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Drop the Needle! Vocabulary for Vinyl Record Collectors

Drop the Needle! Vocabulary for Vinyl Record Collectors

Even though many people thought vinyl records would disappear due to the rise of CDs, mp3s and streaming, their popularity has continued to increase in recent years. From older fans to younger listeners who grew up with digital music, records are more popular now than they have been in a very long time.

If you are interested in starting a collection yourself, there are some useful words and expressions you should know. From the records themselves to common terms you'll hear in stores or online, this article will cover some of the basics all record enthusiasts should know.

Vocabulary for records

A woman playing a vinyl record on a turntable

Before we can go forward, first we need to talk about what to call these special discs that hold our favorite music.


"Vinyl" is short for "polyvinyl chloride," the material used to make records. It's an uncountable term, so it should never have an "s." Use it to talk about many records or an unknown amount. 

Sasha is a DJ, so she has a lot of vinyl.
Do you sell vinyl here, or just CDs?
I've been collecting vinyl for almost 10 years.


"Record" is countable, so you can use it to refer to one or many pieces.

Sasha's a DJ, so she has a lot of records.
Do you sell records here, or just CDs?
I've been collecting records for almost 10 years.
What's your favorite record?

You can also say "vinyl record."

This store specializes in books and vinyl records.


Finally, there's the slang word "wax." This name likely comes from the fact that phonograph cylinders, the earliest recording medium, were made of wax. 

Like "vinyl," it is uncountable. 

We're going hunting for wax today. Do you know any good stores around here?
I'm planning on buying a lot of wax during my trip.

Be careful: only people who are very interested in records are likely to understand this term!

Equipment and types of records

A vintage record player


Sometimes called "record players," turntables are the machines that are used to play records. They are available in a variety of models and styles, from very cheap to incredibly expensive.

They include a special switch for adjusting the rpm, which is short for "revolutions per minute." This determines how many times a record spins in one minute. 

LP / 12-inch single

"LP" is short for "long player." It was the popular term for records in the past. An LP is 12 inches in diameter, which is why these records are often called "12-inches." 

There is an important difference you should know: while an LP refers to a complete album (usually between eight and 12 songs), people often say "12-inch" when talking about a record that has only about two or three songs. These shorter records were used to promote albums in the time before the digital era.

45 / 7-inch single

Most people imagine 12-inch records when they think of vinyl. However, there are also smaller records, often with large holes in the center. These, which are seven inches in diameter, are called "45s (forty-fives)" because they are usually played at 45 rpm rather than the 33 ⅓ rpm of most 12-inch records.


There are also records that are 10 inches in diameter, so naturally, they are called "10-inches." Although they are not commonly released by modern artists, you may still see them while browsing in used record stores.

Picture disc

As you can guess from the name, picture discs are records with pictures on them. They are often more popular for displaying than for listening to.


A popular trend in recent years is for records to have several different versions available for sale, which are called "variants." Although the music is the same, the color of the disc or the design of the packaging may be different. Variants are often very popular with new collectors.

Record condition 

A box filled with old vinyl records in poor condition

Part of the fun of collecting vinyl is searching for good — or at least interesting — music from the past. That means looking through lots of used records. A used record may be only a week old, or it may have been released 50 years ago!

You'll want to check the condition of used records very carefully before buying them. Both in physical stores and online, it is common to see record conditions described using a system of letters with specific meanings. These are called "grades." Let's take a look at what they mean.

  • P - Poor
  • F - Fair
  • G - Good
  • VG - Very Good
  • NM - Near Mint
  • M - Mint

Lower grades, such as P, F and G mean the record has problems such as scratches, scuffs (light marks) or are damaged in some other way. Mint items, however, are in perfect condition. Naturally, the older the record is, the more difficult it is to find in nice condition.

Remember that sometimes a record and its outside cover, called a "sleeve," will have separate grades. 

Other useful vocabulary

Customers shopping in a large vinyl record store

Here are some other common terms you should know when shopping for records. 


A sealed record is in its original plastic wrapping (sometimes called "shrink wrap")  and has never been opened.

I found a bunch of sealed records from the 60s and 70s in my grandparents' closet.


"Dings" refer to damage on the corners of record sleeves due to being dropped or bumping against other objects.

This record is near mint except for some dings on the sleeve.


Warped records have been damaged because they were exposed to too much pressure, water or heat. They are bent slightly and therefore may not play properly when placed on a turntable.

The basement was flooded, so a lot of these records are warped due to water damage.


The Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines "static" as "noise or other effects that interrupt radio or television signals." Ideally, you should only hear the music when you play a record. However, it is common to also hear static, especially if the record is old and not in the best condition.

Instead of the cleaner sound from CDs and digital audio files, some people prefer the sound of static that is associated with vinyl. However, most people agree that too much static is not good.

I love a little static on my records. It gives the music a really warm sound that I don't get from streaming.

Common terms for record shopping

Shopping digging for vinyl records at an outdoor flea market

Original pressing / Reissue

Each set of a particular record that is manufactured is called a "pressing." Popular records may have many pressings over the years, sometimes from different countries. 

The original pressing is from the US, but there are also Australian and Japanese pressings.

When a record is manufactured and sold again, we say it has been "reissued." 

Collectors were happy to hear that the rare, vintage record would be reissued at the end of the year.

A reissued record is called a "reissue" (noun).

This is a reissue, so it's cheaper than the original pressing.


It's not difficult to find clean and organized record stores these days. However, many used records are still in places that most people don't visit often, such as garages, attics, basements and storage areas, as well as places like flea markets.

Because searching these spaces is often difficult or inconvenient, record collectors call it "digging." This slang word refers to using a shovel to search for something deep underground. It also includes the nuance of looking beyond famous artists, and instead searching for music that is not so well known.

We spent all day digging. All of my money's gone, but I've got some great new music!

People who hunt for records are called "diggers" or "crate diggers," which refers to the milk crates that records are often kept in.

The flea market was full of crate diggers searching for records.


This is a verb that means "to pull something heavy along the ground." However, its noun form refers to the items you were able to find during a shopping trip.

Although it's common with record collectors, people who collect other items also use this term.

I got these vintage jazz and funk records at the flea market today for only $11 total. 
That's a pretty good haul!

Holy grail

The Holy Grail is a cup that Christians believe was used by Jesus Christ. In popular culture, however, a holy grail (sometimes just "grail") is a very rare and valuable item that many people want. 

The band's first album is difficult to find and is a holy grail for many collectors.

White whale

Similar to the previous expression, a "white whale" is another name for an item that is very hard to find. It comes from the famous 1851 novel Moby-Dick by American author Herman Melville. In the story, a sea captain is determined to find and kill a large, white whale that he had seen once in his past.

Unlike a holy grail, which is something many people want, a white whale usually has more personal importance to a specific person.

During my trip overseas, I found my white whale in a small shop for an unbelievable price.


Even though modern technology has made enjoying music more convenient than ever, many people around the world still love the sound and experience of vinyl records. Like many hobbies, there are many special terms and expressions that are useful to know.

If you're interested in records, use this article to help you learn some of the basics, then go out and start digging yourself. You never know when you'll find your next favorite song or artist!