Sound Advice: Making the grade with vinyl

By  Stephen M.H. Braitman

Goldmine columnist and veteran appraiser Stephen Braitman hosted Goldmine’s first online seminar on record grading in September (a download of the seminar is now available at At the end of his presentation, he fielded several questions about record grading and cleaning from the attendees. Since we regularly get questions on these topics from our readers, we thought we’d share Braitman’s answers here:

Question: When you’re grading, do you grade the record and the cover together or separately?

Answer: I would grade them separately, particularly if there’s any discrepancy between them. A disc comes first, that’s the most important thing, and the cover comes second. I’ve seen incredibly awful-looking covers with near VG+ or excellent condition records inside. I’ve seen wonderful-looking covers with terrible discs inside, so I think you do need to grade them separately.

Would you recommend going to other collectors to get a second opinion about your grading of your own records?

Answer: That’s a good idea, actually. Obviously, it depends on whether it’s practical or even useful. A second or even a third opinion can only improve your profile in the marketplace, particularly with the most rare and desirable records. I certainly wouldn’t want to take the chance that I’m operating in isolation with a record that someone might bid hundreds of dollars, if not thousands of dollars on. To a certain degree, letting other collectors know about this, getting their opinion and feedback, can help promote it more, particularly if you’re expecting a big response to it. Yes, it’s always good to get a second opinion, whether in the medical field or the record-collecting field.

Can you tell, and what ways can you tell, if a record has been cleaned?

Answer: Whether you can tell or not depends on how it was cleaned. The times I’ve noticed is when they haven’t been cleaned well. Some people use liquid laundry soap or dish cleaner on their discs and they forget to rinse it off completely. So when it dries you actually see soapy residue on the disc.

Other ways you can tell, particularly if the vinyl is still glossy and that soap residue is gone — sometimes a record that hasn’t been cleaned very well but still looks really nice and crisp, with glossy vinyl — if you play it you often hear much more noise than you’d expect from a record that’s been properly cleaned.

Let’s be clear about this, a properly cleaned record, whether using a professional device or on your own, should have no residue, should leave no visible marks — you should not be able to tell it was cleaned.

Question: What’s the correct way to clean 45s? Is there a difference in the proper method?

Answer: I have cleaned 45s and LPs the same way, when I’ve needed to do them. I’ve tried not to clean them very much, but sometimes you get some really gunky-looking stuff. The easiest and simplest way is to use something like a disc-washer system. You have a pad or a little handheld device that’s got fibers on it, put a little bit of cleaning liquid on it, and you rub it on the disc as it’s spinning on the turntable. And then you turn it in such a way that the disc dries on the other side of the device.

More problematic discs, to be honest, I’ve actually used dishwashing liquid with my 45s. Using warm water, with the liquid soap applied with my fingers, gently rubbing the gunk off the disc, shaking off as much excess water as possible and putting it on a lint-free cloth to dry. When you have a wet disc like this you don’t want to rub it with a cloth or with paper towels because you risk scratching it. You want to shake off the water, just let it lie on this cloth and just pat it lightly. But you let it dry by itself. After it’s dried, you then want to rub it on the turntable with your cleaning cloth or your disc-washer device so you make sure you clean out the grooves, in case there’s any excess water or soap residue in there.

Question: Have any books been published that decode dead-wax inscriptions?

Answer: Yes, I have seen some of those books. Some books, privately published books, include that information in their discographies. The main reference is a book by Joseph Pecoraro called “Dead Wax.” It’s a reference book that you can order from him directly. It was published in 2004, it labels all of the major oldies-type 45s and it’s really a valuable reference.

• • •

Reg Bartlette, the author of “Off the Record: Motown by Master Number (1959-1989)” sent us this letter in response to a Motown-related question in an earlier Sound Advice column:

In the July 17 edition of Goldmine (issue #756) there was a question put to you regarding the Mary Wells Live On Stage album (Motown #MT-611).

 This album was originally released by Motown on Sept. 9, 1963. It was originally pressed by RCA Custom with RCA matrix numbers: PR4M-5058-1A / PR4M-5059-1B. There are Motown master numbers on labels listed as: (A) H-1240 – (B side) H-1241. The “1A” was used by the pressing plant making the disk (RCA or Columbia), and was not used by Motown on their “master Numbers.”

 This first RCA pressing of Mary Wells Live On Stage had no running times listed on labels or album cover. It was also released in mono only. Album produced by Berry Gordy, Jr. The address was located above the center hole.

 It is possible that subsequent pressings had the address below the center hole, but I cannot confirm this. To the best of my knowledge, this album was never pressed by Columbia Custom, which would have had XCTV (mono) matrix numbers on labels and runout areas on disk.

 Columbia Custom was originally under contract with Motown to press records from 1961 to 1964 (with a handful in1965). They were to begin pressing Motown record releases in January 1961, but the very first actual pressing was an album featuring the Miracles, Hi We’re The Miracles (Tamla #TM-220, released June 16, 1961). The Columbia matrix numbers on this original pressing were: (A) XCTV-65462 (B) XCTV-65463). It was pressed in mono only. The earliest pressings of this album have a date of 1-12-61 scratched in to the runout areas on disk.

 The very first Mary Wells Motown records pressed by Columbia Custom (Chicago) were:

45 rpm: Motown #1032 (released July 17, 1962) (ZTSC-83650 / 83651). Other Motown Mary Wells 45s pressed by Columbia Custom (Chicago) were catalog numbers 1016, 1024 and 1032.

Album: Motown #MLP-600, Bye Bye Baby, I Don’t Want To Take A Chance with Columbia matrix numbers listed as: XCTV-84405 / 84406 (mono). Other Mary Wells albums pressed by Columbia were Motown #MLP-605, The One Who Really Loves You (XCTV-82895 / 82896), released June 5, 1962.

 All other Mary Wells albums, including Live On Stage, were RCA pressings and not Columbia pressings.

 Any numbers other than RCA numbers would indicate a re-pressing, and are not first pressings. If the owner of the (supposed) Columbia album pressing of the Live On Stage album can provide me with the XCTV mono matrix numbers, I’ll be able to pinpoint the release of his pressing down to the month (not to mention the year) of release.

There weren’t many Motown and related labels pressed by Columbia, as follows:

Motown 45s pressed by Columbia: 23 (ZTSC prefix)
Motown albums pressed by Columbia: 8 XCTV-mono, 2 XCSV-stereo
Tamla 45s pressed by Columbia: 28
Tamla albums: 13
Gordy 45s pressed by Columbia Custom: (ZTSC prefix): 5
Gordy albums: 1 XCTV-mono, 1 XCSV-stereo
Miracle 45s pressed by Columbia: 10 (ZTSC).

RCA Custom pressed at least 95% of all Motown Records through 1976. After that Motown pressed their own records. I hope this helps out.

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