Fake Gibson Les Pauls - how to avoid

Views 148 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful

Right then, I'm back with another series of pointers to aid those out there in eBay land who might be interested in using eBay to buy the Les Paul of their dreams to play to their hearts content.

However this guide is aimed more at those who may be making thier first forays into the world of the real Gibson Les Paul and might not be aware of the pitfalls that await the unprepared buyer out there now.

Sadly the last year has resulted in a huge influx of very cheap Chinese fakes onto the market, and it is now more than ever a case of buyer beware due to the sheer number of cheap knock-offs that are now out there.  Unfortunately these guitars are now not only in the hands of Chinese eBayers with zero feedback, but have now gotten into the hands of less scrupulous western sellers from the US, UK, Europe, and even Australia, who are more than happy to pass them off as real Gibsons complete with cut and pasted information from the Gibson website.  To the unwary this - complete with a price tag to match normal Gibsons - is enough to convince them that the instrument is the real deal.  Can you imagine how distraught you would be at paying easily over £1000 for a guitar to find out that it's a cheap Chinese knock off worth no more than £100 probably with nothing more than a veneered top on top of cheap basswood?

Here's the starting point of avoidance of the fakes :

1.  Where is the seller?

China?  Zero feedback, or feedback of about 12 with gibberish comments in the feedback forum of the seller?  Then avoid it at all costs.  If it's coming from China with a starting price of $0.99, and about $500 for shipping you can be sure that it's not really going to be a real Gibson.  Just because it has 'Gibson' on the headstock doesn't necessarilly mean that it is a Gibson, and you have to ask yourself why such an expensive guitar is going for peanuts.  Sadly the old adage of you get nothing for free in this world is very true when it comes to buying a Gibson, and if the guitar looks too good to be true it probably is.   There are some Chinese sellers out there with over 200 fairly positive feedbacks, but you can normally be sure that they are just a dealer selling their knock offs.  To be fair when asked they do tend to admit to the errors of their ways, or make the other admission that the guitar is 'Made In China'.

Gibson electric guitars are only made in one factory in the world.  That factory is in Nashville, Tennessee.  The cheap Epiphone line of Gibson copies comes from Korea where standards are higher than those in China, and the intermediate line of Epiphone Elitists are made in Japan for the Japanese market.  There are no factories in China licensed to make a Les Paul shaped guitars.........anything made in China is going to be an illegal copy.

2.  Dodgy eBay listings.

This is not exactly a warning of fake guitars, but more of a warning to the uninitiated.  Just a few little pointers to avoid dodgy listings, as high value goods like Gibson guitars are a magnet to these fraudsters.

2.1. If the seller has the immortal line "Please do not click on the 'Ask Seller a Question' button as it's not working, but forward any questions to lyinggit at dodgyemailaddress.com (or similar!)" you should know that the seller is a fraudster.  The reason they don't want you clicking on the 'Ask Seller a Question' button is because they don't have access to the sellers e-mail account, even if they have accessed their eBay account.  By giving you another e-mail address to send your questions to, they can then offer you the guitar at a silly price if you contact them, because they don't have access to the e-mail account where the finished auction would go to.  They will then ask you to complete the transaction off eBay, and pay via one of the more dodgy payment options such as Western Union or Moneygram which doesn't offer the payment protection of Paypal.  The other pointer towards these dodgy listing is the fact that they tend to be only 1 day listings.  Ask yourself this question........would you sell a £2000+ guitar on a one day listing?  No you wouldn't, so why would someone else?  Avoid.

2.2.  Duplicate pictures.  Seen those pictures of that guitar before?  Got a wonderfully written English text to go with the listing?  Seller in China?  Yep.........you guessed it.........fraudster again.  I actually put a bit of text in any of my expenive listings these days to protect the unwary with regards to where the listing originated from.  This means that when the fraudsters copy everything from my listing (and can't understand English well enough) they inadvertantly copy the speel saying where the listing originally came from.

2.3.  Recently re-activated eBay account.  Another one to be wary of.  Check the feedback of a seller.  Have they got no Feedback from the last 12 months or more?  Why would they suddenly re-activate their account to sell a seriously high value guitar?  Beware.  There might be the odd real person out there doing it, but unfortunately most of these come from Nigerian Scamsters and their phishing e-mails getting the unwary to sign into a fake eBay page so that they can get control of someones eBay account without their knowledge.  If the account has been unused for over 12 months it's very unlikely that the unsuspecting eBayer will log-in to their account and find out what's going on.  The scamster will change the e-mail address over to a newly created one of their own, so the poor sunsuspecting ex-eBayer will have no idea whats been going on until eBay writes to them over non-delivery of paid for items.

3.  The fakes.

If the buyer isn't in China, and it's not an obvious fraudster, but you still don't feel comfortable about the guitar, then here are a few of the things to look out for with regards to the actual guitar itself that I've picked up from seeing a lot of these fakes on eBay.

3.1.  Truss Rod cover.  Gibson use a bell shaped truss rod cover on their guitars, whereas a lot of the Chinese fakes use a triangular truss rod cover.  Even the fakes with the better bell shaped covers still have a common fault that their attachement to the headstock is via three screws rather than the two that Gibson use.

3.2.  Transfers.  Gibson don't use transfers on their headstocks for the Gibson logo.  The logo should be inlaid Mother-of-Pearl.  It it doesn't look like it then immediately hunt fot other pointers as the guitar will invariably have them.  Also check the spelling of the Gibson name if you can make it out in a listing.......there a few 'Gibsun' models out there!  Also most Gibson Standards made since the late 90's (most fakes will be listed as new) have a 'Les Paul Model' script transfered in gold lettering onto the headstock and nothing on the Truss Rod cover.  A lot of copies have some script engraved on the truss rod cover (i.e. Standard), when only certain special Les Paul models actually have that (The Custom and the Supreme, but the Supremes truss rod cover is gold anyway).  Also fake Les Paul Customs have transfered diamond inlays on their headstocks rather than proper Mother-Of-Pearl inlays as they should have.  Some copies do have inlaid logos, but I've yet to see any that haven't just used cheap plastic to look like the Mother-Of-Pearl.  If you're still not sure check out Gibson.com to see where the logos should be positioned because often the forgeries get it wrong.

3.3.  Headstock shape and construction.  Loads of variations here, from huge long thin things that look like nothing even vaguely similar to a Gibson one, to very close copies.  The top of the headstock is often the biggest giveaway as the Chinese factories still haven't cracked the Gibson open-book (the top scroll of the headstock looks like an open book) look, and some of them don't even care.  Gibson headstocks are all reasonably similar even if they do vary in overall size occaisionally.  Les Paul Customs do have slightly bigger headstocks, but the open-book scroll remains the same.  Also if the seller has included photos of the back of the heastock see if you can make out how many pieces of wood are used.  Les Pauls are one single piece of Mahogany used for the neck and headstock, with two pieces of wood glued to the edges of the headstock to give them extra width.  If you can see a half mood shaped line in the wood where the headstock joins the neck then you know that it's been constructed out of two pieces of wood - a cheaper, less skilled way of doing things than the Gibson single piece.

3.4.  Binding.  Certain Les Paul models have binding on the bodies and the headstock - again the Custom being the obvious choice here.  If the binding doesn't match the Gibson original (again use the Gibson website for reference if you're not sure) then avoid at all costs.  Customs should have binding on the top and the back of the body, and it shouldn't just be the usual single colour binding as used on the other Les Pauls, it should be multi-ply black and white.

3.5.  Bridges.  The Gibson Les Paul Standard uses what is called the Gibson Nashville bridge.  This is a Tune-O-Matic style bridge with the saddles surrounded by an even thickness of metal on either side.  The saddles are held in place by their screws inserting into this metal.  These bridges are exceedingly commonplace throughout the world now on all sorts of guitars with fixed bridges, however a lot of the fakes have one nice tell-tale point about them.  The studs that a Gibson bridge inserts onto are fairly wide in diameter (about 3.5mm) and have a slot in them for a screwdriver to adjust.  The fakes sit on thinner studs no more than 2mm wide with no slot in them for a screwdriver.  Gibson Historic models all use the original Gibson ABR-1 style of adjustable bridge.  On this bridge the saddles are held in place on the pickup side with a thin retaining wire rather than inserting directly into metal.  All Historic models, and new Customs (which are now only made in the Custom Shop) will have the ABR-1 bridge.  The fakes do not have this bridge.

3.6.  Cases.  Another classic give away.  Been seeing loads of fake Gibsons recently with these awful brown tan coloured oversized cases with Gibson in raised lettering on them.  These are fake cases.  Everything that Gibson make these days comes in a Black TKL (they're the manufacturer) case with either black furry lining and a satin sheet to cover the guitar and Gibson USA stencilled on the front, or with a deep velvet red without a cover sheet and the Gibson Custom shop and Historic logo stencilled on the front in gold.  The only other differences are the Brown Lifton cases that the Historic 59's get.  But these are very fitting cases - therfore smaller than normal cases - with purple lining to to them, and I've yet to see a copy of one of these out there.  The other guitars with specialist cases are the Supremes which are black outside with a white fur lining, the Johnny A which is lizard skin outside with a deep green velvet lining, and the new Bille Jo Armstrong case which is leopard print fur lined.  All Gibson cases apart from the 59's Lifton are made by TKL and come with either a three digit code lock and four other clasps - for the factory Gibsons - or a lockable clasp and four other non locking clasps on the Custom Shop cases.  Older Gibsons did come in brown TKL cases, but the lining on these were pink, with a pink satin cover sheet, whereas some 80's Les Pauls had these awful plastic angular cases, but as mentioned before most forgeries are apparently new guitars.

3.7.  Serial Numbers.  The Chinese are now getting very good at copying the stamp font that Gibson use to stamp the 8 digit serial number into the headstock, and the 'Made In USA' stamp below that on the back of the headstock.  This is actually to your advantage as most sellers probably hope that seeing it is enough to convince you that the guitar is the real deal, and that you won't take it any further.  Take down the number and either call or e-mail Gibson to get them to give you the details on the guitar they have listed on that serial number.  If it's a guitar made since the 90's then you can be sure that Gibson will be able to tell you exactly what it should be.  If what they tell you, and what the listing is, don't marry up then avoid at all costs.  The other thing is to be aware that the Gibson Custom Shop uses another form of serial numbering for their guitars.  If you're looking at a supposed Custom Shop guitar and it has an 8 digit serial number and 'Made In USA' stamped on the back, then it's yet another pointer towards being another fake. 

3.8.  Finish.  This is a difficult one to spot and only the trully anal like myself tend to spot these flaws, but the Chinese have a finish problem...........they're too good!  The Gibson originals are all finished in Nitro-cellulose laquer which lets the wood vibrate more naturally, but this laquer is a lot more expensive and needs many coats to apply, so the Chinese fakes use a polyurethane finish which gives perfect high gloss finish in about two coats saving time and cost.  If you can see huge reflections coming off a guitar it could be because of a wrong finish.  Bit of a pointer for the pros though that one.

3.9.  Screws.  Simple one this.  Gibson use steel screws with their cream pickup surrounds and black ones with their black surrounds.  The fakes use either steel ones with their black ones, or if it's a Custom they're faking they very often use gold screws to match the rest of the hardware.  You will also sometimes see black screws being used with cream surrounds on the fakes too!

3.10.  Deviations in model types.  A classic get this one.  Ever seen a Supreme?  Well a Supreme is a chambered Les Paul with both Flame Maple on the front and the back of the guitar.  All the electronics therefore go in through the pickup cavities which makes it very awkward to re-wire if any of you are mad enough.  Fake supremes now have flame maple on the back (the first Chinese fake Supremes didn't), but they still have control cavities on the back of the guitar with their associated covers. 

Zakk Wylde guitars........loads of fakes out there of the Black Label Societies guitarist weapons of choice, but please do check the Gibson websites before falling for one!  Gibson only make the Zakk Wyldes though the Custom Shop (different serial number then) and they've only made copies of the black and white bullseye and the camoflage bullseye.  There are a fair number of orange and black buzzsaw models out there in eBay land with Gibson on the headstock when Gibson have never made that particular model.  They also regularly have painted necks when the original is naturally finished three-piece maple.

Non regular paint jobs are a common fault which can only be sorted by a quick hunt on the Gibson websites to find out what colours they were making them in. 

The other one I've come across a few times are plain topped Les Pauls being sold as Slash Signature editions.  If the two humbuckers aren't black open coils, and you can't see a little toggle switch between the tone controls then it isn't a Slash and it's nothing more than a fake.  Again it would have a Custom Shop serial number, and it would have Slash on the truss rod cover too.


With all of these things the simple fact is that if in doubt......ask!  The forums on Gibson.com are great for hepling people out with eBay querries, even if some of the people on there might be a bit grumpy about people always asking questions of dodgy eBay listings.  People have also gone from my guides to ask me question as to what I thing of something.  Although I don't feel like being innundated I will be happy to help if one of the on-line forums can't help fast enough, or at all.

Anyone out there who has found other faults with the forgeries (I'm only going on external visual faults here.  It would be a whole other guide on internal faults, but most fraudsters won't give you a photo of the inside of the guitar anyway!) please e-mail them to me and I'll endeavour to add them to this guide.

Finally.........do your homework.  Gibsons two websites (Gibson and Gibsoncustom) have all the information on their current models and a lot of previous models, so please check them out as to what the guitar should have, and what colour it should have been etc etc.


Have something to share? Create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides