THE first and foremost area I feel is important to comment on is GRADING. Absolutely one of the most important aspects of collecting. The difference between a genuinely near mint record and a VG record is the difference between night and day.
From my experience to date, I don’t think records are graded anywhere near as strictly by Korean dealers as they are by the top US, UK/European and Japanese dealers. My own opinion is that grading done by dealers on e-bay is quite hit and miss and there are countless times I’ve received things (off e-bay) that were meant to be EX or even M- that were scuffed and even scratched, or at best in the VG+ range by my grading. Professional grading should be done under strong 100w halogen lamp-light. Common fluorescent lights and daylight are not reliable for professional grading of high worth records.
‘Traditionally’ the main reference points for grading were those presented by the UK based Record Collector’ magazine or the US based Goldmine magazine. These are similar to what is outlined below. I have always used the British grading system which includes an ‘EX’ grade however American collectors often by-pass this grade. A British EX usually equates to a Goldmine (US) VG++ grade and therefore my VG+ grades may be a bit lower than the Goldmine equivalent.
While people who sell records on e-bay here and there (or are perhaps selling their own collection) can get away with casual grading, I believe that as soon as record prices drift above the $US 50 watermark and into the hundreds, then these records must be graded carefully, accurately and professionally. An Elvis Presley HMV release or an original UK London 45 of Carl Perkin’s Blue Suede Shoes from 1956 in genuinely near mint condition is extremely rare. That same record in EX condition is significantly less rare and is also less valuable, and VG+ to EX- copies, while still scarce are a completely different proposition to a very high grade copy.
Likewise an original genuinely near mint copy of Kim Jung-mi’s Now album (Fontana SEL 100 023) is substantially rarer and more valuable than one even in the EX grade range. Classical music and Jazz collectors are ‘notoriously’ fastidious (fussy) and pedantic when it comes to condition and grading on high end items.
Visual grades for vinyl discs under strong light:
M Mint condition. This means unplayed, with no marks on playing surface and label is as new. Older records are extremely rare in this condition.
M- Either unplayed, with minimum of scuffs caused by paper sleeve (an odd very faint scuff seen under strong light) , or played once or twice only and still as new.
EX+ Played a few times and a few very light scuffs visible under strong light.
M- and EX+ often translated to a grade of Near Mint
EX Record played carefully, very clean surface, minimum scuffing. A very clean record. Labels are clean.
EX- A grade slightly down from EX because of obvious light scuffs and perhaps an odd few light scratches.
VG+ Over-all reasonable condition but more significant scuffing or light scratches are visible.
VG Very good condition. A record with scuffing or signs of groove wear but no bad scratches.
VG- A grade slightly below VG
G Good. A well played record with plenty of scuffs and groove wear.
F Fair. Record playable but heavily scuffed with a lot of surface noise.
P Poor. Record has significant scratches and may skip or jump when played.
How grades relate to play quality and grades for picture covers:
Although visual grades are used foremost, these grades are always to be consistent with the sound quality when the record is played, otherwise any difference is noted separately. Any record in the EX+ to M range should play perfectly with virtually no background sound perceived, however an EX record may have some extremely light background sound during the intro and run-out grooves period. An EX- record may perhaps have some very light audible background sound in the quieter moments through-out the music. As the grade decreases below EX- background sound will become increasingly obvious.
A near mint cover or label will be pretty much perfect, while an EX cover may have the lightest of wear or an odd very minor bend. Covers in the EX- to VG+ range will have bends, light ring wear and mild shop abrasion wear. Covers VG+/VG and below will possibly have seam splits and the like. Stickers and writing on covers and labels will be noted separately and will diminish any grade significantly, the exception being in the case of ‘promotional item’ stickers and stamps.
Promotional, or Demonstration Records:
These are advance samplers issued to radio stations or DJs only. They are rarely pressed in large numbers and are not generally available to the public. Here are some of the most common PROMO variations with their most commonly used ‘codes’:
PROMO Same as regular copy except label overprinted to indicate DJ copy, OR record released only to DJs and not released commercially.
PROMO(WL) White label issue. Usually same label design & logo as regular issue but no colours printed & overprinted in some way to indicate a DJ copy.
PROMO(A) Same as regular commercial issue copy except label on ‘A’ side overprinted with large ‘A’
TEST PRESSING A record with plain white labels with no information or with title & artist details stencilled or hand written in biro or texta. Only a handful are pressed They are supposed to be scrapped but are sometimes shipped to DJs or radio stations instead of a promo.
Pirate releases, counterfeit, bootlegs, repros and re-issues:
Although South Korea and other Asian countries are somewhat notorious for pirate record releases, Asia is by no means the only region of the world where such records have been produced.
Bootlegs first emerged substantially in the early 1970s, mainly as live recordings issued in simple card covers with paper inserts instead of picture covers. The most renowned bootleg LP label was of course called Trademark of Quality with the little pig icons. As the 1980s progressed bootleg LPs became more sophisticated with full colour covers and high quality labels. By the late 1990s and beyond – no end of bootlegs/pirates were coming out of Europe including reporductions of many famous and/or valuable LPs and singles.
The most prolific and problematic of pirate/bootleg/counterfeit records are US ‘repro’ records, usually 7 inch singles. Original 7 inch United States pressings of early rock and roll/rockabilly/dop wop singles were/are easily reproduced and were/are susceptible to counterfeiting. Beginning in the early 1970s reproductions of classic doo wop and rockabilly singles emerged in the USA. The earliest Elvis Presley singles on the Sun label are typical examples of records that can often be found as ‘repros’. A repro is a bootleg record that closely mimics a valuable original. Unlike US singles, original UK singles are almost impossible to repro due to their wide groove format, serrated label edges and especially their cut out (usually) trianglular centres.
South East Asia is well known for its production of ‘unlicenced’ bootleg/pirate pressings which are usually, but not always, low quality pressings of singles, EPs and LPs in basic thin card covers. South Korea started making ‘pirate’ records some time in the mid-60s, and during the mid-70s began making poor quality reproductions of hit albums by international artists. Unlike the US repro singles which are sometimes hard to tell apart from an original, the Korean reproductions were usually issued on different local labels, and with basic monochrome covers. Thailand and Malaysia issued mainly 7 inch extended play pirate records from the very late 60s onwards. The only Korean artists I know of to be released on such pirate issues in Malaysia are the Kim Sisters, and possibly the Han River Angels. Taiwan released a huge amount of pirate issues of hit western albums, usually in thin paper covers and often on coloured vinyl.
Many Korean pressings of 1970s albums are legitimate liceneced products but are re-issues, in which a hit album is re-released 5 or 10 years after it was initially released either domestically or internationally. This is also a common practice worldwide and a copy of an album first released in the 1960s or 1970s may infact be a re-issue of that album manufactured in the 1980s or early 1990s.