Made in China: Les Paul counterfeits

Posted in Made in China, Rock 'n' Roll at 2:46 pm by George Smith


Rarely does stuff like this fall into your lap.

Some readers may recall my continued posts about American classic rock electric guitar making being offshored to China. This was part of a decade long migration aimed at taking advantage of cheap overseas labor while trying to preserve a high end customer base for much more expensive custom-shop guitars made domestically.

Fender and Gibson, the two most iconic American guitar companies, moved manufacturing to China. Indeed, the Gibson website brags, if you dig deep enough, about how it trained Chinese laborers to make cheaper Gibson models under the brand name Epiphone. One company employee indicated that there was just about no difference between its manufacturing facilities in China and its domestic manufacturing in Nashville.

Counterfeiting has been an obvious problem for the US guitar industry. The pictures here show the result of the outsourcing devil’s bargain. An inability to control abuse, flagrantly shown through advertising on prime Internet real estate provided in the US — the Washington Post.

Here’s how it went down.

(Large version here.)

Idly browsing the Washington Post today, DD was reading an opinion piece on Obama being no FDR when a big ad at the top of the page caught my eye. It was for cheap guitars sold off TradeTang. And they all looked like Gibsons. The pictures in the ad were cleverly cropped, however, to avoid … discerning eyes. (Most specifically, the sales pages stay away from presenting clear and complete front photos of the headstocks. There is simply no legitimate reason for that.)

Here’s the sales website that came up once you clicked through to the actual ad site.

Here’s a small shot.

A large screen image is here.

And here’s an image of a “Les Paul” for sale. Note that it is clearly marked “Made in USA” and has, although laymen might not recognize it, the iconic Gibson headstock.

Licensed Chinese made Gibson Les Pauls are branded Epiphones and do not have the same headstock as those made in Nashville.

They also don’t say “Made in USA” or have a serial numbering scheme seemingly aimed at making them look like American-made Gibsons.

A large version of the same screenshot is here.

The sales price snapshot:

A larger shot is here.

The link for the larger shot shows prices for Les Pauls that are complete frauds unless you know you’re purchasing knock-offs. You can’t buy these instruments new for $280 – $300 plus dollars in the States. Many of them sell for ten times those amounts although some rock bottom end models go for around one thousand.

Here’s another example of some kind of fraud using the Gibson brand, either in the photograph, what’s being presented, or what’s being sold:

Larger shot, again, here. Whatever it is, it looks like a mess to me. It’s a Les Paul headstock but with tuners I see more commonly on offshored Epiphones and the front view is not presented. Which is a bit of a giveaway.

Here’s the pricing for the same advertised instrument, again indicating a misuse of the Gibson brand of some kind:

Larger shot here.

New “Made in USA” Gibson Les Pauls do not sell for $269.10, ever. Cheap knock-offs and counterfeits might, though.


Whatever is going on here, it smells strongly of shit. Suspiciously, the front of the headstocks on these guitars are not shown. Only the backs, which resemble Gibson Les Pauls closely enough to be in lawsuit territory.

I’m assuming, perhaps wrongly, that this is the loophole the seller is reliant upon. If it can’t actually see if it says … Gibson … then buyer beware.

All hitching a ride on banner ad Washington Post advertising. Cool!

Gibson’s page on made-in-China Les Paul counterfeits.


  1. Roger said,

    July 31, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Hi DD,
    I can fill in alot of info about TradeTang and Chinese guitars. I was curious as you and contacted TT and studied them from afar for many months to learn exactly what they were doing. Talked with their “sales staff” ,
    and I assure you, as you already know, they offer more than they deliver.
    I study guitars, I have learned to build classical guitars, I know what’s right, and what to look for.
    TT is just an outlet for many different Chinese dealers. When you sign in to their website, you can choose from many different American fakes.
    What is really amazing to me, is that they advertise on sites that should know better.
    I can give more details and photos as proof if you are interested.
    Bye, Roger in Stockholm

  2. Dick Destiny » Counterfeit Gibson Les Pauls (continued) said,

    August 1, 2011 at 10:32 am

    […] in our adverture, part 1 and part […]

  3. Dick Destiny » Gibson, Made-In-China, and the Washington Post said,

    August 2, 2011 at 9:12 am

    […] For instance, the Epiphone headstock is clearly different than a Gibson headstock. And that is so noted at my original piece here. […]