Counterfeits, Fakes, and Forgeries

There are plenty of rip-off guitars out there. Counterfeits, fakes, and forgeries abound! And it only seems that more of them keep popping up year after year. In 2009, Li Dan was arrested in Beijing China for counterfeiting Gibsons, Fenders, Gretch, Ibanez, and PRS and over a thousand guitars were seized. Even with this significant victory for Guitar manufacturers, the proliferation of counterfeit guitars is still rampant. wanted to take a look at some of the reasons behind this phenomena that you might not be aware of as well as give you guys some tips on how to avoid getting ripped off.

Global Manufacturing 101:


Big names like Gibson, Fender, PRS, etc, are all global companies. Some of their products are manufactured in the United States, but many of their products are manufactured overseas. Because most countries wont simply let American companies move in, take up shop, and start building guitars, the guitar manufactures have to outsource the work to another manufacturing company that’s authorized to work within the country’s boarders. FUGIGEN (a Japanese manufacturer established in 1960) for example, was commissioned to build Fender guitars back in 1982.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the manufacturers will broker a deal with a major retailer such as Guitar Center or Sam Ash that includes making them an ‘authorized retailer’ in order to secure their business and encourage consumers to only buy from that retailer.

The retailer places an order and the U.S. Manufacturer sends the order overseas for completion. Once the stuff is built, its delivered to the U.S. and everybody is happy.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

This is what a cluster %#@* looks like:

U.S. manufacturer gets a large order from Mr. Major Retailer. Business as usual, they send that order their overseas manufacturer, where the order is built and shipped back to the U.S. When the order is ready to be delivered, Mr. Major Retailer realizes that they’re a little short on cash this month and can’t afford to pay for the container of goods. Since Mr. Major Retailer can’t pay the U.S. manufacturer, the U.S. manufacturer can’t pay the guys overseas. The U.S. manufacturer calls up the Asian producer of goods and tells them where they can stick the order. Leaving them with a bunch of guitars with nowhere to stash them.

So, if you were a gigantic intercontinental Asian instrument production company that got stiffed on an order, what would you do?

You sell that shit!

Of course, you can’t just go out there and say, “Guitars for sale!” You’ve got to go ‘black market’ with the goods. Of course, no one is happy about it. But if you’re dealing with a long chain of dealers, manufacturers, and builders all spread out across the globe, when one link in that chain breaks, everything falls apart.

And it gets worse.

The Asian production company is now black market selling exactly the same goods that the U.S. manufacturer and the retailer are trying to sell. So, in essence, both the manufacturer and the retailer are now competing with the producer. The producer is selling the same product and doing so at a discount that the retailer can’t possibly compete with.

Keep it in the family?

While one company decides to keep its trade secret here in the USA, another jumps on the import bandwagon; cheap labor equals big profits after all. Because they opted to share their secret recipe with outside producers, now everybody’s making the same dish.

“How?” you may ask. Well, we already know about how employees move from company to company, sometimes taking those secret recipes with them. Hell, Rivera even started with MusicMan before going off on his own. Well, in the case of foreign manufacturers, not only are the secrets getting out, but in some cases nearly identical guitars are being sold for less than a quarter of the cost. Remember FUGIGEN? Of course you do. Well, what do you think they started doing twenty years after they first took on Fender guitars? Yep. They started producing their own product. And many of them have eerie similarities to Fender guitars.

Players start to question if the imported stuff is as good as the ‘back-door’ products that look just like the real thing. Is it the real thing? Sure the stamp has been changed to, but, otherwise, the specs are the same. Because the same people that are building for the big name companies are now building for themselves!

Take World Music in Korea as another example.  Some would say they are the #1 most desired builder of imported guitars, and they cater to most companies out there, both big and small – There’s actually a line of manufacturers that want to get in business with World Music Korea! They know their trade. They have the specs. They know how to build every kind of guitar out there. All the while, the Electric Guitar Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (a coalition between Fender, Gretsch, Ibanez, and PRS to fight counterfeiting of guitars) keeps wondering how all of these authentic fakes keep getting out there.

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6 easy ways to spot a rip-off guitar!

1 – Check out the headstock. If a guitar says “Gibson,” is it the usual logo or does it look a bit different. Probably the best-looking fakes I’ve seen are a modern-style guitar with a vintage-looking logo.

2 – See if you can find the guitar on the companies website. There’s no excuse for buying a “USA Les Paul” with pink fluffy bunnies on it. They don’t exist and you wont find them on Gibson’s site.

3 – If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. The old adage is there for a reason. No one’s going to sell a $3,000 dollar guitar for $300 bucks. That doesn’t happen unless the person doesn’t know what it is or they’re insane.

4 – If you’re buying what should be a USA piece, and it’s being shipped from Korea, I’m guessing that you’re about to make a big mistake. No company is going to bother shipping a USA guitar overseas, just so that they can ship it back.

5 – If you get the opportunity to actually touch the guitar in person, check the gears, and bridge or trem. Do they feel lightweight and like cheap metal? Most big-name pieces will actually put decent parts on their guitars.

6 – Ask the buyer some questions. If you don’t know, always ask about a return policy or inspection period. Bring it to a reputable guitar shop and have it inspected. And, never be shy to ask questions like, “Are you the original owner?” “What year did you buy it?” “Do you have the original receipt?”

Just because it’s hanging don’t mean it’s legit!

Keep in mind that you can come across forgeries in reputable establishments as well. While in Guitar Center in route for New Jersey, The Tone King himself bought a Kramer 5150 EVH guitar.  When the King got home, he immediately started posting pics on the forums.  Right away, he got an email telling him that the guitar was a fake. The writer of the email pointed out a website called, and, wouldn’t you know it, that exact guitar was on their website!  This person explained the ins and outs of the fake guitars, and The Tone King learned a lesson that saved him $700.  After printing out the evidence and going to Guitar Center the next day to return it, the King realized that even Guitar Center didn’t spot the fake.

Best advice that can be had from all of this is this:  If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

 Don’t be fooled! Look with your eye before you buy! Check out the serial numbers and beware of shifty sellers. Google is your friend, and find a trust-worthy guitar shop. And don’t forget, you always have a friend in the King. If you have a question about a particular piece, let us know on the forums. The TTK crew will help keep you from getting ripped-off.

References :

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Filed Under: FeaturedCommentary / Editorials

About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.

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