In these modern times it is safe to say we live in a world of imitation. From Super Hero franchise reboots to the rampant sampling borrowed from classic songs and repurposed for today’s radio hits. When society finds an idea that works, inevitably actors will step in trying to put some sort of spin on it. Sometimes this spin is positive, a new feature that increases efficiency or the integration of a new technology that broadens possibilities. However, in our world of guitars where we salivate after the vintage and classic models that are no longer in production, imitation not improvement has become the standard. We are taking about Counterfeit and Fake Guitars.

Anything that is in demand is being counterfeited so vintage guitars are prime for this exploitation. As the Used and Vintage Guitar Buyer for the Sam Ash Music Stores I have simply seen it all. I’ve seen fake Gibson Guitars in every conceivable model (same with Epiphone Guitars) and the same can be said for the other big brands like Fender, Martin, Taylor, Ibanez, PRS Guitars, and more. You should also note that this trend is not limited to guitars. We commonly see “famous tech gear”, Shure SM58’s, Neumann Condensers and even vintage Brass and Winds (Bach, Besson, Buffet, Selmer) knocked off to various levels of success.

Lets start by dispelling the myth of the serial number verification. In practice a serial number is a documentation of an instruments production so you can be confident that what you have is real. However, don’t forget whom we are dealing with when it comes to this market. These guys have no problem searching databases and even visiting Guitar and Pawn shops to obtain the serial number of a known instrument to put on their fakes. This is why when browsing our Sam Ash Guitars of Distinction Collection and dedicated Used Gear website you will notice we won’t always post complete serial numbers on our high value used items.

So with that in mind let’s address the essential question: How do We Tell a Fake Guitar from a Real Guitar?

1) Fit and Finish

Regardless of the color, some red flags to consider when examining an instrument include sloppy paint, wavy binding, uneven fretwork, cheap top coat(real lacquered finish’s are not easy), and even more obvious details like logo font and dimensions. If you have a real item to reference, a side-by-side comparison will almost always reveal severe differences in color hue between the real and the knock off.

2) Construction and Components

Most fake guitars will utilize multiple pieces of wood, creating a scarf joint on the neck. Upon close examination of your hardware, you will find structural and visual inconsistencies. With Acoustic Guitars, the most common trick is for forgers to swap plywood in place of solid wood. To test this I suggest to you take a look at the inside edge of the soundhole. If the grain doesn’t follow through consistently and instead resembles the side of a quarter you may have a problem.

3) Performance

This is really more a test of overall quality. Once you play the instrument you will notice shortcuts that have been taken by the forger. Any item you can think of is a sum of its components and craftsmanship/manufacturing.

Break the Fake

I hope you have learned a little bit more about how to determine if a guitar is fake in this article. The bottom line is that the presence of the fake guitar market is stronger than ever. So if the deal is way lower than market value, “Buyer beware.” Besides, buying counterfeit gear is a loss for everyone. After a month and a ton of money, you will soon realize you have put a Tux on a Pig. Though you wont get arrested for a buying a fake, you will most likely get arrested if you are caught reselling one. Fakes are bad for everyone involved. If you have nowhere to go to, feel free to email me at [email protected]. Remember, playing music is elective and a privilege. Get all you can out of what you choose, rather than line the pockets of bad guys.




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Mike Rock
A fixture in the Rock and Roll guitar community since 1978, Mike Rock is the “Go-To” source for Sam Ash's most intricate questions involving Guitars and related gear. A collector whose true passion is playing, Mike has performed over 2,500 gigs around the world. Mike began his musical journey studying the trumpet. While buying sheet music for a recital, Mike first heard an electric guitar through a fuzz box. Forty years later, he still maintains that the fuzz WAS germanium based (he is a bit crazy). This encounter drove Mike to his first guitar and a tube amp. Soon his guitar was heavily modified and the amp was on its 3rd replacement speaker. Mike was hunting for tone and blowing guitar speakers before there was a “boutique” or “vintage” market. It wasn’t long before Mike was buying, and validating vintage guitars and gear for some of the biggest companies in the world, finally finding a home assisting mentor and friend Sammy Ash, at the place where he heard that first Fuzz Guitar, so many years ago. Mike still performs regularly and recognizes the history and beauty of vintage and modern gear. Mike is aware not everyone is a collector and most players need a set up that works for the sound they chase, regardless of its pedigree, or vintage or status.