Used LPs & 45s: A Guide for Understanding Visual Grading Criteria Utilized by Select E-Bay Sellers

JOv2

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
E-Bay is a two-edged sword in the realm of used records. The selection is immense given the worldwide access to LPs and 45s; yet, far too many sellers are clearly not competent regarding the assignment of accurate visual grades to the records they sell — which has led to inflated grading during the past 20 years. As a result, when affordable, many of us seek out NOS (new old stock) or SS (still sealed) OOP LPs, which although other risks must now be considered (e.g., bad pressings, warpage, mold-damaged jackets) in most cases the sonic rewards remove all uncertainties associated with the purchasing of 60-year old used LPs of unknown history.

In response, some years ago I put this sarcastic bit together and sent it off to my LP collecting friends.
_____

Used LPs & 45s: A Guide for Understanding Visual Grading Criteria Utilized by Select E-Bay Sellers
  • No records are graded lower than VG.
    • VG: My grandma has boxes of these things called records. They used them in the old days for music so let’s get some money for them on E-Bay.
    • VG+: All records look about the same but these ones here don’t have as many of those other lines and stuff across the grooves like all the others so they’re better.
    • NM: These are the 20 best looking records from that $5 estate sale box.
    • M: This one is a collector’s item because it still has some of that plastic wrap on it.
  • Beware of sellers who, based on the following actions, clearly don’t adhere to Goldmine visual grading standards:
    • Sellers who grade ANY used LP as M.
    • Sellers who make statements like: "condition is NM…except for _________"; or "condition is VG+ for a 55-year-old LP".
    • Sellers who use hype or non-Goldmine terms (e.g., "amazing", "fantastic", "incredible") to describe LP condition.
    • Sellers who avoid detailing LP condition by hyping the other aspects of the LP (e.g., "wonderful album", "great addition to your collection").
    • Sellers who exclusively use the word "vinyl" and/or were born after 1970 and have recently jumped on the vinyl bandwagon.
    • Sellers who clearly don’t understand the music they’re selling (e.g., classifying The Sandpipers as "R&B & Soul").
    • Sellers who also hock items unrelated to LPs (e.g., Motel 6 ashtrays, buddha clocks, three rims from a ’68 Dodge Polara, and assorted sundries pilfered from Grandma’s attic, etc.).
Additionally, the following is offered for general consideration regarding used record purchases based on visual grading…
  • NM 45s only exist in fantasyland.
  • The first time any new C&W or R&B LP is removed from its jacket and played, its grade instantly plunges from M to FAIR.
  • LP condition is always inversely proportional to the attractiveness of the artist pictured on the jacket.
  • LPs classified as Instrumental — Easy Listening graded as VG+ always have one long scratch that extends from the lead-in grooves to the dead wax (for many of these LPs — particularly 101 Strings and Montovani — this actually enhances the listening experience).
  • Then there's the fun stuff…like the E-Bay seller who listed Bob Dylan/Another Side of Bob Dylan (’64) as "a rare 2-eye issue" — notwithstanding that all Columbia LPs from 1963–1969 were "2-eye".
 

Rudy

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Good grief--that just summed up nearly every eBay listing I've ever seen. 😁

"Plays well" is one I've seen also. Yeah, sure, on the old Soundesign you have sitting around the thrift shop. Did you also tape quarters to the headshell so it would play through those skips on side two?

Some Discogs sellers have graded LPs a bit on the optimistic side. But eBay is by far the absolute worst place to buy records that I have ever used. I was still living on the other side of town (so, more than 15 years ago) the last time I purchased what were supposed to be records in good condition that turned out to be duds. Yet I lucked out with the purchase I made a few weeks ago--I was seeking a somewhat rare record (the Lab 75 record from the NTSU Lab Band). The cheapest Discogs copy was $25. I got this one and Lab 76 for $19.99 plus shipping, and found that at least the Lab 75 plays perfect (as I haven't played the other one yet).

1616419869040.png

This seller is one of those who is also selling watches, sweaters, various knick-knacks, even an AKAI reel deck and an ancient Motorola "bag phone." Mostly records, though, and the seller seems to recognize details like first pressings. This one's a rarity!
 

Rudy

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Now...estate sales??

Estate sale records are probably rock bottom for me. I've seen literal trash being sold for a few dollars, just because the clueless estate sale company thinks vinyl is a hot commodity and they can get a few bucks for it. These were records that celebrated each anniversary with their yearly ritual of being put back in their jackets, many of which having at the most two seams intact, the rest taped up with yellowed Scotch tape that quit sticking to the jackets 23 years ago. These were so beaten that they should have gone straight into the dumpster. And this wasn't a single occurrence--any time there was maybe a single bin of records, they were all in sad condition.

There was a large estate sale which included a substantial record collection that I attended several years ago, but most of them were probably VG- at best. Plus, by the time I got there, the sale had been going on for a few hours and the prime stuff was probably already gone. The guy was a big Elvis fan--I found multiple copies of many of the Elvis LPs, even the compilations. And 45s? Insane. There were probably a few hundred Elvis 45s alone (with many, many duplicates--I'd see five or six of the same title in a row, of varying vintages), and at least ten thousand more, as there were rows upon rows of storage boxes spread out on tables in the garage. If they weren't priced as high as they were, I would have gotten quite a few. (They were a dollar or two each.)

I did manage to grab a few things that looked to be unplayed--a Sinatra at the Sands, two Simon & Garfunkel reissues (the early 80s Columbia label), a Dionne Warwick hits collection on Spectre, and the rarest of the bunch was an early 50s RCA 45 RPM EP by Harry Belafonte (in its original jacket!) that I played while growing up, and my copy was beaten within an inch of its life.

The only thing is, this guy had grubby mitts, and each of them had big greasy fingerprint smudges on them that, through the decades, kind of became permanent. A couple of cleanings got rid of some of it and I can't hear anything bad in those spots, but just by seeing how he handled his records, that gives a good indication of how his entire collection was treated.

That and he must have been a heavy smoker, since the house still had that sickly smell to it. There were two jukeboxes for sale--if I'd had room, I might have entertained bringing one home for a project to work on. 😉 But that explains all the 45s. And a lot of the records might have been used for entertaining, since there was a full-sized bar in the family room, all done up in a 70s-era white and gold. I almost pictured this guy being an Elvis impersonator. 😁
 

Rudy

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BTW, I think we could riff on Estate Sale and Thrift Store grading just as easily as eBay listings. I'm game. 😁
 

Murray

Well-Known Member
Good grief--that just summed up nearly every eBay listing I've ever seen. 😁

"Plays well" is one I've seen also. Yeah, sure, on the old Soundesign you have sitting around the thrift shop. Did you also tape quarters to the headshell so it would play through those skips on side two?

Some Discogs sellers have graded LPs a bit on the optimistic side. But eBay is by far the absolute worst place to buy records that I have ever used. I was still living on the other side of town (so, more than 15 years ago) the last time I purchased what were supposed to be records in good condition that turned out to be duds. Yet I lucked out with the purchase I made a few weeks ago--I was seeking a somewhat rare record (the Lab 75 record from the NTSU Lab Band). The cheapest Discogs copy was $25. I got this one and Lab 76 for $19.99 plus shipping, and found that at least the Lab 75 plays perfect (as I haven't played the other one yet).

View attachment 6550

This seller is one of those who is also selling watches, sweaters, various knick-knacks, even an AKAI reel deck and an ancient Motorola "bag phone." Mostly records, though, and the seller seems to recognize details like first pressings. This one's a rarity!
"Language: German"

????? :confused: :laugh:
 

Harry

Charter A&M Corner Member
Staff member
Site Admin
I tend to mentally downgrade virtually every used record listing I see, and I'm usually right on target if I buy it. I tend to give a lot of sellers some slack as they probably don't dabble in this hobby at all and are trying to be honest. Most don't have functioning turntables, so they're reduced to just visual descriptions. Most of my purchases are on the cheap side, and I figure it's like a crapshoot as to what you're going to get. Many times I'm happily surprised. Case in point recently - last year I picked up all of the A&M Tim Weisberg LPs that didn't have a CD equivalent (most of them), and all were in nice enough shape that they made great needledrops.

But its maddening when an LP you really want in great shape comes in the mail and it's noisy-city.

CDs usually play mostly perfectly unless totally trashed.
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
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My beef with used LPs is the wear. Visual grading, even honest visual grading, can't detect wear. Most of those who sell on eBay, and many on Discogs, don't play grade the records or if they do, it's on crappy equipment. That's why I've taken to scouring Discogs for sealed LPs. I've been pleasantly surprised that just about all of the sealed LPs I've purchased have been really reasonable in price, even a few I thought were rare. I think it's rare if I've ever paid more than $15 for a sealed "old stock" LP.

Dirt isn't an issue as I'll run it through the ultrasonic cleaner. Most improve by a small amount, while some are completely rescued. Even brand new vinyl needs a deep cleaning due to the mold release compounds the pressing plants use. The recent Horace Silver LP I bought was disappointing in that it had quite a few ticks throughout, and the cleaning got rid of just about all of them. Not so much with the Stonebone LP--these seem to have pressing defects on side two (I know at least one other person who has the same noise on side two that I do).

But eBay's overall quality is the pits. My thought is, if you're selling vinyl, you'd better know your product or you have no business selling it. I lucked out with my recent purchase, but got burned way too many times, even 15 years ago, that eBay is my absolute last stop for trying to find vinyl. With so many thrift stores posting there now, and thrift store vinyl often being the rejects of what doesn't sell at an estate sale, most of it is trash.
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
"Plays well" is one I've seen also. Yeah, sure, on the old Soundesign you have sitting around the thrift shop. Did you also tape quarters to the headshell so it would play through those skips on side two?
I recall an advertised VG++ record I purchased from E-Bay that was actually a G. I explained this to the seller and requested a return/refund. He said he would issue a refund but didn't want the LP back. (It's common for E-Bay LP sellers to not request return of an LP -- particularly if it was priced $10 or less, which was the case at hand -- typically because it's not worth the effort and also because they probably got the thing for 50-cents at an estate sale.) There was a caveat, however: he requested that I destroy the LP! I asked his reasoning, and he said he wanted to be assured I wouldn't try to resell the LP. I knew I was dealing with someone a bit peculiar yet, in any event, being a good sport and all, I smashed up the LP and mutilated the cover, as requested. I e-mailed him back that I had completed the (throughly bizarre) deed -- but that wasn't good enough...next he wanted me to take a photograph and send it to him as proof. Having now confirmed the seller was a 1st class neurotic, I told him I had enough of all this silliness. I was not going to dig though my trash to retrieve vinyl fragments to take a photograph; instead, I was going to complain to E-Bay regarding these unorthodox actions he requested. He backed down and processed my big 8-dollar refund. A couple years later, while reviewing my account I saw I had one follower (my only follower)...and it was him! Obviously, he was following me to see if I would actually re-sell that crappy LP. (I suppose he spent many-a-restless night unsure of whether or not I actually destroyed that old LP.)

...I'll run it through the ultrasonic cleaner. Most improve by a small amount, while some are completely rescued. Even brand new vinyl needs a deep cleaning due to the mold release compounds the pressing plants use.
Some years ago, a friend introduced me to the wonderful world of vacuum cleaning. All my first call LPs are now spotless and living in their archival inner and outer sleeves.
 

Moritat

Well-Known Member
On Ebay, the only safe way to grade a record is to slightly under grade it. And the visual grading doesn't mean much if the Lp wasn't listened to. Many LPs which truly grade as NM sound awful. There needs to be 3 grades... a visual grade of the LP, and audio grade, and a grade for the jacket... with explanations as to why the seller is grading each one that way. Also provide clear detailed photos as well. And I do not understand the grade of E (excellent). Is "E" the same as "VG++"? For buyers, the reviews and feedback can tell you a lot. Regarding estate sales, I have no problem with them. Ignore the many trashed records and buy the clean ones. Just simple common sense. Still the best way to find great clean LPs at rock bottom prices.
 

Rudy

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Staff member
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Where I live, most estate sales are via older folks who probably played their records on a typical 60s console or all-in-one unit, and it got so it's not even worth looking at those records. (I think what bothers me the most about those types of sales is that the estate sale companies tend to price those types of records as though they are sought-after collectibles--the titles are dirt common, and condition probably no better than G+ if they even play all the way through without skipping or sticking.)

But when you can tell someone was a collector, those estate sales are worth scouring. Like that large sale I attended, I passed up many interesting titles since they were not looking so good, yet I still managed to find some that were clean and rarely if ever played.

Grading is such a mixed bag. Goldmine rating standards are clearly spelled out, but if you look at what Near Mint specifies compared to what you receive, they usually don't match. Mint is probably the most abused--to me, if a record has been opened, it is not mint. Once it's opened, how do we know that it wasn't carefully played once? Or know if it was laid down on a dirty towel while being inspected? The worst are those who say "played twice, record is mint"...when the Goldmine guide says the item should "certainly not have been played." (The kicker there is that "sealed" does not guarantee the record doesn't have flaws. Warpage, dirt, even scratches and scuffs are things I've seen on factory-new records.) I've even gotten burned by records at a record store where visually they look perfect, but I get them home and there is a lot of surface noise or worse, they have groove burn--both are not visible to the naked eye.

Goldmine, however, specifies visual grading, not play grading. I can partly see the reasoning behind that--a record store selling thousands of titles would never have time to play them all. And even if they sampled one track from the record, that is no guarantee the others won't have issues. Visual grading often can be misleading in the other direction--a record might have hairline scratches or other visual defects, yet play perfectly fine.

And even with play grading, the gotcha is that a seller saying a record "plays well" is often not playing it on good enough equipment to hear the defects. Playing a record on a cheap turntable with a worn stylus is never going to reveal that there is groove burn (wear) on the inner grooves. And they aren't likely to hear surface noise that the rest of us could easily hear at home on our systems.

I guess it's best to buy the best copies we can and keep our fingers crossed that they were graded fairly. I'll say that with my Discogs purchases over the past few years, I've only been disappointed fewer times than I can count on one hand.
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
Many LPs which truly grade as NM sound awful. There needs to be 3 grades... a visual grade of the LP, and audio grade, and a grade for the jacket... with explanations as to why the seller is grading each one that way
That would be helpful and probably is the case with collectable LPs. I've had LPs run the quality gambit: VG that exhibited superior sound; SS (M) and NM that were noisy pressings or that exhibited processing errors. An audio check on quality equipment is the only assurance...which should be the expectation for any collectable (i.e, > $20) LP.
 
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