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  Counterfeiting guitars: how hard is it?

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Author Topic:   Counterfeiting guitars: how hard is it?
David Mason

From: Cambridge, MD, USA

posted 04 September 2006 08:23 AM     profile     
I was looking at this guitar on Ebay:
1960 Fender Strat and wondering, how can you wear so much finish off the body and around the jack, yet still have unworn frets? And, isn't the ink on the date on the end of the neck surprisingly bright and distinct, after all these years?

Then you've got a guitar like this one, an intentionally-aged one:

Nothing else on this guitar is vintage, it is only reliced to give it that very vintage used look.
Granted, you'd have to do a lot of research to fake a "real" vintage guitar, finding out the right pot numbers, screw holes and all, but it's the exact same research you'd do to authenticate an antique too. The difference in bidding prices are currently $20,000 vs. $1,275. "Relic"-ing is a full-time job for quite a few people, apparently....
Pickguards- "Can Pass"

[This message was edited by David Mason on 04 September 2006 at 08:31 AM.]

Jim Sliff

From: Hermosa Beach California, USA

posted 04 September 2006 09:28 AM     profile     
Fakes are rampant in the 6-string world. Almost every vintage guitar of significant value on eBay ends up with its own thread on the Fender Forum, Telecaster Discussion Page, Les Paul Forum etc. The fakes that can be proven are usually reported to eBay by one of the vintage dealers, as those things cut into their business. However, some do slip through.

There's kind of an odd quirk on eBay - if you see an expensive vintage guitar up for auction, IF there are lots of questions and answers posted chances seem to be that the seller is honest, although they may be incorrect. Conversely, the total absence of questions and answers indicates something REALLY wrong - because the seller is darned sure getting questions, and must have a reason for not posting them in the description.

I'm just a garage tech, but I could probably build a passable mid-50's Telecaster in two weeks that would be tough to detect as a fake. It would get nailed by one of many experts, but most players couldn't tell. I'm not bragging about MY talents - just stating how easy it is, and why the "experts" look closely at everything that comes up.

I have a relic's '54 Tele that even SMELLS old. It was built 5 years ago.

Dave Mudgett

From: Central Pennsylvania, USA

posted 04 September 2006 09:46 AM     profile     
It depends on who the audience is, IMO. To make a fake that passes muster with somebody without a lot of experience in old guitars - probably not so tough. But to make a fake that passes muster with someone like George Gruhn is, I think, pretty hard. There are a myriad of details, from the exact screws and other parts, to the fact that it's really difficult to get things like finish crazing, wear, discoloration, pin router marks, and solder joints, tape on wiring, and so on, just right. It's much tougher on a sunburst finish, IMO. Not to mention that unless an old guitar like this is pretty durned nice, it may be worth more as parts than as a full guitar - the market for authentic parts is very high. You're potentially dropping hundreds each on pots, pickups, tuners, bridge parts, pickguards, and so on. Don't try to fake out the heavyweights with Gotoh replacement tuners, Fralin pickups, repro bridge assemblies, and so on. They're gonna tear it apart and everything has to be absolutely perfect or they're gonna say forget it.

I think if someone wanted to do this, the best approach would be to get correct old parts, neck and body with correct pinrouter holes and totally authentic-looking contours, routings, frets, and so on, put a solid color finish on it, and then wait 10-20 years, playing it out heavily in the smokiest bars imaginable. I know people whose sweat just tears the finish off a guitar. After that time, it might be pretty hard to distinguish from a real old example. Maybe some people started doing this 10-20 years ago? Who knows.

I don't see how you can tell about the fret wear on that guitar. I don't see any obvious tip that it's a fake, and to my eyes, looks nothing like the obviously "relic'd" version you point to. Of course, I can't understand how anybody could be comfortable dropping 5-6 figures on vintage guitars on ebay without ever really seeing the guitar. I just don't get it at all. Unless one is talking about buying something from one of the very well established vintage dealers, I would have to go over these things with a fine tooth comb and a blacklight to make sure the finish and everything else is original. IMO, there are a lot of misrepresented vintage guitars out there - sometimes unintentionally. It is a tricky business. Just my opinion.

Donny Hinson

From: Balto., Md. U.S.A.

posted 04 September 2006 11:37 AM     profile     
Making a good counterfeit is a lot of work, but the rewards nowadays are phenomenal! With the right mix of authentic parts, it's easy to fool the average Joe, and I'm sure even Gruhn's has been fooled a time or two. Remember the very best counterfeits are never only hear of the half-fast jobs.

Value is an intrinsic thing, anyway. It's worthy exactly what someone thinks it's worth. There's really no "mojo" in a solid-body guitar to merit it's value well up into the 5 and even 6-digit range, but there's no shortage of speculators that hope to double or triple their money in the next 5 years with a "respectable" purchase.

After all, they've done it in the past.

Bill Hatcher

From: Atlanta Ga. USA

posted 04 September 2006 03:04 PM     profile     
Back in the late 70s I knew a luthier here in the Atlanta area that fooled Gruhn several times with Les Pauls that he made. At that time a late 50s LP was going for about $10K. The luthier would make them and then a dealer here would travel to Nashville, drop the luthier off at a truck stop because he did not want to be there for the deal, and go to Gruhns shop and sell him the guitar for $10K and Gruhn would sell them to Japanese buyers for $12-15K.

Gruhn now knows about it and to date, only one has come back out of the lot that he sold, and it was so good, that the buyer asked to keep the guitar and just get a partial refund of the money! The luthier who was a good friend of mine passed away right about the time when Slash started to play one of his LP copies which was purchased for Slash by one of his manager types, not as a fake, but as a known copy. So ironic that when Gibson made Slash his guitars to use, they used his guitar which was a copy of the original Gibson!!

His work even though it was not ethical, was the absolute best. I knew his personal circumstances regarding his near poverty and not really having much of a life and even though I told him that what he was doing was not right, there was just quite a degree of "secret agentness" to it to actually get something by George Gruhn. Just amazing.

The nicest guitar I saw him make was a carved top AND back Les Paul that Charlie Daniels purchased.

At that time no one was even remotely attempting Les Paul copies. Fenders are easy to fake.

[This message was edited by Bill Hatcher on 04 September 2006 at 03:07 PM.]

David Mason

From: Cambridge, MD, USA

posted 04 September 2006 04:09 PM     profile     
Gruhn now knows about it and to date, only one has come back out of the lot that he sold, and it was so good, that the buyer asked to keep the guitar and just get a partial refund of the money!
In other words, George Gruhn didn't notify the people he'd sold fakes to about it? He just kept their money, and kept quiet about it? And this is The Big Guy you're supposed to trust when it come to authenticating a purchase of a vintage guitar. Oh well, somebody's making some money, I guess that's always a good thing.
Bob Carlucci

From: Candor, New York, USA

posted 04 September 2006 06:58 PM     profile     
I dunno guys... the experts get fooled more than you realize.. I KNOW an expert and he worries a lot about this... also read an interview several years back where George Gruhn stated he has a LOT of trouble with good fakes and cannot always be sure if an electric guitar is authentic.. HE stated he was unable to pay top dollar on solid guitars because good fakes are almost impossible to detect,, THAT is how good todays forgers are..

Acoustics were much easier for him to authenticate according to his own words... MANY "originals " are just VERY good replicas.. I am certain of it... There were less than 2,000 1958-1960 Sunburst Les Pauls made, accoring to Gibson produvtion numbers, but there are suppossedly over 4,000 "documented" Bursts,,,

Also, You will find super clean "original" 50's strats Teles, Esquires, Pauls 60's Firebirds, SG;s, Gretschs flowing over the walls in hundreds of "vintage" shops around the world.. If you have the money, the classic guitars of your youth are just a phone call or mouse clck away... all you can handle in all colors... Did all these "classics" just appear out of thin air?? where were they in the 80's and 90's?? .. Still under granpa's bed??.. What happened to all the "players" 335's Sg's Fenders etc, I used to see 10 years ago?? No more?? all gone??... Now every vintage guitar shops has PLENTY of rare custom color "museum pieces", lots of "celebrity owned" etc... I say it is a multi billion dollar scam... I agree with a guy named Ed Roman that has been a builder and shop owner for many years.. There are a LOT of excellentfakes/rebuilds/relic'd re fins, out there.. Right down to the cigarette smoke smell in the pickup cavity.. bob

Doug Beaumier

From: Northampton, MA

posted 04 September 2006 07:10 PM     profile     
Building Relic guitars has become a cottage industry... and it's Legal! There are some incredible craftsmen out there. Bill Nash is one such person. Nash guitars are sold worldwide in about 40 music stores. His S series are Strats, E series are Esquires, T series are Teles.

The pictures on his site do not show any headstocks, but I have seen several Nash relics and there was no logo on the headstock. But the bridge plates DO have Fender logos on them. I can’t believe that this is legal, but evidently it is. Wouldn’t it be illegal to build a guitar, put a Fender logo on it and sell it? UNLESS the Nash guitars Are Fenders that he is relicing. It’s unclear from the wording on his web site, but here is some of what he says:

Each guitar is a unique work of art, handcrafted by me. The use of 100% nitrocellulose lacquer, high quality vintage hardware, superior woods and a wide variety of pickups and options will provide the player with the magic instrument that has thus far not been available “off the rack”. Like putting on an old pair of boots, they are just right.

It sounds like he builds them from the ground up, body and all. Remember the “lawsuit” guitars of the early ‘70s? Japanese copies of Gibsons and other guitars by Ibanez and other companies. Why is the Nash guitar not illegal? Isn’t this an infringement on the Fender trademark?

Many years from now when these Relics are sold on the “used guitar market” buyers will have a hard time telling the originals from the copies. I’m not referring to the Fender Relics (which have serial numbers), I’m referring to these copy guitars built by small companies. Hopefully the Nash guitars are labeled Nash or have a serial numbers of their own. To see more Nash relics search Nash Guitar on eBay and check out the completed auctions.

Nash Guitars site:

My Site | My SteelTab

[This message was edited by Doug Beaumier on 04 September 2006 at 07:13 PM.]

Bill Hatcher

From: Atlanta Ga. USA

posted 04 September 2006 08:02 PM     profile     
Bob is right. The Les Pauls that went through Gruhns' shop got by him because at that time there were NO forged LP instruments. All the parts were original Gibson parts that were removed from lesser expensive instruments. There was no way he could figure it out. Now there are tests that can be done on the finish to determine if it is old and such, some kind of ultra violet light thing. As for him getting in touch with buyers--25 years is a long time and certainly past any statute for him to keep records and such. Can't blame George for this, blame the dealer. George made this right when he found out. If others show up and I am sure they will, he will do the right thing.

[This message was edited by Bill Hatcher on 04 September 2006 at 08:14 PM.]

David Mason

From: Cambridge, MD, USA

posted 04 September 2006 08:13 PM     profile     
I still haven't found the instructions on the internet about "How to build your own atom bomb" that Dick Cheney said I would, but I did find "relicing" instructions, right on the Tele forum:
It's about like you'd expect - beat the crap out of it, then rub in some amber lacquer, then scrape it with a potscrubber. The idea of freezing the finish with compressed air to check and craze it was one I hadn't thought of though. Look like this guy got a wee bit overstimulated: Honey, I Burnt the Strat

[This message was edited by David Mason on 04 September 2006 at 08:14 PM.]

Dave Mudgett

From: Central Pennsylvania, USA

posted 05 September 2006 01:37 AM     profile     
Wouldn’t it be illegal to build a guitar, put a Fender logo on it and sell it?

My gut instinct is to think that using Fender logoed parts on a new copy instrument is copyright infringement. I don't buy the idea that Fender has legal grounds to say someone can't duplicate the instrument in all design features - body, neck, headstock, and other features - the patents on their designs ran out decades ago. Conversely, they argue that their headstock shape is a trademark. That sounds like a gray area to me. But, certainly, forging or buying forged logoed parts or putting a new Fender logo on a copy instrument is trademark infringement, again IMO.

But with that said, it seems - to me - like there is some wiggle room if somebody is using old Fender parts to put together, effectively, a "parts Strat", as long as that all was fully disclosed. But if someone was manufacturing new plates, for example, that sounds like blatant trademark infringement to me.

I think it may be true that 20-30 years ago, it was probably not so hard to slip a real good forgery by. The values were much, much lower and there wasn't the seeming motivation to fake something like an old Strat. One of the principles of detection theory is that one typically needs to be looking for a problem to find something that's subtly amiss. It's also fairly time consuming and requires a lot of knowledge to really "authenticate" that a solid-body guitar, especially a Fender, is not faked from old parts. But that is just part and parcel of doing business in that realm now - really, the amount of money involved is just so ridiculous, that a serious dealer needs to approach any old Strat/Tele like this with an extremely skeptical eye.

Another issue is that, as I said earlier, I think it might be hard to detect a well-used but forged custom-colored old Fender, that was forged "correctly" 20 years ago, from a real one. I think sunbursts or other clear-finished guitars are more difficult to fake. I agree that acoustics are much harder to fake.

Another trend is that, among the really high-value collector items, it really helps authenticate if the ownership can be traced back a long way, to before the period when these things were worth so much money. I think there may be a separation in values between such instruments and others which don't have such a record, which IMO may become more and more suspect. That sounds entirely reasonable to me.

Bo Borland

From: Cowtown NJ

posted 05 September 2006 04:21 AM     profile     
I played for years in south Jersey with a great Telly picker originally from Nutley NJ. He had a sweet creme colored/black pickguard Telly with C baseball bat style neck. He always told everyone it was a early 50's that he had since it was new. He knew more about fakes than I ever gave him credit for. I saw the guitar apart numberous times and everything looked kosher to me although he had re soldered anything that needed it. He reversed the PUP switch which was the only modification he ever made.
Bottom line is that while the body and pick ups may have been, the entire guitar was not original. Strange thing was that it played and sounded better than any other Telly I have ever picked on. He loved Roy Buchanan and played just like him. JP never used efx played thru a old black face Deluxe 1-12 and one guitar case.
Chuck Cusimano

From: Weatherford, Texas, USA

posted 05 September 2006 12:50 PM     profile     
There are several things I am a little suspicious about concerning the E-Bay Strat in question. The decal is at an extreme angle. It should be in a better line with the tuners, and it looks "Messed with". Also the headstock doesn't have quite the right shape.(IMHO) The wireing is suspect, however it's quite possible some work has been done, and the wireing changed because as many years ago as 1975, let's say, no one was excited about "Vintage" as far as instruments are concerned.

If it is origional, somebody should have taken better care of it.

All times are Pacific (US)

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