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“When some yahoo says his album is V++, what the hell does that mean?”
Grading is a record collector’s biggest pet peeve, as it’s rarely accurate or biased in our favor. There are two types of grading -- aural and visual -- and since probably 90% of all used purchases are made without listening to the record, collectors have come to rely on the seller’s visual grading, which leads to many problems. Nobody uses the same lighting system for inspection, there’s no standardization as to what that condition translates to in written grades, and then there’s absolutely no guarantee that an album that looks to be in a certain condition will actually sound that way. Aural grading is a much more accurate barometer of a record’s condition, but there’s still variation between stereo systems, the quality of the styli, and how different ears tolerate varying degrees of ambient noise. It’s unrealistic to expect sellers to play grade their vinyl, because it takes a lot of time. And then, even if a record sounds good but looks awful, like some ‘50s albums I’ve encountered, most people don’t want them because there’s very little resale value.
I do some shopping on eBay, and the worst problem is that half the sellers don’t even define their grading criteria. So when some yahoo says his album is V++, what the hell does that mean? For some sellers, that’s their second highest grade and only befits a near perfect album, but for others, it’s only the fourth highest grade behind M, NM, and E. I would lobby for some kind of standardization, but how would you define the gradations? I like a 10 point system (with 10 being the highest), but the reality is that only the top five numbers matter; nobody lists an album as a 4. So, maybe a 5 point system… Speaking of grading, Neil Umphred, who curated the early Goldmine price guides, used to define the VG (Very Good) grade as Very God Awful! The point is that if sellers don’t include their grading criteria in their listings, their grades are meaningless.
My next wish would be for sellers to grade under a 100 watt desk lamp in an otherwise dark room, since ambient light plays havoc with accurate viewing. Also, a little known fact is that looking at a record in sunshine will give you the most revealing look. You just don’t want to keep it out there too long... At Amoeba, we don’t show a grade on our vinyl, unless we’re listing it for sale online. We encourage customers to look at the condition and judge for themselves before buying, and we also allow them to return defective items within a week.
Although it’s often inaccurate, grading is a necessary evil. To improve this situation, we as collectors should at least insist on the first two of these three steps. First, ask sellers to list their grading criteria. Second, encourage them to make sure there’s no ambient light when they grade their vinyl. The last step would be to push for a standard grading system, like most other hobbies have (coins, comics).