks like someone tried gnawing on it and then taping it back together.
The vinyl will also have gouges, extreme scratches, mildew and just about everything you don’t want to get involved in.
At this point, avoid Poor vinyl at all costs unless you absolutely need to have it just to say you did – or as a joke.
Does it matter?
As a DJ and collector, sometimes a grading scale has no value if you must get your hands on a specific piece of vinyl. For those DJs and collectors seeking out an ultra rare pressing or simply needs a song for their set, price and quality will not matter.
In my opinion, if it fulfills a need in your collection or if you know people will go crazy on the floor, I say go for it and pick up that rare pressing.
Remember, as a DJ, you should be looking at not only the songs you plan to be playing but also the quality of your purchase as well. A DJ with scratched up vinyl will play a horrid set as it jumps around, hisses and damages the turntable cartridges.
Use common judgment and the guidelines detailed in this post to help you select the best vinyl within your price range which will also last you a long time.
Vinyl doesn’t last forever, it eventually wears down. By picking quality vinyl and making sure you clean them, you’ll be able to get quite a few spins during your DJ career by starting off on the right foot or should I say hand.