Updated: April 2022
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again… Collecting vinyl is addictive!
Like a lot of other collectors, a lot of my spare cash goes into buying records. I may buy anywhere from 4 to 10 records per month. To make vinyl collecting more affordable, buying used records is the way to go. And, there’s a rush you get from buying used records that’s hard to beat.
Of course, I do buy new reissues too, but today I’ll be talking about how to buy used vinyl records. I’ll share with you how I find record dealers, and more importantly, how to grade the records before you shell out your cash.
Where to Buy Used Vinyl Records
Finding regular dealers is pretty easy. It’s finding private dealers that’s tricky.
Finding Vinyl Dealers
The easiest way to find records is to visit music stores that deal in second-hand vinyl. You’ll find these in almost every town and city in the world. So no secrets there.
The next port of call to find used records is to visit vinyl fairs. These fairs usually take place over weekends. And they’re easy to find too. Just a quick search on Facebook will reveal a bunch of vinyl fairs in your area. And most flea markets will have a vinyl dealer or two.
Also, believe it or not, antique stores are also a great source of used vinyl records. Not all of them deal in vinyl though, so you might need to do some research to find the ones that do.
Finding Private Vinyl Dealers
Now, private dealers are the bomb! This is where you’ll find the highest quality used records. And their prices are usually way lower than music stores and vinyl fairs.
I’ve picked up nearly mint records for 8 to 10 times less than I’d get from a music store or vinyl fair.
Private dealers are usually where vinyl fair dealers get their stock from. And they’re hard to find for obvious reasons. But it’s not impossible to hook up with private dealers if you know who to ask…
I have 2 private dealers that I buy from. I don’t buy from vinyl fairs, because the prices are too high. And I only buy from music stores if I’m in the market for a sealed reissue.
So how do you find private dealers?
In short, it’s by word of mouth. You know what I mean… A guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. The way I found both private dealers I buy from was to strike up a conversation with the folks I bought my TT and accessories from. They are avid collectors themselves, and they each knew ‘a guy.’
Although we’re a weird bunch, the vinyl community is pretty friendly. So, these folks probably won’t mind hooking you up with a contact number. Just take care to be respectful since most private dealers sell from their homes and might not always be available.
Private dealers pride themselves in sourcing the best quality used records. So often they have limited stock. But what they have is of exceptional quality.
If they know you well, they’ll let you know when they have a record you’d be interested in. But for the most part, it’s first come, first served.
So I recommend giving them a call or visiting at least once a week to make sure you strike it lucky.
Auctions are another way to find high quality used records. Auctions usually sell records by the lot. So you’ll get a lot of junk with the good stuff. And you’ve got no guarantee that there will be anything you like. But, you can easily sell off what you don’t want to a record dealer.
There are other auctions though…
These are usually secret and only a few people know about them. You won’t find them advertised anywhere. And no one of Facebook is going to breathe a word about them. Usually, you’ll be notified via text message. And you’ll get short notice – like a day before the time. This is to make sure the auction stays a secret, which is a good thing for the used vinyl collector.
If you can find this kind of auction, you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll find the most exquisite records in almost mint condition.
How do you find these?
Make friends with private dealers. And if you find antique stores that deal in records – you’ve found your way in. Often private dealers and antique store owners will hold auctions once or twice a year.
And believe me, you WANT to be there.
Tip: Know Your Numbers
When you’re shopping for used records, Google is your friend. Doing research on the fly helps with the math – so you know you’re paying a fair price.
For example, I recently picked up a reissue of The Velvet Underground’s Loaded album. It was in perfect condition, but it had been opened.
The dealer was selling it at the same price as an unopened copy. So I could have picked up a mint copy for the same price by buying online. And it’d be at my door the next day. Using this angle, I was able to haggle with the dealer and shave down the price tag enough to fund another LP!
Haggling is not frowned upon when shopping for used vinyl records. So keep your smart device handy and don’t be shy.
Where Not to Buy Used Vinyl
The key to buying high quality used vinyl is to see the record and grade it. So my advice is to never buy used vinyl online. I’m all for buying things online, but used vinyl is not one of those things.
Sure, if you’re buying brand new vinyl, online is the fastest and most affordable option. But, there are just too many factors that go into buying used vinyl. So, buying used vinyl LPs online is a chance I’m not willing to take.
If you get crap, trying to get a refund can be almost impossible. I mean, how will you prove that you received the LP already damaged? It’s your word against the seller’s.
Of course, this is just my opinion and there might be some great used records to be bought online.
How to Buy Used Vinyl Records
Vinyl hunting requires some attention to detail. And that can be made easier with a few key items to have on-hand during your hunt.
3 Must-Haves to Grade Vinyl Records
Knowing how to grade the records you’re interested in buying will help you pick the best ones. And keep those ‘duds’ out of your collection. I’m meticulous about thoroughly checking used records before buying anything.
There are a few essential things you need to make your crate-digging adventures a success…
Time: Finding those gems to add to your collecting is not a wham-bam experience. If you want to find those desirable LP’s for your listening pleasure, set time aside. And don’t be in a hurry. I can easily spend up to 4 hours selecting, grading and buying used records.
Pencil: Yup, that’s right, an el-cheapo pencil you have lying around your house.
Magnifying Glass: This is an absolute MUST. Find one that has at least 10x magnification. Also, if it’s got a smaller lens with more powerful magnification, go for it.
I also highly recommend getting one with an LED light. Most places don’t have the best light for grading records, so having the LED light on hand is useful.
How to Grade Used Vinyl Records
The key to grading used vinyl records is to work from the outside-in. Starting with the cover and ending with the dead wax and label at the center of the records. Here’s how to do it step-by-step…
The Album Cover
The cover of a record can tell you a lot about the life it’s had up until the point it lands in your hands. As a rule of thumb, if a record’s cover is tattered and torn, there’s a good chance it was played a lot. Or handled roughly.
Start by looking at the edges of the cover. If the cover is worn it’s likely that it was slipped in and out of a shelf a lot. And if the open side of the cover has a lot of wear it’s safe to say the record was slipped in and out countless times.
Another tell-tale sign that a record has ‘lived’ is fading and wear to the back and front of the cover. But never judge a record by it’s cover alone.
I’ve picked up some excellent quality records with seriously sad looking covers. Just check out the damage on my double Janis Joplin LP here. Sure the cover is busted. But the records are perfect except for a few scuff marks that don’t affect the sound at all.
The Inner Sleeve
The first thing is to check if the inner sleeve is placed inside the cover properly. The right way is to slip the sleeve in open side up into the cover. If the inner sleeve is facing any other way, it could be a sign that whoever owned it before didn’t treat their records with respect.
And if there’s no inner sleeve, I move onto the next record. A missing inner sleeve means the record has already been scratched up beyond anything I’d personally be willing to buy. The inner sleeve is meant to protect the record inside the cover. So a ripped and torn inner sleeve could mean the record has damage to it.
Bu this is not set in stone…
I own a 90’s pressing of The Best of The Doors and the inner sleeves were in a terrible state. They were so bad, they had actually started disintegrating. But both LP’s are in perfect shape for used records. So again, the outside is important but you’ve got to look deeper before making a call.
Also, take care to look inside the inner sleeve and tip it out to see if there are any large grains of debris like dust, soil or wood that fall out. If there is, it might not be a good sign. So, inspect the record very well for scratches.
This is the first deal-breaker for me. If a record is warped, I don’t buy it. My reason is that my deck’s tonearm is a low mass graphite arm. A warped record makes the arm bounce off the record so, it’s a lost cause for me.
But, some folks buy and successfully play warped records. And if you have a mid or high mass tonearm, you’ll probably be fine with a record that’s a little warped.
I check to see if a record is warped by using this neat trick I learned off a Youtube video by Joseph X (video embedded below). And that’s what you’ll need the pencil for! Just pop the pencil through the center hole and hold it as flat as you can. Then spin the pencil. With this method, you’ll easily pick up any warps the record might have.
Like I said, if a record is warped, this is where my grading ends and I move on to the next LP.
The Lead-In Groove
This is where your magnifying glass will come in handy. The lead-in groove is that bit of the record before the first track starts. Some are wider than others, but this small piece of the record holds a few secrets.
If you see little scratches in the lead-in groove you can bet that the previous owner tended to drop the needle onto the record. And you can bet your bottom dollar that they were just as careless when cueing individual tracks too.
Also, if you see excessive ‘rubbing’ on the lead-in groove, you could be holding a record that was used in a record stacking machine.
Why does this matter?
Well, those machines were usually fitted with crappy ceramic cartridges. These cartridges track heavy and are quite harsh on vinyl. If I see any of these signs, I’m not likely to buy the record. So I move on to the next one.
If you are looking to get your hands on a vintage turntable then check out my 5 Tips on how to Buy a Used Turntable here.
Okay, we’re buying used records here. So it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find one without any scuffs or scratches on it.
But there are scratches, and then there are scratches. Not all scratches will cause skipping or poor sound quality.
First, if the light is good enough to check out the record by moving it around, this will give you a rough idea of the state it’s in. Then, use your magnifying glass to take a closer look at scratches.
When you find a scratch, run the pad of your finger across it. If you can feel the scratch, then you’ll hear it too. If you can’t feel the scratch, chances are it won’t make any difference to the sound.
If you see lots of small scratches crisscrossing all over the record, it’s a sign that it wasn’t treated well at all. Those scratches will result in irritating surface noise. If I see a record like that I just move on.
I’ve got a bunch of records in my collection with visible scratches but their sound is great and there’s no skipping. So really take your time on this step.
Scuff marks are not uncommon on used records. Most folks tend to hold the inner sleeve and let the record slip into the inner sleeve, so you’re likely to see where their index, middle and ring finger held the record as it slipped into the sleeve.
Usually, these scuff marks won’t affect the sound of the record. And in all likelihood, it won’t even skip during play, but you’ll need to use your discretion. Too many scuff marks are never a good thing. And it’s another sign that a record was slipped in and out of its sleeve countless times… Without much care.
The Dead Wax
The dead wax is the part between the label and the last track. It’s also the spaces between tracks. It’s these spaces that can give you a glimpse into the record’s history.
Scratches in the dead wax between tracks are signs that the previous owner was rough when cueing individual tracks. Scratches or scuffs in the dead wax near the label could mean the needle was left tracking long after the record was done.
It’s safe to say the state of this kind of needle was not in the best shape. And would have affected the rest of the LP even if you can’t see it. If you’re seeing a lot of scratches in the dead wax, it might be worth letting the record slide and move on.
Used records will most likely have a layer of dust on them. Most record dealers don’t clean all their records before putting them up for sale. But you shouldn’t let dust put you off. A layer or two of dust can easily be cleaned off once you get home.
What you should keep an ear out for is the sound of large grains of dust grating against the vinyl when you slip it out of the inner sleeve. It’s these larger dust particles that cause scratching.
Water Damage and Mold
If I find albums with water damage or mold, I move on right away. Water damage usually shows up as white or grey stains on the record vinyl.
The record label is also a good indicator of water damage. If it’s blistered or lifting up around the edges, you can be guaranteed the record has come in contact with water for an extended period.
Although, I did take a chance on a record once that had its label lifted on the edges… It’s a Dire Straits album – Love Over Gold. And I must admit, it plays beautifully with no issues.
But there were no water stains on the record itself. And there were no signs that the cover came in contact with water. If these signs were there, I wouldn’t have bought it.
I’ve personally never seen mold on a record before. But the covers and inner sleeves are good at revealing if there’s any mold to worry about. If you see mold on or inside the covers or inner sleeves, you can bet there’s mold on the record too.
Final Thoughts on Buying Used Vinyl
There are few things as exhilarating as leaving home on a vinyl hunting expedition without knowing what you’ll find. And then getting home with a handful of beautiful gems that you can’t wait to listen to.
But there’s nothing worse than spinning a used record you just bought only to find it’s impossible to enjoy. So I hope my tips here help you buy used vinyl records with success.
Now over to you… How do you grade used records? Share your tips in the comments. If you have any questions about how to buy used vinyl records, just drop them in the comments.
Getting ready for your next vinyl hunting adventure? Check out my tips for impeccable crate-digging etiquette.
So you’ve bought a couple of gems for your collection. Now learn how to clean vinyl records at home.
Image credit via Flickr creative commons license shreveportbossier.