Grading records is a very subjective skill that can differ between collectors even after many years of experience. Below are some general guidelines we feel are agreed upon by many collectors, but they are not set in stone. If you are planning on selling your records, please remember that it is always the best idea to be as honest and detailed as possible.
A sealed album is theoretically in perfect condition. In reality, there are still some things to watch out for when dealing with sealed albums. Some issues include the wrong record being inside the sleeve, the record not being in perfect shape, and the fact that somebody could have resealed an already opened album.
A mint record is a record that is perfect in every way. The cover and record are still in perfect shape. There are no visible markings on the cover, no factory defects having to do with the cover or record, and the record shows no sign of being played. Mint records are extremely rare.
Near Mint (NM)
Near mint records are what people commonly mistake as mint records. The cover and the record look to be in near-perfect shape, but there will usually be one or two very slight things wrong with them that keep them from being graded at the Mint level. These records can have no factory defects, no ringwear, and very few signs of handling and being played.
Very Good + (VG+)
These records are records that have a few very slight markings on the cover or record that do not significantly affect the appearance or playability of the record. A couple of slight scratches makes the difference between a NM record and a VG+ record.
Very Good (VG)
Very good records have signs of being played more than a few times, but were still in caring hands. There might be a few more scratches, and maybe a little ringwear, but they still play fine with any noise from surface scratches at very low levels.
Good records still play without skipping, even with a little surface noise. They may have a few markings on the cover including noticeable ringwear or slight side splitting, and the label may look a little worn with age.
Fair records are the records that rightfully deserve to be in the clearance or free bins at the record store. Slight surface scratches, slightly torn covers, and other defects that make them still playable, but usually easy to pass up.
Poor records are more or less what gets dumped in the trash. They can have torn covers, scratched surfaces, warped vinyl, and other defects that make them almost or definitely unplayable.