August 31, 2013

Record Grading Gets an F

F report Card


by David Lancon

All the records are in very good condition,” says the yard sale seller before telling me the price of the LPs.

As I pull my possible purchases from the boxes I note the seam splits on the covers, the ring wear, the seller’s name and family members names scrawled in fat black marker, front and back. Hauling my pile into the sunshine for the vinyl condition inspection, I discover the seller is right, the LPs are in “very good condition,” i.e., all fucked up!… surface scratches on both sides to numerous too count, barely any gloss on the vinyl… yes, I can hear the bacon frying just looking at these gems.

The seller tells me he’d recently attended one of the big Southern California record shows with the intention of appraising his collection before putting it up for sale. Wise move. He noticed many of the vinyl vendors had letters indicating the condition of the LP next to the price.

“V.G. means very good condition?” asks this novice appraiser as he pulls a record from its sleeve.

“Yes, it does,” says the vinyl vendor in a most reassuring tone. The appraiser notes the obvious heavy surface wear on the disc, the seam splits on the jacket and finds himself taking great comfort in knowing that his records, being in the same distressed condition, are judged by seasoned professional record dealers to be in “Very Good” condition.

“Whoa!… Ca-Ching!!… second honeymoon, Honey!” as the appraiser entertains dreams of an early retirement.

Gentlemen, ladies, I hope I’ve illustrated the obvious semantic disconnect here. An obviously worn, distressed record is in “very good” condition? No, it’s not. Our industry standard, subjective grading of LPs is in need of a major revision.

The novice record collector, unaware of this creative grading, rightfully assumes “very good” means a pleasurable listening experience only to get home to find the bacon frying background noise… as all the hype about vinyl being superior to CDs goes crashing through the floor.

While it’s easy to fall into that “well everyone else is doing it” temptation, we deceive our customers when we say something is what it isn’t, especially to those who are new to record collecting. It’s like saying green is now red because our industry consensus says so. It’s taking great liberties with, as well as abusing, the English language. It’s blatant deception. We need to restore verbal integrity to our visual grading. Why?

The novice record collector, unaware of this creative grading, rightfully assumes “very good” means a pleasurable listening experience only to get home to find the bacon frying background noise and those annoying fast and repeat skips draw his or her attention more than the music! … and encountering a repeat skip on a record while having sex… not good, as all the hype about vinyl being superior to CDs goes crashing through the floor.

The bottom line… it’s in our best interests to restore verbal integrity in describing the visual condition of the records we sell (“play grading,” that’s another article/debate). Grading a record “V.G.++” when in reality it’s a study in surface scratches and has a high likelihood of skipping, is an Osborne “Fair” at best. That creative upgrade may help you get more money for the record in the short term, but you may lose that buyer as a regular customer in the long term (eBayers, ya paying attention?).
Personally, I defer to Jerry Osborne’s 1977 “Record Album Price Guide” as my default point of reference for LP grading. My bar may be little higher on my “V.G.” definition, but, as Jerry says, “Good” should not mean bad.” Take it from there. I’ll see you at the bar.


David Lancon/Akashic Records appears regularly at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena City College and the Orange County Record Show.


    • David Lancon

      Joe, You covered a lot of recrod grading ground in your Amoeba article… very thorough! While I was doing some recent Ebay LP research, one seller who listed his grading criteria mentioned using “Goldmine” grading…
      his VG+ (“Very God awful”) = surface scratchy,etc., which sounds like an Osborne “G” grade. I think the source of this language abuse may lie in Goldmine’s rather creative, wishful thinking grading having taken over. Your suggestion of a 5 or 10 point grading system… Yes!!

  1. Joe Happy Pork-Chop Wood

    when I use to deal with blues world website and eBay, they have shipped me records they assuredme were VG + or better, as well as any other auction, and almost every time I am unwrapping a record with scratches, hairline fractures, label wear… after years of dealing with that from auction houses the deal with Robert Johnson or Charley Patton records, why should I feel bad by going by their grading system? I’m lucky if I get ten dollars for record. I definitely agree with you that common sense tells you that very good should not be a category for a scratched record. the problem is you have so many people are here that’s already been burned this way why should they add insult to injury to them self? until your big time record dealer tries to even the score a little bit, you barking up the wrong tree. a guy is listing a Charlie Patton 78 for like nine thousand dollars on eBay right now. look at the condition of that record… it’s really unfair.
    my way of solving that problem is I don’t buy from dealers anymore. or auctions I go to estate sales and goodwill. and for 50 cents I have found E condition prewar jazz, blues, jug band, and hillbilly, without the bs. I didn’t get into records because I want to get rich. or to screw somebody over. I got into because of the love of the music.

  2. E Christina Herr

    David, Hello! Hope all is well with you! I m still playing music-living in NM. Wondering if you still have my Gibson ES 125? So sad to have lost that guitar! Love to buy it back if possible . Looked for you on Facebook to no avail. Thank you, Christina

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