Record Grading : An Explanation         (smoked out by the Editor)
by Don Brown

The first question asked by a new record collector is :

 "How do you grade records?"

The symbols used in collector's magazines might as well be in Greek. I
glossed over grading techniques in a previous article but the serious
collector takes a little deeper insight into the business.

Now most records start out in a fairly round shape. At best, they have only
1 hole in them; this somewhere near the center of the disc, which is
surrounded by a paper item called the label. The grooves of the record are
those rough, circular ridges racing around the outer rim of the label.
Grooves, on a new record, usually contain some kind of sound waves. As a
record wears, the original sound is rapidly replaced with other sometimes
harsh sounds, called "surface noise".

Surface noises is a misnomer, because most so-called surface noise is
actually below the surface level od the disc. And, with a true collector's
item, surface noise is not really noise at all but morely an indication of
the record's worth. The greater the surface, the greater the current value
of the record.

Records are graded according to "condition", this being the presence or
absence of surface noise. The grading system, plus an explanation of each
is shown below :

New (abbreviated : N)  This is a new record - but since there are no "new"
78's, there areen't any "new" records. New records, are unused old new
records - or is it new old unused records? Anyhow, new records are in some
sort of unused state. Like Idaho.

Mint (abbr: M)  This is an herb. It also is a record classification similar
to the above (see: New).

Excellent (abbr: E)  This is a new record, only less so. It shows a few
plays (like 7500 on an out-of-adjustment jukebox). An E condition record
should have most of the original sheen to it - plus a few good playing
grooves. The sheen can be restored by waxing, shoe polish or oiling and, if
no one plays it until after you sell it, the sound in the grooves will be
immateral.

Very Good  (abbr: V)  Here is the catch-all of the record game. Anything in
most any condition is a V record or better.  To be sure, if you wish to be
completely honest about the whole thing, a record in 2 or 3 pieces should
be indicated by "slight crack". This will fully warn any prospective buyer
to expect a little less than the V grading.

Fair (abbr: F)  Now here is a grade: Fair to whom?  To meddlin' ,maybe.  A
Fair condition record is one that is fairly heard. If at all possible, turn
out a light or two in the room and regrade the disc. Perhaps the lighting
cast an unnatural flatness on the surface, completely hiding the remaining
grooves.

Poor (abbr: P)  This record is shot - but, if it is a rarity (that is, you
haven't seen another copy of it), list it anyway. It will probably bring a
fabulous bid. A Poor record doesn't even need a readable label - after all,
were the label intact, the record could easily fall into the F or V group.

It is a difficult decision to list an E condition record (at least, almost
E condition) at a lower grade, say V+. True, the record is cracked in 4
places and the center hole looks like a 45 - but still - you think the
record is great - AND RARE!

It is to take care of situations such as this that the plus (+) and minus
(-) system was added to the grading process. Thus, an E condition record
that isn't quite can become an E- or, pushing generosity to the extreme, a
V+. This phase of grading really becomes exacting when you've learned the
technique of plus or minus grading a Poor record. Only an expert tackles
such a project.

All records aren't in perfect shape. Some have gouges, scrapes and little
defects that produce little or no effect on the playing quality.  A record
may catch in 1 groove and stay there, repeating and repeating. This is not
bad, of course, when the music is in a good spot. Or maybe the dig or bump
causes the tone arm to jump several grooves. There probably wasn't anything
decent being said or played during those grooves anyway.

But these tiny defects should be mentioned in a record listing.  And they
do have names, uncouth as they may sound in print.


Needle Digs (abbr : ndl dgs)  This is the deep niche or groove in a disc,
usually caused by a sharply pointed pick being dropped on the record. Most
of the time the needle will pass through it or jump over it so that you may
add the notation: "ndl dig- passes - no effect". Small letters are
recommended so as not to call attention to it.

Lamination Cracks (abbr: lam crks or lams)  These are the silly looking
cracks that appear in many of the Columbia products of the 30's. They are
caused by the uneven shrinking of the cardboard filler used in pressing the
discs.  You can skip mentioning them if you like, under the knowledge that
the guy, in buying a Columbia product of that vintage might just as well
get used to lam cracks.

Edge Flake (abbr: edg flk)  This is a disease that hits some records more
than others. It comes in a variety of stages from merely removing a portion
of the surface of the lead-in grooves on one side to a missing portion of
the record, sometimes covering half the disc. To be truly accurate in
grading, you can add the information: "edg flk - 70 gvs"  It may not mean
much to most collectors but you are in the clear, fully telling them the
edge flake extends into the playing surface for 79 grooves (give or take 10
grooves or so). Another variation of this malady is called the "rim bit", a
term seldom used because it sounds like a disaster call.

Warp (no abbr.)    Why mention a warp at all? Very little reason because
the purchaser will soon notice it upon playing. But, if the record is
playable, why should it matter at all?  With the tone arm rising and
falling 6" or more on each revolution, it does add a certain entertainment
value to the listener's collection. And, secondly, it tests the quality of
the playback equipment if it will play it perfectly.


Crack (abbr. crk; with variations)  Cracks in records usually happen to the
better items. A Collector's Item is truly one when it develops a crack. In
fact, a few collectors improve the quality of their collection by
deliberately adding small cracks to choice items. There are many variations
of this defect, if it can be honestly termed a defect.  Among them are
"half-moon", "hairline", "sealed" and "clear through but label holds
together". For adding variety and readability to your auction listings, you
may thoroughly describe all cracks, even going to the extent of measuring
the most handsome ones. Most of the above variations are self-explanatory
and the field is wide open. If none of the current ones fit into your
situation, merely dream up your own. It's all part of the game.

Labels Reversed (abbr: lbl rev)  This is hardly worth calling attention to
on a list.  Unless the tune has lyrics, most collectors couldn't identify
the song anyhow, so what does it matter.  Or, as an out, perhaps you didn't
even know the labels were reversed. You will find that you can list
anything, be it a domestic or foreign pressing, by merely stating the label
name (select the rarest one mentioned on the face of said label) and the
record number (the oddest one possible). No one, or hardly any one, will
complain.


And that's about it. There are many tricks to this collecting game so
devise your own as you go along and you'll make out quite well. In fact, by
following these instructions, your mail will increase to such a degree, you
won't be able to answer all of it. Record grading is probably the surest
and quickest way to establish a lasting and well-known repuatation. Just
stick with it.


Record Finder  No.56   1964    by Don Brown

 

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