As I run a Custom Guitar Shop (Morton Guitars) I have been working with guitars for many years and know a thing or two about electric guitars. There are usually several fake Gibson Les Pauls on Ebay and some are worringly close copies of the real thing. Making a wrong bid could mean you end up with a cheap copy of a real Gibson and could cost you dearly. So how do you spot a fake Gibson? To start with, be aware that Gibson has a sister company called Epiphone that makes Epiphone Les Pauls in the Far East (usually in Qingdao, China these days). Previously Epiphones were made in Japan and then Korea and the fakes were made in China but now Gibson have sent up their Epiphone factory in China making it even more difficult for consumers to identify those fakes made in China!
Epiphone Les Pauls are very similar in design to USA made Gibson Les Pauls. Epiphones are actually good guitars and and an Epiphone Les Paul (Standard) retails in the UK at around £300 - £400 whereas a Gibson Les Paul (Standard) retails at around £1600 in the UK. Epiphones are legitimate Les Paul copies as Epiphone is a subsidiary of Gibson. Epiphone are therefore not 'fakes' in any way. In fact Epiphone and Gibson were head to head competitors, until the company that owned Gibson (The Chicago Music Company) bought over Epiphone in 1957. For many years both brands were still made in the USA and competed head to head. In the early 1970s Epiphones started to be built in the Far East (Japan initially) and the Gibson name was positioned as the premier brand with Epiphone representing the more affordable range.
As you'd expect Epiphone guitars have "Epiphone" on the headstock however they may say 'Gibson' in vertical print on the truss rod cover. They are usually advertised as "Epiphone (by Gibson)" and are really great guitars if you are on a budget. Many professional players play Epiphone guitars by choice. The Beatles were Epiphone players (Epiphone was a competitor of Gibson at that time). Even today Paul Weller is an Epiphone player (I believe Paul plays the upmarket Epiphone Elite models)
But fake Chinese 'Gibson Les Pauls' are another thing entirely....They are being sold as genuine Gibson Les Pauls but are actually inferior quality made from inferior hardware and electrical components and lower quality woods. They are unfortunately getting worringly close to looking identical to the genuine article but here is how to spot a fake: When looking at a Gibson Les Paul on Ebay keep a second window open on your PC at Gibson's web site as an initial visual reference point. Look at the Truss Rod cover. Gibsons are Bell Shaped with only two screws, top and bottom. Almost all fakes have three screws; one at the top and two next to the nut. Even Epiphones have three screws on the truss rod covers. Next look at the top of the headstock and the 'Open Book' shape of the very top. Fake Chinese Les Pauls are often the wrong shape or the binding overlaps the Gibson Logo. On the back of the headstock the serial number (on a genuine Gibson) should be stamped into the wood not applied with a gold or white decal. Please note however that Epiphone serial numbers are not stamped but are decals. Try to match the serial number up with Gibson's serial numbers which you can find by typing 'Gibson Serial Numbering' into Google.
Gibsons Les Pauls are (almost always) made with glued in necks and not bolt on necks (apart from the budget Gibson Maestro range) so watch out for that. Also, it helps if the Gibson Les Paul is offered for sale in a genuine Gibson Guitar Case. These usually have "Gibson USA" on the outside and are usually tan or charcoal grey though they did a futuristic angular polymer style case in the 80's. The tan case usually has a shocking pink fluffy interior with a pink satin 'shroud'.
The golden rule is "If in doubt - DON'T BUY" and be suspicious of anything from the Far East. Some of the ads say something like "Super Exquisite Electricity Guitar" and sell cheaper than you'd expect.. Don't fall for it. Even more worrying is that I have since seen fake Chinese guitars for sale on eBay here in the UK - presumably buyers who have been caught out and trying to palm them off to get their money back. Their eBay auction/adverts sometimes say "Gibson Les Paul for sale. I don't know much about guitars....but this one is a beauty".....be very careful!
However, it is not all bad news.....The good news is that you can buy a great Gibson Les Paul if you really know your stuff. I have bought many guitars on eBay and have bagged many bargains, including a Gibson Les Paul Special from Belgium for £500 (RRP around £800), a mint Gibson Les Paul Supreme for £1200 (RRP £2200) and a 1979 Gibson Les Paul Custom (relic) for £900......so you CAN bag a bargain if you know what you are about. Just be careful out there, my fellow guitar playing friends..... OK? I hope this helps you bag a bargain and avoid the bad guys out there.
By the way, when Gibson started selling in Japan the name Gibson was already registered so they had to use a different brand name. The head of the company was Orville Gibson so they used his first name Orville. So if you see Orville Les Paul guitars or Orville by Gibson guitars on eBay they are genuine Gibsons made under license in Japan usuing all Gibson parts and components. So if you are not bothered about having Gibson o the headstock you can buy an equivalent Orville MUCH cheaper than a Gibson. But it will be in all other respects identical to a Gibson Les Paul
Finally, some reviewers suggest actually buying a cheap Chinese Gibson Les Paul as a cheap second guitar to fool your friends however I wouldn't recommend that as a) It provides an outlet for these illegal fakes which encourages them to make more (and get better at it!), b) You may find yourself in trouble with the law for buying counterfeit goods c) You may also find yourself in trouble if you ever want to sell it on d) You may well never receive your guitar from China anyway....remember you'd be buying from a Chinese counterfeiter....and giving them your eBay details.
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