How to spot a fake guitar

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A guide to spotting fake guitars.

      In this day and age, where you can buy a guitar online, used or new, or even in your local store, many of us have that nagging question in our minds before we hand over the cash. How do I know if this guitar is real or fake? Let’s face it, if you’re going to be handing over large sums of money, you’ll want to know if what you’re buying is actually the real deal. Well, this article is going to try and point you in the right direction and give you few little tell-tale signs to look out for.

   First of all we’ll look at the big two, Fender and Gibson.  Fender should have a serial number on the headstock, in some cases this can be found on the heel of the neck itself. These serial numbers will match up with a database on Fender’s website which will give you the date of manufacture.

   Gibson serial numbers are embossed into the wood at the back of the headstock and should say made in the USA. Again, if you go onto the manufacturer’s website you will be able to date your instrument. Also look at the rear of the Gibson Les Paul headstock, there should be no wood joints to make the angle, this is also true for the heal of the neck, there should be no wood join there. Look at the frets, if they come all the way to the end of the neck binding this isn’t correct, the should stop at the inner edge of the binding. It’s also worth checking how the knobs are seated, any uneven knobs is not a good sign.
   Now, this seems a little too easy, and indeed it is. There are some very good fakes out there, so good; in fact, it’s difficult to tell the difference. All you can do is look for quality. This sounds a little obvious, but you really have to give your guitar a good looking over. For instance, with Gibson fakes, the Gibson logo on the top of the headstock can be slightly wonky or askew, so keep an eye out. Does the paintwork look neat and tidy?

   Now let’s take a look at the good old Fender Strat. Try and look first at the colour, is it a factory colour. Particularly if you are buying an expensive Strat it’s worth looking up on Fender’s website as to what colours were actually produced on the model you are looking to purchase. Look for the lacquer on the neck and headstock, check for the quality of finish. If the finish is thick, too glossy or messy the chances are the guitar didn’t come through the strict quality control of the big F.

   Look next to the wood of the guitar. Fender use specific types of wood. Alder, pine. Is your guitar constructed from the correct wood? Take the scratch plate off, check the routing. Is it clean? Or is the finish uneven, haphazard? 

   Check the hardware again. Fender use specific components on their instruments, e.g on an American Standard Strat the bridge should be (depending on models) a 2-point synchronized tremolo with vintage-style bent steel saddles. Is this what’s on your guitar? If there is something else there could be a problem. Does the hardware look cheap? Fender have some very high quality specifications, the chances are, if the hardware on your guitar is sub-standard, then your guitar could be a fake.

   It’s also worth mentioning that most high end Fender guitars (American models) come with moulded hard cases, the Custom Shop instruments usually come with certificates, if the guitar your looking at doesn’t, why not? Don’t be afraid to ask the question. And most importantly of all, check the Serial Number! It’s on the back of the headstock, the relevant number should match up to one on the Fender website. If the number looks suspicious or the number doesn’t match a time period on the Fender website then you have a problem.

   It’s also worth looking at the finish of your paintwork. For example, if the maple neck of your Strat is well worn, yet the paint on the bodywork is immaculate this should start to ring alarm bells. This guitar could have been re-sprayed or even have a different body on there all together. It’s also worth checking that all the instruments hardware is original, eg, the pickups and machine heads. Get on the dealer’s website and check the specs of the guitar if you’re not sure. If they don’t match up, stay clear, unless you like the mods.

   Check your logos. Look for inconsistency in the logo paintwork, shape or even the angle of the logo itself.

   Check your shape. Guitars have very specific designs which the fakers don’t often get correct. Check the shape of your headstock and body, these can often be the tell tale place for shape inconsistency.

   Whichever way you look at it fakes are a big problem. Some fakes are so good it’s impossible to tell the difference. With this article all we can do is give you a few pointers to look out for to help you spot the “bad” ones. I’ve no doubt there are other points I’ve missed, but the main thing to do is to keep your eyes pealed. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you spot something funny, and more importantly, don’t be afraid to walk away.

Good luck.

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