Photo via Fibsons.com
After $1million worth of fake Gibson, Fender and Ibanez guitars were recently seized in New Jersey, it's clear that guitarists need to know how to spot a fake, especially when trading online.
Thankfully it is quite easy, and the ultimate two rules are:
The most telling signs are actually hidden from view. On a fake Gibson (or any fake guitar), the pickup and pots cavities are often an absolute mess.
But we'll come onto that later. With the majority of trading taking place online now, here's how you might be able to tell just by using pictures of the front side of the guitar.
Here's a picture of a 2014 Les Paul Standard head stock. Take note of three things here: The truss rod cover plate, which has TWO screws; the angle of the Gibson logo (which is at a 30 degree angle but ISN'T italicised); and the horns at the top of the headstock.
Ignore the "ETune" logo on the truss rod cover plate, depending on the year and model, a number of different things can be printed here.
So with those three details in mind, here's a side-by-side, courtesy of Gibson, of a real Les Paul headstock up against a fake Les Paul headstock.
The horns at the top of the headstock on the fake Les Paul aren't anywhere near as pronounced as the real thing, which is something I've seen a lot of on counterfeit Gibsons.
Most Gibson models have a very distinctive tilt-back headstock. Fender guitars allow the strings to meet the machine head poles at the correct height by sinking the headstock lower than the neck, but keeping it at a 0 degree angle.
Gibson headstocks usually tilt backwards at a reverse angle from the neck, pulling the strings down to the machine head poles. Here's an example of this on an SG and a Les Paul:
Very rarely do counterfeit Gibsons have such a pronounced tilt back from the neck to the tip of the head.
Too much body?:
On top of these details, if you are trading online, compare the shape of the body to photos of the real guitar online. Counterfeit Gibson Les Paul bodies often look a bit 'too big', in completely untechnical terms, they tend to look a bit 'flabby'.
Pay close detail to the horns, and the distance of the bridge from the base of the guitar.
If you are not trading online, then the best thing to do is to ask if you can open up the pickup cavities or electronics cavities.
This goes for any major guitar company; the aesthetic finish inside is considered as important as that on the outside. The will rarely be any solder burns on the wood. There will rarely be any excess wire length, or crossed wires. It will NEVER be painted black.
Take a look below, this is where 99% of the time you will be to tell instantly if it's legit.
One last small detail:
Gibson often deal in straight lines, particularly on Les Pauls. The tuning pegs are all on the exact same axis, so the poles for the E, A and D strings will be perfectly alligned in a straight line. The same for the G, B and e string poles.
This is mirrored in the volume and tone pots. The rhythm pickup's volume and tone pots will be alligned in a straight line, the same for the bridge pickup's controls.
What to do if you think it's fake:
First of all, remember that the person you are trading with might not know that they have a fake on their hands.
I think it's always best to tell them that you suspect they have a fake, and that they should contact Gibson to see if they can verify for the authenticity of the guitar.
Walk away from the sale, but if you do have any photos of the instrument, be sure to post them on forums and social media groups, to warn people away from the guitar.
Don't shame the seller, unless you are 100% sure it's fake and you are 100% sure they are purposely trying to scam you. Remember that if you publicly accuse somebody of trying to sell fake guitars and it turns out not to be a fake, then you could find yourself in a spot of legal bother, depending on which country you reside in.
A particularly good place for posting photos of suspect guitars and allowing others to give their opinions is the Gear Talk Facebook page. I've seen many people talked out of buying fake guitars and pedals after posting photos of them on this page.
Another GREAT place for spotting fake Gibsons is the website Fibsons.com, an entire blog dedicated to helping people learn how to tell a counterfeit Gibson from the real deal.
Written by Richard Beech.
Richard is a former studio engineer turned journalist. He spends his spare time playing along to terrible songs on the radio, thus making them more terrible.More From: GIBSON