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Classic 45's Grading Scale

Classic 45's Grading Scale

Last Updated 06/24/16.

Some notes about grading.—At Classic 45s, we do grade records "Mint" if they are new and unplayed and absent any significant flaws. Many record dealers shy away from this, blindly adhering to Goldmine magazine's ancient and unhelpful grading guidelines, which define "Mint" as "Absolutely perfect in every way." Axiomatically, nothing is "absolutely perfect in every way," so any dealer who calls a record "Mint" must be lying about the record's condition (according to Goldmine standards). In general, the Goldmine grading system seems focused on used records, hardly acknowledging that new records exist, and it also focuses more on 12-inch vinyl than on 7-inch.

I also don't believe Goldmine has the right to simply change the meaning of "Mint" from its normal English definition, which certainly isn't "Absolutely perfect in every way." I'll get to the English definition in a moment.

Rather than adopt the inadequate Goldmine system when opening the store in 2001, Classic 45s has developed its own grading system that, while far from perfect, we believe is superior to the Goldmine "standards." Unfortunately, influential music marketplaces such as Discogs and eBay have adopted the Goldmine "standards," so we spend a lot of time explaining our grading system and how it applies to individual 45 records.

The bottom line for our grading system is that we define "Mint" the way the Comic Book collectors universe does: "Near perfect in every way." (Note the huge difference in meaning between this and Goldmine's definition of "Mint!") We also adopt the standard English definition of "Mint", which you'll see is "New, like new." We believe that users want to know when a record is actually "new, like new", to distinguish such records from ones that are "Near Mint" and likely previously used. By forbidding use of "Mint," the Goldmine system does not allow for such a distinction, but ours does. Well, Goldmine's "still sealed" grade may be helpful when dealing with LPs, but few U.S. 45s from the 1950s-80s were ever shrink-wrapped, because their sleeves could not support it. This is one significant way in which Goldmine's standards simply do not apply to 45 rpm, 7-inch vinyl/styrene records. Since no U.S. 45 records from the 1950s-80s that I know of were released in shrink-wrap form, how is the 45 record collector supposed to be able to distinguish a genuinely new (previously unowned by a retail customer) and unplayed (except by the record's dealer on high-fidelity equipment) records from one that looks brand new but on its audition on my turntable (Stanton ST.150 with a 680E V3 elliptical stylus) displays signs of prior use via slightly degraded audio or unexplained surface noise. As a collector, this problem bedevils serious 45 collectors who shop at record shows or most retail establishments and rely on visual inspection only (because none of those dealers are required or expected to grade based on play).

Classic 45s specializes in finding and selling records that are in new, unplayed condition (that is, no previous owner has played the record). As a dealer in new 45 stock (both original pressings and reissues), it makes no sense to me when I see a dealer call a brand new record "Near Mint" merely because they have taken an oath to never call a record "Mint." New records are by definition "Mint" in the real world, and "Mint" is the correct grade to label a record that has never before been played and is otherwise lacking any notable flaws. Since a large part of our inventory consists of new, unplayed stock, it's important that customers can clearly distinguish this from our used inventory as they shop.

Dealers who swear off using "M" or "Mint" to grade their records are not doing their customers any favors if they can't tell new inventory from used. They are making their customers guess whether the inventory being offered is new or used, yet that makes a big difference to all the 45 collectors I know. At Classic 45s, we try to grade as honestly and thoroughly as possible, and we are not in the least bit ashamed to call a Mint ("new, like new") record Mint. Give our system a try, and I think you'll come to appreciate its nuances and precision in describing a given 45 record's grade.

Another source of confusion for some dealers and customers is when they encounter the phrase "new, unplayed" — a phrase we use by default as a way of indicating that a record is previously unowned and/or unplayed. And yet, some ask, if you play such a record to grade its audio, how can you call it "unplayed"? Some dealers argue against play-grading a record that is "new, unplayed" because of this paradox. But that's not a solution, because there isn't really a problem. This is a trick question that presupposes that a single play by a professional record dealer such as Classic 45s negates use of the term "unplayed." (You played it! How can it still be unplayed?) This is pulling hairs: If I get a batch of 5 new, unplayed copies of a record, I will test play one of them. Is that like driving a new car off the dealer's lot? Not in the least. The 5 records remain identical for retail sales purposes. The same is true for records from a collection like the Louise Neal Soul 45s; most of these are new, unplayed, but because of storage conditions since 1970 they all require cleaning. I can only test the audio after cleaning by playing the record. My test play doesn't knock the record out of the "new, unplayed" category any more than my purchasing it to begin with, or, say, my cleaning it, means it's no longer "new." "Unplayed" is simply a short-cut way of saying "Previously unplayed," but I can't use that because in cases where I purchase in bulk, I play only one test copy, leaving the rest truly "unplayed." Likewise, "New" means "No previous retail buyer." Technical note: We test play our 45s on a Stanton ST.150, with a well maintained Stanton 680E.V3 elliptical stylus, the S tonearm weighted to factory standards and with appropriate anti-skating set up.

All of our records have four grades: An overall grade, and separate grades for label, vinyl, and audio. This system allows much more detailed grading than is possible by using an overall grade alone. However, it does mean that you need to check the detail grades in addition to the overall grade in judging the condition of a record you are considering for purchase.
NOTE: Audio grades are based on listening to the first 20-30 seconds of the record using high quality stereo speakers (not headphones). The grade primarily reflects audio quality on the A side of the 45, and may not accurately measure audio quality of the B side. Warps will affect the grade if they affect the audio. Very slight warping is common on 45's--even new ones--and will not reduce the grade of an otherwise mint record.

Condition Visual (Label and Vinyl) Audio
M Mint Looks new and unplayed. Very high vinyl luster with virtually no visual artifacts (such as scuffs and hairlines) and no noticeable label defects. A new record is by definition mint, unless it has some manufacturing/handling defect that affects the label, vinyl, or audio. Such defects are described in the definition of near mint. Visual artifacts that are hard to see or are not readily apparent are allowed at this grade. Note: All new 45's for sale at Classic 45's are graded as Mint. It is not unusual for such singles to have a faint scuff or two on the vinyl or some very slight wear on the label. The key is that these records are known to be new and unplayed. Sounds brand new. (Note that with vinyl 45rpm records, this does NOT mean there is no surface noise at all—especially if the record needs cleaning. Mint styrene records are typically quieter than equivalent vinyl pressings, assuming normal-grade vinyl was used.) We are tougher on the audio grade than on the appearance grades, and almost invariably, if we grade a record's audio "Mint," that means it has no audible surface noise and no distortion. That's because a new (Mint) record should be free of noise and distortion. (There are exceptions, of course: New pressings on inferior vinyl, mis-pressings where the grooves are stamped slightly off-center, or other manufacturing defects that affect the audio.)
M-

Near mint

Looks almost new, but has usually no more than one or two minor flaws, such as:

  1. Drillhole on the label. The drillhole should be small, located so as to detract only slightly from the label's visual appeal, and implemented with minimal damage to the surrounding label.
  2. Small, unobtrusive writing on one label (e.g., an X on a promo copy). Writing on the label is usually not allowed at this grade, but a small, neatly written date on an otherwise mint label can be an exception. It's a matter of judgment. For example, if the date in this case is on the B side label and is rendered unobtrusively, this otherwise mint label could be graded near mint.
  3. A few scuffs and other faint visual artifacts on the vinyl. A virtual lack of visual artifacts is the definition of mint vinyl, so if the vinyl has a very small and unobtrusive number of light scuffs or other faint visual artifacts, it could be graded near mint. The visual appeal is close to mint, but not quite.
  4. Minor ringwear or color flaking on the label. A small amount of light ringwear will lower the grade from mint, and it could grade near mint if it's visually unobtrusive. For example, the light ringwear may affect only a small section of the label, or a bit of color flaking at the edge of the label detracts only slightly from the visual appeal of the label.
  5. Very slight warping. Very slight warps that do not affect playback are allowed at near mint, but the defect should be noted in the description.
  6. Light "bubbling." One of the more common manufacturing defects is bubbling — the creation of small air pockets beneath the label when it was affixed. Very unobtrusive bubbling is allowed at mint, and a small amount of bubbling that hasn't otherwise damaged the label (such as by additional ringwear) is allowed at this grade.
  7. Off-center labels. The degree to which a label has been affixed or printed off-center can lower a mint label's grade to near mint.
  8. Very small and/or light stains on the label. For example, an otherwise mint label that has two tiny, unobtrusive stains on one side will grade as near mint. Likewise, a mint label that has very light staining on one side (preferably the B side) can grade near mint, especially if the stain is so faint as to be not initially apparent.
  9. Other visual flaws that only slightly detract from visual appeal.
Near mint audio may have some minor surface noise, but nothing distracting. A mint record that has one or two "pops" will grade at near mint. Likewise, a record that has just a small amount of surface noise, which affects only a small section of the music, may grade at near mint. A record with near mint audio is good enough for play on the radio or in a dance club. It may not be perfect, but it's not far below.
EX

Excellent

Less than near mint. The vinyl and label appear used, but well cared for. Records in this category have a few more obvious flaws, but ones that are not too visually degrading, such as:

  1. Small stickers on the label. The sticker should be placed so as not to detract much from the label graphics and typography.
  2. Some noticeable, but not garish, writing on the label that typically does not deface the label design in any way.
  3. Scuffing and minor scratches on the vinyl.
  4. Minor discoloration of the label.
  5. Very minor warping in the vinyl.
  6. Small, light staining or sticker residue on the label.
  7. Minor ringwear. The label has too much ringwear to grade near mint, but not so much that it distracts from the graphics and typography.
Audio in this grade may have noticeable surface noise, but nothing that detracts significantly from the enjoyment of the music. Despite some possible treble distortion (typical of older styrene records), the record sounds great. Also grading Excellent will be otherwise near mint records that have a few too many "pops" during playback, or records that have a very slight "wow" from a slight mis-pressing.
VG Very Good Records in this grade appear well used but not abused. They may have one or two major flaws, such as scratches, label tears, or stickers, but usually not more than 2 of these. Audio in this grade has some surface noise that detracts somewhat from the music. The audio should still be enjoyable, but the surface noise is of a level that may be somewhat distracting in spots.
G Good Records in this grade appear well used and somewhat abused. They may have multiple major flaws, but none that would lead one to think the record would not play through. Audio in this grade is not really "Good" at all. However, the record does not skip and plays all the way through. Typically, records in this condition are those you would purchase to fill a hole in your collection until a better copy comes along.
F Fair. Classic 45's does not sell records in this grade. Records in Fair condition typically are so bad looking that collectors should just toss them out.

 

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