A Guide To Counterfeit Gibson Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster and Ibanez Guitars

Each guitar is forged in different ways, and counterfeit guitar makers are learning new ways to correct their mistakes every day. However, you can safeguard yourself from becoming the victim of a guitar scam artist by learning the most common tells of a fake Gibson, Fender, or Ibanez model guitar.

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Buying a counterfeit guitar is not like buying a bogus t-shirt or pocket book.  You need to know that your guitar has a warranty, good sound and playability, good trade-in value, and can be properly maintained.  You don’t have that assurance with a counterfeit guitar.

Counterfeit guitars have no resale value because it is illegal for dealers to resell them and most private buyers know a forgery when they see one. This elevates the need for careful attention as you go through the guitar selection process, which you’ll find is rarely difficult beyond deciding which brand and model you prefer.

Gibson, Ibanez, and Fender are the three most commonly replicated guitars on the market, and have different visual tells that prove their authenticity or forgery, from wood types to inferior electronics to simple aesthetics.

Keep in mind that the Gibson, Fender, and Ibanez web sites have quality, authentic photos of their guitars. Compare those, or the ones on Sam Ash’s site, with the guitar photos and prices on the presumably counterfeit site to quickly determine whether the guitar in question is real or fake.

How to spot counterfeit Gibson Les Pauls:


FIG. 1 Headstock Shape
Note the shape on the fake. It has a more severe, less sweeping flow, and a deeper notch. The logo on the forgery is not Mother of Pearl (as is on Les Paul Custom models).



FIG. 2 Serial Number
The forgery, has a deeper and larger font, done sloppily. Note the flecks of missing paint. In this case, the forgery has 9 numbers, a similar Gibson will have 8.



FIG. 3 Nut and Neck Binding
Note the low profile Corian nut on the Gibson. Gibson nut slots are cut shallow, to allow the player to adjust to taste. If the player wants a lighter string, a new nut is not required.  A heaver string, requires just a bit of filing. The nut on the forgery is generic, cheep, deep cut plastic. On the Gibson, the binding stays the same width and ends neatly at the nut. The forgery has a much wider binding at the nut (actually an extension of the headstock binding). You will find this style of binding on Epiphone Les Paul guitars, and some other non-forgery import models.



FIG 4. Adjustable Bridge
Gibson has manufactured a number of different tune-o-matic bridge styles. Never have they made one that has a large bore slotted head, like the forgery in Figure 4. The saddles are not as low profile.



FIG. 5 Toggle Switch
The forgery has a large hex nut, instead of a circular splined nut. The toggle switch itself is also a bit longer. The font on the poker chip is larger than on most Gibson's.



FIG. 6 Body Binding
The Gibson Les Paul guitar's triple-bound body has crisp clean lines. The Forgery is a wavy train-wreck.



FIG. 7 Neck Binding
The Forgery has cheap malleable fret wire, and unlike the Gibson, The binding does not cover the edge of the fret.



FIG. 8 Headstock Binding and Inlay.
Extra thick binding on the fake. The split diamond inlay, is neither pearl or the right shape.

There are many more differences between the Real McCoy and the Cheap forgery. The differences noted above are visual only. Remember, the forgeries are getting harder to spot, but are never up to Gibson quality. Sam Ash only carries genuine Gibson and Epiphone Les Paul guitars.




How To Spot A Counterfeit Gibson Les Paul - with Sam Ash's Mike Rock

How to spot counterfeit Fender Stratocasters:

  • Chrome tuners: Stratocasters typically feature vintage Kluson-style or American-series tuners, while fake Fender guitar tuners are usually cheap looking chrome. A simple side-by-side picture comparison can unveil the authenticity of the tuners and Stratocaster.

  • Chrome bridge: The bridge on a Fender Stratocaster is a very important part of the guitar, and can be an easy way to spot a counterfeit. Standard bridges are brushed stainless steel. 

  • 12th fret inlays: Fake Fender Stratocasters will often have wider-than-normal spacing between the dot inlays on the 12th fret.

  • Tremolo cover: The screw spacing is somewhat scattered on authentic Fender back tremolo covers. If the six screws are lined up with each other, you’re looking at a knock off Stratocaster.

How to spot counterfeit Ibanez guitars:

  • Tremolo: The differences between tremolos on fake and real Ibanez guitars are very easy to spot, most notably on the six string pegs.

  • Headstock design: Authentic Ibanez guitars have a clean, defined headstock design around the logo. On fakes, however, there will be a few subtle touch-up differences that reveal the guitar as a counterfeit, such as the black lines bleeding into the “Ibanez” logo.

  • Pickguard screws: Oftentimes counterfeiters won’t replicate a detail as simple as the number of screws around a pickguard. Count the number of screws on Ibanez pickguards from photos on their official site, and compare them to the guitar you want to purchase.

Sam Ash cares about your guitar buying experience

The experts at Sam Ash know that if you unfortunately find yourself in possession of a counterfeit guitar, you may be stuck with it. That’s why they want to ensure that you receive the best customer service and quality information when you’re deciding which authentic guitar is right for you.

Buying your Gibson, Ibanez, Fender or other favorite guitar brand from Sam Ash guarantees a quality investment in an authentic guitar that will increase or maintain its value through the aging process.