How To Spot A Fake Gibson Guitar | Owning A Gibson (2024)

In the world of music and guitar enthusiasts, the Gibson brand commands a reputation synonymous with unmatched quality, rich sound, and meticulous craftsmanship.

Learning to spot a fake Gibson guitar can be like distinguishing a masterpiece painting from a forgery; it requires a deep understanding of its distinct characteristics, history, and the incomparable artistry put into each product. So whether your interest stems from being an avid collector, a hobbyist, or a genuine Gibson fan, developing an acute eye for counterfeit guitars is an invaluable skill.

This involves comprehending the essence of the Gibson brand, decoding unique serial numbers, familiarizing oneself with standard counterfeiting features, and efficiently navigating the verification process.

Table of Contents

Understanding the Gibson Brand

The Origins of Gibson

Explore the history of the Gibson Guitar Corporation to understand its unique characteristics better. This American manufacturer of guitars, other musical instruments, and professional audio equipment was founded in 1902 and quickly gained popularity due to the superior tone quality and design of its guitars.

The company’s reputation rests on its commitment to using quality craftsmanship and durable materials to create its iconic instruments. By learning about the chronology and evolution of their guitar models, you can identify key features that distinguish genuine Gibson guitars from imitations.

Understanding Gibson Materials and Construction

To recognize a genuine Gibson guitar, it’s crucial to know the types of wood typically used by the company. Dresses tend to be made of mahogany, maple, or a mixture of both. The fretboards are often constructed from ebony or rosewood and finished with a lacquer. Gibson rarely uses composite or synthetic materials, so any guitar that doesn’t use wood in its construction might be a fake. Familiarize yourself with how these woods look, feel, and smell, as these sensory pieces of information can be instrumental in identifying a genuine Gibson.

Spotting Gibson Design Patterns

Gibson guitars have distinct design patterns that you need to become familiar with. For instance, their inlays—marks on the fretboard—often have block, trapezoid, or crown patterns. Different models have signature shapes for their bodies, headstocks, and pickguards. For example, the Gibson Les Paul has a rounded, single-cutaway body with a waved top, and its headstock has a distinct ‘open book’ design. Familiarizing yourself with design details will help you scrutinize potential fake Gibsons.

Observing Gibson Finishes

Actual Gibson guitars have high-quality finishes—particularly their sunburst finish, a hallmark. Genuine Gibsons have a flawless gloss finish with no bubbles, drips, or blemishes. If you see any irregularities, this could indicate a fake. Furthermore, the coloring should blend smoothly from the body’s center to the edges—a sudden change might point to a counterfeit.

Examining Gibson Hardware

Study the hardware on a Gibson guitar. The company uses high-quality tuners, bridges, and stop tailpieces, typically made from stainless steel or aluminum materials. The markings on the headstock should be flawlessly cut and centered, and the serial number on the back should match Gibson’s records. Genuine Gibson guitars also come with owner’s manuals, a warranty card, and sometimes a photo of the guitar on the bench at the factory. The product could be counterfeit if these elements are missing or have any inconsistencies.

How To Spot A Fake Gibson Guitar | Owning A Gibson (1)

Guitar Serial Numbers

Know Your Gibson Guitars

Like any other collector’s item, Gibson guitars have distinct serial numbers that can provide information about their origin and age. Familiarizing yourself with these serial numbers is crucial to spotting a genuine Gibson from a counterfeit. Essentially, Gibson guitars have a serial number format that reflects the place and time of their production.

Analyze the Serial Number

To spot a fake Gibson guitar, thoroughly analyze the serial number on the back of the headstock or the neck. Gibson guitars made before 1977 utilize a complicated system with inconsistent serial number formats, so research appropriately if you’re dealing with an older model.

How to Check Gibson Guitars Serial Numbers

Serial Number Formats

For Gibson guitars made after 1977, you should find an eight-digit serial number. The first and fifth numbers represent the year the guitar was produced, the second through fourth numbers represent the day of the year, and the last three digits represent the guitar’s production number for that specific day. For instance, the serial number 82065501 would mean it was the first guitar made on the 206th day of 1982.

Understanding Vintage Gibson Guitars

For vintage Gibson guitars made from 1952 to 1961, the first digit of the serial number generally represents the year of manufacture, while the remaining digits indicate the production rank. However, this isn’t always the case, and specific serials from this era may not follow a fixed pattern.

Compare with Official Records

Once you’ve figured out the serial number, compare it with the official records documented by Gibson. Make sure the information matches. Gibson has detailed descriptions of their serial numbers, publicly available online.

Check the Location of Manufacture

Gibson guitars are traditionally made in the United States, specifically in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Nashville, Tennessee. If the serial number indicates that the guitar was made in a different country, it is likely a counterfeit.

Look for Inconsistencies

Look for inconsistencies in the serial number. The guitar may be fake if the digits are unclear or look altered. Additionally, consider the overall quality of the guitar. Gibson takes pride in their meticulous craftsmanship, so sloppy work or poor materials hint at a counterfeit product.

Understanding and accurately decoding Gibson’s serial number system will increase your chances of spotting a genuine guitar. But remember—while a serial number is a solid starting point, it’s not the only method to determine authenticity. Always do your due diligence when checking any potential counterfeits.

How To Spot A Fake Gibson Guitar | Owning A Gibson (2)

Common Features of Counterfeits

Identifying Common Counterfeit Characteristics

Learning to spot a fake Gibson guitar starts with understanding the common counterfeit characteristics. The headstock of the guitar is one area where counterfeiters often make mistakes. The ‘Gibson’ logo is mother-of-pearl and inlaid into the wood rather than printed or decal on a genuine Gibson. The letter’ b’ in the logo should not have a closed loop. Counterfeiters will sometimes incorrectly connect the ‘b’ and the ‘o’. Moreover, the Gibson bell-shaped truss rod cover should generally have two screws, not three.

Understanding the Types of Guitars Frequently Faked

It’s helpful to understand the types of Gibson guitars that are most commonly faked, as these models require extra scrutiny when purchasing. Gibson’s Les Paul series, particularly the Standard and Custom models, are a frequent target for counterfeiters. The Gibson SG, Flying V, and Explorer models are popular forgery choices.

Recognizing Physical Inconsistencies

Fake Gibson guitars can frequently be identified through physical inconsistencies. The material and construction quality is usually lower on a counterfeit Gibson.

Genuine Gibson guitars are crafted from high-quality woods like mahogany, maple, and rosewood. Counterfeit models may use cheaper timber or even plastic. Another often overlooked sign of a fake is the weight. Genuine Gibson guitars, particularly the Les Paul models, are known for their significant weight. A counterfeit may be notably lighter. The positioning of the guitar’s bridge is another giveaway. The bridge is generally positioned close to the pickup on a genuine Gibson. On a counterfeit, the bridge may be placed further away.

Check the serial number as well; a real Gibson guitar has a serial number stamped onto the back of the headstock. The serial number on a fake Gibson is often hard to read or inaccurately replicated. Lastly, the overall finish and detailing of the guitar must be considered.

Pay special attention to the paintwork, binding, fret inlays, and hardware; inconsistencies are standard identifiers of a counterfeit guitar. Genuine Gibsons have a high level of craftsmanship, with great attention paid to such details. It is likely not genuine if a guitar has a rough finish or sloppy detailing.

Verification Process

Understanding Gibson Features

Start your authenticity verification by understanding the defining features of Gibson guitars. Examine the headstock, logo, truss rod cover, fretboard, tuners, pickups, bridge, and serial number. Genuine Gibson guitars usually bear a distinctive and clear “Gibson” logo, while a fake may have irregularities in the logo. An original Gibson truss rod cover is usually two-ply, with a white outlay highlighting the black background on which the Gibson logo is designed.

Examining the Gibson Serial Number

The serial number is crucial in determining a Gibson guitar’s authenticity. It is usually found at the back of the guitar headstock. Examining the correctness of the serial number and its correlation with the instrument’s model and manufacturing date is a crucial authenticity indicator.

Using Gibson’s Guitar Authentication Service

Referencing Gibson’s Guitar Authentication Service is another comprehensive means of verifying if the guitar you own is a genuine Gibson. By providing them with pictures and the guitar’s serial number, Gibson will perform a thorough verification process and can help you confirm the instrument’s authenticity.

Consulting Experts and Forums

Another viable route is to consult renowned guitar experts, luthiers, or seasoned Gibson guitar owners to inspect and verify your guitar. Sites like The Gear Page, My Les Paul Forum, Gibson Forums, and other online music forums are excellent sources to reach out for help. Remember to provide detailed pictures and accurate information about the guitar for a reliable evaluation.

If a Fake Gibson is Detected

Several potential steps exist if you’ve confirmed that the Gibson guitar is a fake. If you purchased the fake Gibson, consider contacting the seller for a refund, especially if it was presented as a genuine article. Moreover, always remember to inform online platforms so that necessary actions can be taken against counterfeit sellers.

Practice Safe Buying Habits

Gibson guitars are premium instruments, and fraudsters take advantage. Practice safe buying habits by purchasing from authorized Gibson dealers. Check Gibson’s official website for a list of authorized dealers; this helps ensure you’re buying a genuine product. Also, remember the adage, “If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Always take time to verify the product before purchase.

How To Spot A Fake Gibson Guitar | Owning A Gibson (3)

Mastering identifying a forged Gibson guitar is not an overnight task. It requires continuous study, observation, and a keen sense of detail, resembling the craftsmanship invested into each genuine Gibson. While spotting a counterfeit can be a swift task through serial number checks, the cumulative understanding of Gibson’s history, unique traits, commonly made counterfeiting mistakes, and the verification process refine this skill.

Arm yourself with the knowledge and research on the subject, and work with the community and resources available to ensure authenticity. This helps preserve the integrity of this historic brand and ensures that your passion for guitars takes you closer to owning a genuine piece of musical art.

How To Spot A Fake Gibson Guitar | Owning A Gibson (2024)


How do you authenticate a Gibson? ›

Gibson USA, Gibson Acoustic, Gibson Memphis

The serial number will be an 8 digit number impressed into the back of the headstock with "MADE IN USA" below. RRR is the factory ranking/plant designation number. Prior to 1984 when the Kalamazoo, MI factory was closed, the numbers 001-499 indicated Kalamazoo production.

How to tell if a guitar is real? ›

Most fake guitars will utilize multiple pieces of wood, creating a scarf joint on the neck. Upon close examination of your hardware, you will find structural and visual inconsistencies. With Acoustic Guitars, the most common trick is for forgers to swap plywood in place of solid wood.

Do all Gibson guitars have a serial number? ›

Gibson has historically used two different alpha-numerical formats to catalog its instruments: serial numbers and FONs (Factory Order Numbers). Instruments will generally have one or both of these numbers stamped or written either inside the body (generally the case on earlier models) or on the back of the headstock.

Do all Gibson guitars come with a certificate of authenticity? ›

All Gibson Certified Vintage guitars sold will come with a detailed letter of appraisal confirming the provenance and history of the instrument, a certificate of authenticity, and exclusive case candy.

How do I identify a Gibson? ›

The number is ink-stamped inside the gui- tar on the back. In 1938, the FON was changed to a two- or three-let- ter prefix before the batch and instrument numbers. The first letter indicates the year, the second indicates the brand (i.e. G for Gibson, K for Kalamazoo), and the third (if applicable) for electric.

Where is my guitars serial number? ›

You should be able to find these near the soundhole label or the stamp inside the guitar. Once you have those two pieces of information, find the country of origin and serial number in one of the following charts and, using the Letter-to-Number Reference Chart below, calculate the year of manufacture for your guitar.

Do fake Gibsons have real serial numbers? ›

Fake Gibson guitars often have poorly replicated serial numbers. Here's what to look for: Location: Genuine Gibson serial numbers are typically located on the back of the headstock, above the tuners. Font and Style: Pay attention to the font, spacing, and alignment.

What is the Gibson code? ›

The Gibson Code is a constructed language invented by Manly B. Gibson of the United States Army Coastal Artillery, which replaces words with numbers using the digits 0-9.

What does it mean if my guitar has no serial number? ›

If the instrument does not have a serial number, it is likely a factory prototype or sample, and it is impossible to gauge its exact age.

What is a Gibson lawsuit guitar? ›

These guitars look like classic guitars such as Gibson Les Pauls or Fender Stratocasters, except they aren't. Instead, they are most often Japanese copies of those guitars made to varying degrees of quality. Many people love their lawsuit guitars.

How do you authenticate a guitar? ›

Check the Logos and Branding

A legitimate guitar brand will typically have a consistent and recognizable logo, so keep an eye out for any discrepancies. Additionally, compare the logo and branding with authentic versions to spot any differences.

How do you know if your Gibson is real? ›

Serial numbers: Gibson serial numbers are stamped on the back of the headstock, and appear dark. Fake serial numbers often appear white.

How do you read old Gibson serial numbers? ›

Gibson Serial Numbers on Solid Body Electric Guitars

Solid body electrics made between 1952 and 1961 received a stamp on the back of the headstock. For these years only, the first number indicates the year of manufacture. (For example, a serial number that reads “65341” would indicate a guitar manufactured in 1956.

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