SUBJECTIVE GRADING OF USED LPs IS IN NEED OF A MAJOR REVISION
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.