I've noticed a few sellers on eBay who are trying to pass off guitars as genuine but really they are fake.
The ploy is to buy a very cheap, fake body and electrics, (pickups, knobs, wiring, etc), but then buy a genuine neck and bolt the two together. Fenders are the easiest target for this. In listings' pictures they look pretty genuine because you see the logo on the headstock and think therefore that the whole guitar is a Fender or a Gibson or whatever, but look again.
I recently bid and won an 'alleged' Fender Telecaster but something was worrying me about the shape of the scratchplate. I did some research into that model and year and found that the scratchplate and pickup configuration were completely wrong. The listing did say that the neck had been replaced too. When I looked further into the seller's feedback, many of his previous guitar sales had similar wording; neck replaced, replacement neck, replacement headstock, new head, etc. I've been a guitar player for 15 years, (more than 100 gigs, 5 CD's, TV, etc), and have owned probably 15 guitars and have never replaced a neck before. I'm not saying it doesn't happen but it doesn't happen often. What are the chances of it happening to the same person over and over again? Does he smash his guitars up every time he plays them? Or plays so much he wears them out, on 10 guitars or more!? Many famous guitarists have had the same guitar for years and play much more than most amateurs would and never replace their necks; they may get 'em re-fretted and dressed occasionaly but... All seems a bit unlikely to me.
When I looked into the other guitars he'd sold, there were tell-tale signs on all the bodies and electrics of most of his guitars, which showed them to be fake.
Here are some pointers:
* Check the seller's feedback and see how many guitars they've sold, over what time period. Are they basically a small-time dealer? If they've sold one or two guitars, with good back-stories, they may be genuine but if they've sold five or more and are not a proper shop, then look more closely. Margins on reselling guitars, especially second-hand, plus postage, are very tight indeed. If someone is offering something apparently cheaper than everything else comparable, where did they get the margin from? As always, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
* Really look hard at the photographs and then research that guitar. Look at as many examples as necessary to know what shape the scratchplate is, how the pickups are configured, what the knobs look like, the bridge, saddles, other logos and serial number placement, etc. Any features of the guitar. Go to respected shops either locally or online, and the manufacturer's websites to get original photographs of genuine guitars. Resize your windows to be able to view the pictures side by side, i.e. a genuine original beside the listing photograph of the guitar you're interested in bidding on. Compare as closely as you can, really look at the details.
* Try and get the serial number and any history from the seller. You can often verify serial numbers against manufacturer's records and the 'history' from the seller can often give you a gut feeling for whether they're telling the truth or not.
* Ask if they would mind you getting the guitar professionally appraised if you were the winning bidder, and whether they would issue a refund if the guitar was found to be fake, including the appraisal fee. Whether you intend on getting an appraisal done or not is neither here nor there but sometimes this will scare the seller into admitting things about the guitar they may not have in the listing.
* If you know someone who's more experienced than you are with guitars, email them a link and ask their opinion. This can be invaluable. Preferrably take them with you and collect the guitar in person. Then your buddy can give the guitar a thorough once over and preferrable play the damn thing to get a feel for whether or not it's real. A decent player can often spot a fake as soon as he plays it because it will sound all wrong or feel all wrong or both.
* If you don't have a mate who can help, perhaps your local guitar shop will look online for you while you're in their shop, for a small fee perhaps or other incentive of your choice. I've found a round of bacon rolls will pretty much get you anything up to and including a bl*wjob at any good music store. Take in the URL or just browse to the item, most stores have a computer either in the main store or backroom, and get advice from people who've usually seen more guitars in their lifetimes than you've had hot dinners. (Chances are they'll end up helping you choose a better guitar from their stock aswell, but that's another story, see advice below.)
The odd thing is that whenever you report these people to eBay they just ignore it; they're not interested. As always, you send them an email and they send you an irrelevent automated response that may as well be a recipe for banana bread. You then reply asking them to 'actually read' your original email, which they do and then say they can't or won't do anything about it, they certainly will not investigate, even if you can provide proof. For all their rhetoric and posturing about 'fraud' and the 'eBay community' and 'safety', etc, they really just don't care because they're making money whether the goods are real or not. I've reported fake software and fake guitars and neither time did they either investigate or punish the culprits. A joke really but what would Trading Standards say? I wonder if they've ever tangled with eBay, be interesting to see what would happen if they did...
So really, you have to protect yourself. Thus far, although I keep looking and bidding, I have yet to buy a guitar online and I think after this incident where I almost parted with some fairly serious wedge, (serious for 'me' anyway), I'll steer clear of it in future. I honestly think your best bet is to go to a local store or make a trip to a big city like London or Manchester or wherever, where there are many guitar stores. At least then you know what you're getting and chances are you'll get professional help and advice from usually friendly staff. You can play the guitar and get a feel for it and its sound. You can also try out amp combos too and get all your accessories in one place. You'll often pay a bit more and second hand choice is limited but trust me, it'll be worth it. There's nothing worse trying to learn on a plank guitar that sounds like crap and keeps going out of tune, or if you're a gigging musician who's been around and you're looking forward to getting something special only to be lumped with a dud that plays like a stick and sounds thin and cheap.
Oh well, my twopenn'orth, good luck and if you do buy anything on eBay that's gonna cost a bit more money, i.e. more than £50, do your research and homework. Talk to the seller and get as much info as possible. Ask for expert advice from friends and other players if you can.