Guitar Contraband 101


Active member
Greetings Softies,

Countless people have been conned into buying counterfeit guitars at a premium price. These kinds of activities usually happen on Buy/Sell forums, ebay and some websites. Somehow you have stumbled onto this page and i hope that these information can help you root out some of the weeds in your playground.

There are 2 kinds of sellers who sell fake guitars. Firstly, the kind that list and sells them for what they are. Replica's or Fakes. the ad or post will state clearly that it is not an original and sold for what it is. Although this is a grey area but then again the seller is not pulling off a con job so long as it is stated clearly. Nothing wrong here morally from a transaction point of view but selling a counterfeit guitar does have it's own copyright and trademarks infringement laws that guitar manufacturers can take legal action if they choose.

The second kind of seller is the kind that tries to pass on a imitation guitar as a authentic piece to make profits which brings me to this post today.

Guitar counterfeiting is getting very worrisome these days as new factories in South East Asia open up to produce FAKE branded guitars. A big majority of these guitars are being made in China. These guitars have been surfacing online ever so often and these guitars are made to replicate the original almost identically. Sometimes it’s very hard to tell if a guitar is genuine and one needs to have a good eye and experience to make the differ.

Looking for the tell tale signs of a bad deal waiting to happen:

Most people who are trying to offload a counterfeit will probably have very little information about the guitar. The information that is given from the seller is probably taken off the web. Let’s be frank, If one were to splurge $5000 on a guitar, don’t you think the individual will have knowledge of what he or she has paid for in the first place? Well for most of us, we certainly will want to. Some of these sellers are just there to make a quick buck and absolutely have very little to zero knowledge on guitars.

These sellers do know that what they are selling is not legit and will still attempt to list their items to their unsuspecting victim. Look out for these signs and scenarios from a post or an ad.

The guitar is in the list of most counterfeited brands. What should i do?
Proceed with a little caution.

This is an expensive $5000+ guitar in stores but it is being sold at a bargain price of $500 and it's in absolute mint condition and it's a steal!
Every now and then a good deal pops up. If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is! No one in the right state of mind will sell you a mint conditioned $5k guitar for a small fraction of the price. Like i mentioned earlier, no ordinary person will buy a $5k guitar and not know of it's value and make. Turn the tables around, Would you sell your mint conditioned $5k guitar for $500? I didn't think so. Something isn't right.

The seller's post or ad has very bad images of the guitar. it's small, blurred and dark.
Some sellers will not upload good close up pictures of the guitar for their buyers in fears of the buyer being able to spot the tell tale signs of a fake. Request for clearer pictures of the guitar from the seller or request for a viewing of the guitar personally. Never commit to a guitar purchase through paypal, money transfer or credit card on a guitar that you are not sure of.

The seller has nice and clear pictures of the guitar which looks like something that was taken professionally and the exact picture can be found on the guitar manufacturer's website.
Rule of the thumb here is to have pictures of the actual guitar itself and not some random picture that was taken from another website. Request a picture of the actual guitar and it's serial number. Most manufacturers will be happy to weed out these counterfeits if you ask nicely. Send them these pictures and information of the guitar and they will verify it for you.

The post or ad has no pictures and details of the guitar. (e.g WTS: Mint Ibanez JEM 7V , Selling at $3000. call 91234567 or email to deal).
It's a usual case of " i know nothing about guitars but i do know this model is worth that much according to sources". Owners of higher end guitars will definitely know their stuff. If they don't, you are better off not dealing with the seller as he/she will not be able to answer any of your queries and will do the classic " I didn't know it was a fake" if the deal goes wrong.

Checking on the seller.
In most cases, these sellers who sell fake guitars often are new members on forums and on ebay. Check the sellers feedback score on ebay and read about any negative feedbacks if any. You should only buy from ebay sellers who have a high positive feedback score. On forums, check on sellers post counts and rep points. Most sellers sign up for an account just to offload their goods and disappears when the objective is complete or exposed. The cycle repeats itself so do take caution when dealing with sellers having a zero or very low posting count.

Do your research!
I can't stress this enough. We are all living in the age where information is just a few clicks away and not difficult to acquire. Do your homework before committing to buy and you will be surprised at how much technology can help you in the long run. Google is your best friend.

Excuses, Excuses , Excuses
So you followed the guidelines and your suspicion and knowledge tells you that the guitar is a counterfeit piece. You confront the seller and these are some of the commonly used excuses when the seller is exposed. Here are the top list of excuses and reasons given to confirm that the guitar is a fake. Sorry, no benefit of the doubt when fake guitars are sold.

1. I didn't know it was a fake, I bought it from someone else / ebay / website / forum / holiday
2. I'm selling it on behalf of a friend or family member.
3. I don't know anything about guitars. I got it as a gift.
4. Those pictures were taken from another website as my camera is broken. My guitar is legit!
5. I bought this guitar at $3000 and found out it was a fake much later. I copied the details and pictures in the ad from the previous seller to list in my ad. i'm selling it at $1500 only! My loss is your gain.
6. * Seller vanishes after being exposed *
7.My pet goldfish contracted herpes from eating it's own poop. I need the money to save her! Please buy my guitar and don't report me to the authorities... * Catch my drift? *

List of most counterfeited brands
There’s a couple of brands that have seen tremendous counterfeiting. These are the main brands that have been surfacing and looming around online.


There are so many variants on counterfeit Gibsons. We have the standards, the VOS, the custom, the supreme and the signature series. It’s hard to tell the tale of a counterfeit Gibson from a newbie’s point of view. A lot of them are made down to the last detail. One good way to tell a Gibson if it’s legit is from the headstock. The headstock and branding says a lot. There will be subtle differences if one were to instigate closely.

Things to look out for in a fake:
Trace and verify the Cert of Authenticity (C.O.A) if available for that particular model.
Check the branding on the headstock for differences
Check the shape of the headstock for differences
Verify the neck angle on the headstock
Verify serial numbers with Gibson when in doubt.

The more popular counterfeits for Ibanez will be the Steve Vai JEM series, Paul Gilbert Models (PGM), Joe Satriani Models (JS). One of the best ways to tell if an Ibanez is legit is to check on the hardware. Most fake Ibanez’s will have big differences in the hardware.

Things to look out for in a fake:
Brand decal will be off positioned and is stuck on the outside of the lacquer like a sticker and can be easily pulled off.
The fake Floyd Rose bridges will be a dead give away
Different color on hardware from the original
A finish on the guitar that was never made by the Ibanez company
Badly aligned monkey grip (JEM)
Badly Aligned F Holes (PGM)
Serial number dating

Leo Fender designed his guitars to be easily customizable. The fender models were designed to give players the ability to strip their guitars apart and put back with ease. Giving players the freedom to mix and match hardware to their specifications. With that in mind, Fender guitars are probably the hardest to tell apart from the non legit. Fender watermark slide decals can be easily bought online or made by a desktop laser jet printer. Many online sources sell fender shaped bodies and necks. it is not impossible to make a “Parts Caster” and replicate it into a Fender Custom Shop Model.

Things to look out for in a fake:
Fender decal is not aligned correctly
Tuning pegs are mis-aligned
Check for dating or QC stamp on the route cavity or neck pocket
Serial number dating incorrect
Placement of serial number
Lack of documentation

I'm probably only covering very little on this subject from my personal knowledge. There is just too much to cover on and there's a ton of information to be learned and shared. Google " Fake Guitars " and you will have a ton of information thrown at you. New fakes are being made and sold every other day to unsuspecting victims.

I hope this post will help those who are unsure of what's being sold to them and to be wary of fraud. When in doubt, ask nicely and the softies in this forum will most certainly help. Let's work together to help SOFT be a place where we can buy / sell with a peace of mind.

Cheers from The Guitar Junkie
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