Sound Advice: Accurate grading helps you get more from your records

By  Tim Neely

Question: Currently, I have approximately 100 45s in my attic, many still with picture sleeves. Every one of them has been played before, but almost all are in good condition. Where do I go from here?  What technique do I use to rate them? I’m aware that these are pretty basic questions, but I know that your response would be very helpful.

— Chuck Mungan

Answer: You have two different, but related, questions here.

Most people who have accumulations of records are curious: Are they worth anything? And, if so, will anyone buy them?

I’m only going to touch on the first question and spend more time on the second.

First, to find out if you have anything that might be of more than incidental value, get a hold of a price guide. With only 100 or so records, buying one might be more than you need to do (though I would certainly never dissuade you from doing so).

Most public libraries have at least some recent edition of either the “Goldmine Price Guide to 45 RPM Records” or the “Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1975.” If you do decide to buy one, you can find either one at most larger bookstores (and many smaller ones, as well). The prices in them are intended to be reasonably accurate, but they are guidelines and not holy writ.

Chances are that most of the 45s in your accumulation will have nominal value at best, but it doesn’t hurt to know.

That takes us to the second question: What technique to use to rate them? or How do I determine their grade?

The better condition your records are, the more likely it is that someone will want them. Even common 45s can fetch a few dollars if they are in top condition, because most copies of these singles that show up are in Very Good condition or worse.

One of the problems with grading is that it is subjective. What unfortunately happens is that most sellers, especially inexperienced ones, think their records are in better shape than they really are, and most buyers think that a seller’s records are worse than they stated. With so much buying and selling taking place “sight unseen” these days, whether through online or offline sources, it’s easy to see how this can happen. The Goldmine Grading Guide is as close to standard in the hobby as anything is, and if you follow it honestly, everyone will feel much better.

Another problem that is unique to records is that there are two ways to grade them: visual grading and play grading. Play grading is the ideal, because even today, most people buy records because they want to put them on their turntable or jukebox and listen to them. But most dealers don’t have the time to play-grade their stock. Thus, most records are visually graded.

Here are the basic grades:

• Mint: Perfect. Often rumored but rarely seen, this is a grade best to use sparingly, if ever. And for goodness’ sake, don’t ever use “Mint Plus”!

• Near Mint: Almost perfect. This looks as if you just got it home after buying it brand new at a retail store.

• Excellent or Very Good Plus:
Except for a couple minor flaws, this would be a Near Mint record. Most collectors, especially those who want to play their records, are happy with a VG+ record.

• Very Good:
These are starting to show significant signs of wear. Most of the original factory gloss will be missing, and groove wear is evident even without playing. Minor writing or tape on a label can also lower a record’s grade to Very

Good: These are some of the best bargains in record collecting, because they will still sound reasonably good, though not perfect, and today, the biggest money is in nearly perfect records.

• Very Good Minus or Good Plus: Worse than Very Good, but still not trashed. For most collectors, this approaches “filler” status. An otherwise impossible-to-find record might get some money in this condition, but don’t count on it.

• Good: Not bad, but not great, either. It has lots of surface noise, but still plays through.

• Fair: Worse than good. This record probably skips or is impossibly warped.

• Poor: Worse than fair. Maybe if it’s the only known copy of a title, it might be worth something. Otherwise, forget it.

There is a lot more to look for, but this basic guide should help you get started.

Click here to check out the latest price guides from Goldmine

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