We all know this scene: you’re at your local thrift store or flea market and you spot a bin of vinyl records. You carefully thumb through them, admiring intricate artwork and the faces of artists both familiar and foreign. You land on an album that speaks to your heart- but what next? Whether you’re a casual listener or thinking of beginning a collection, buying vintage vinyl can be tricky, so here are a few things to keep in mind before purchasing!
Image via A Beautiful Mess
First, inspect the sleeve. Are the edges or spine torn, worn, or frayed? The sleeve of an LP, which is short for long-playing record because of their 10-12 inch diameter, is generally an indicator of the shape a record is in. But don’t fret- if the album art is what you’re truly in love with, it may be worth investing in as a piece of artwork.
After inspecting the sleeve, carefully remove the record from the jacket and hold it up to the nearest light source. It may have a layer of dirt or dust, which can is an easy fix with a dry brush or special vinyl-safe liquid cleaner. Things like fingerprints can be easily removed and small, hairline scratches in the vinyl, as long as sparse, usually won’t drastically affect the quality of the sound, so don’t let those put you off. When inspecting the record, check for things like deep scratches, marks, and, most importantly, warp in the vinyl- these can cause the sound to distort or record to skip.
There is also a huge market for vintage records online. From auction sites to specialized websites, if your dream record doesn’t make the cut in person, you can always find another copy on the internet. When browsing records online, you can determine the quality of the record by the grade given by the seller. There is a grading system used for vinyl that is as follows:
Mint or (M): Mint means that the record is flawless and appears to have never been handled or taken out of the sleeve, which will also be in perfect condition. This is very rare when it comes to vintage records and can usually mean a much higher sticker price!
Near Mint or (NM) or (M-): Near Mint means the record is in excellent condition and is relatively flawless. There might a scuff on the record that does not affect the play or very minor wear to the cover, but it is almost perfect.
Excellent or (E) or (VG++): Excellent indicated that the record has a few minor scuffs that do not affect the sound of the record at all and there is only slight wear to the album cover.
Very Good Plus or (VG+): Very Good Plus records typically show their wear. They still play well, but their flaws are visible to the naked eye. There will also be some aging to the jacket in the form of yellowing, tears, or marks.
Very Good or (VG): Very Good records may show their wear, but they still play well. This grade of record usually plays with surface noise (some crackling and popping) and the cover of the record will be visibly worn.
Good or (G): A Good record will be easily identifiable. It will have visible wear and damage on the vinyl, but will still play. Unlike Very Good records, the surface noise will be continuous and more audible. The artwork on the cover will be worn and there may be a ring where the record was inside. In addition, there may be writing on the cover or tape where the spine has split.
Using this system can be tricky because one’s Near Mint may be another’s Excellent. The subjectivity of the grading system can sometimes make buying online more difficult than easy, so keep this in mind when purchasing via the Internet!
Image via A Beautiful Mess
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether you’re buying in person or online, get the scoop on the record you’ve set your sights on. Where did it come from? How long have they had it? Inquiries are a great way to get a history lesson and learn more about the care previously given to your record.
Once the record is in your possession, make sure you have a plastic sleeve for the album and paper inner sleeve for your record to protect it from accidentally falling out of the jacket and keeps the dust away. Plastic inner sleeves can stick to the vinyl, so they aren’t necessary, especially for those in warmer climates. Heat can adversely affect vinyl, so always store your precious records away from vents, fireplaces and direct sunlight. It is also imperative to store records standing up to avoid warping!
When you’re ready to play your record, place the disc between faced-in palms on the very edge of the record to avoid leaving fingerprints. Carefully set it on your record player and enjoy the soothing sounds of your latest purchase (dancing optional).
This post originally appeared on March 28th, 2014.