Record grading can be a rather subjective practice that has very objective expectations. Many people have different opinions about how to interpret record grading standards. There are also different standards, such as the Goldmine Standard or the VJM record grading system. Anyone who’s bought or sold records at some point has likely had a difference of opinion in grading. One can strive towards consistent grading. Even seasoned professionals are not immune to distractions, fatigue, or other causes of inaccuracy.
I’m not going into an overview of grading systems and getting myself found out for being a lousy grader. Instead, I am taking a different approach. I am going to focus on what you need to look out for when grading records. These are tips that I’ve learned over the years that should help you grade with accuracy.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind when record grading:
1. Lighting is integral
You need a bright non-diffused light so that you can see damage, wear and grime. Most visual grading mistakes happen because of insufficient light. Light reflects off scratches at different angles. This will help highlight damage or dirt which add unnecessary surface noise. This brings me to my next tip.
2. Clean the record
If cleaned well enough, your record may jump a whole grade letter. Cleaning won’t remove scratches or other groove wear, but it should help. There are many decent DIY methods of cleaning records that provide decent results. These are nice if you’re starting out, need to clean a very large batch of cheap records or are otherwise on a budget. At the higher end of the price spectrum are record cleaning machines. I purchased a record cleaning machine and haven’t been more satisfied with the results.
3. Play the record
You don’t only look at records; playing the record is a crucial but often overlooked step in the grading process. Invisible defects can include pressing defects from low quality types of vinyls or other plastics used in the manufacturing process. These will not usually be evident on visual grading alone. Poor recording quality of the master material itself will ruin the complete package.
A freshly cleaned, graded record will help you avoid returns and negative feedback when selling your records on. It will also get you the best possible price for your items. As a record collector, you’ll avoid lost opportunities to upgrade when cataloging. With a little bit of effort and the right tools, you too can save money and get more enjoyment out of your records.