Many dealers, including our partner AJ Doctor, use the Goldmine Grading Guide as a guideline to grading records. Goldmine is a biweekly record collectors magazine in the United States that also publishes price guides. The following is an excerpt from their Grading Guide:
Mint (M): Absolutely perfect in every way – certainly never played, possibly even still sealed. Should be used sparingly as a grade, if at all.
Near Mint (NM or M-): A nearly perfect record. Many dealers won’t give a grade higher than this implying (perhaps correctly) that no record is ever truly perfect. The record should show no obvious signs of wear. An LP jacket should have no creases, folds, seam splits or any other noticeable similar defect. No cut-out holes either. And of course, the same should be true of any other inserts, such as posters, lyric sleeves and the like. Basically, an LP in Near Mint condition looks as if you just got it home from a new record store and removed the shrink wrap.
Very Good Plus (VG+): A Very Good Plus record will show some signs that it was played and otherwise handled by a previous owner who took good care of it. Record surfaces may show some slight signs of wear and may have slight scuffs or very light scratches that don’t affect one’s listening experience. Slight warps that do not affect the sound are OK. The label may have some ring wear or discoloration, but it should be barely noticeable. The center hole will not have been misshapen by repeated play. An LP jacket may have slight signs of wear also and may be marred by a cutout hole, indentation or corner indicating it was taken out of print and sold at a discount. In general, if not for a couple of minor things wrong with it, this would be Near Mint. All but the most mint-crazy collectors will find a Very Good Plus record highly acceptable.
Very Good (VG): Many of the defects found in a VG+ record will be more pronounced in a VG disc. Surface noise will be evident upon playing, especially in soft passages and during a song’s intro and fade, but will not overpower the music otherwise. Groove wear will start to be noticeable, as will light scratches (deep enough to feel with a fingernail) that will affect the sound. Labels may be marred by writing or have tape or stickers (or their residue) attached. The same will be true of picture sleeves or LP covers. However, it will not have all of these problems at the same time, only two or three of them.
Good (G), Good Plus (G+): Good does not mean Bad! A record in Good or Good Plus condition can be put onto a turntable and will play through without skipping. But it will have significant surface noise and scratches and visible groove wear. A jacket or sleeve will have seam splits, especially at the bottom or on the spine. Take, writing, ring wear or other defects will start to overwhelm the object. If it’s a common item, you’ll probably find another copy in better shape eventually. Pass it up. But, if it’s something you have been seeking for years, and the price is right, get it . . . but keep looking to upgrade.
Poor (P), Fair (F): The record is cracked, badly warped and won’t play through without skipping or repeating. The picture sleeve is water damaged, split on all three seams and heavily marred by wear and writing. The LP jacket barely keeps the LP inside it. Inner sleeves are fully seam split, crinkled and written upon.
Jazz Collector Note: Grading records is an art, not a science, and through the years we’ve seen wide disparities among dealers. If you are purchasing a used record through the mail either on eBay or through another means and you are unhappy with the condition, you should let the dealer know. We’ve found most dealers to be reasonable when it comes to working out problems when there is a difference of opinion over condition. Also, on eBay, make sure you look at a dealer’s feedback before bidding on any of their records.