June 1, 2019
If you are a guitar aficionado I’m sure you’ve heard of fake Gibson guitars or “Chibsons” being sold on Ebay and other websites. These guitars have actually developed a cult following due to their close approximation of Gibson models (primarily Les Pauls.) Earlier copies were easy to spot. Two piece figured tops would be off their center line, the bridge would appear off-center or the famous “scroll” headstock would look deformed. Inlays on the headstock didn’t quite look right either. These were just a few of the abnormalities that made them easy to spot. Not to be deterred however, some Chinese copies have become hard to detect and without taking off the back plates and pickups out of the guitars and also examining the wiring it’s hard to tell the newer fakes without close inspection. The above mentioned cult following came to be for two reasons; improvements in quality and the price. Buyers argue that the price of a new Gibson is prohibitive, especially with the perceived quality issues Gibson has had up until their recent reorganization. There are numerous YouTube videos of “Chibson” buyers unpacking their new guitar and comparing it (often favorably) to the real deal. Personally, I never had a problem with Gibson’s quality. I have a 2016 model that is very good and I’d buy it again. If you think however, that the counterfeiting ends there, Read on.
I’ve been looking for one of the Mexican-made EVH guitars modeled after Eddie Van Halen’s earlier guitars – the first generation Stripe Series guitars and particularly the “Circles” guitar. This guitar had a brief production run because of its unusual paint scheme. It was sometimes called the “UFO” or “Unchained” guitar and marketed as the “Crop Circles/See Ya” guitar. Some people find Eddie’s paint work on this guitar especially ugly. I like it though, because it’s different. I also think he’s had uglier designs than this, particularly his “Shark” guitar. In any event, I have a ticker on Ebay that sends me an email whenever a certain model or item I have searched on comes up for sale. One of these notifications is for the “Circles” guitar, which is what most people seem to call it. I received an email today for one for a relatively low price – under $500. Now, some of these are listed for over $1000 (US) which I think it a little strange considering they weren’t big sellers and sold for $899 new. Anderton’s in the U.K. had a clearance on them a few years ago for a mere £375 (BP) which was about $750 (US). In any event, I inquired about the guitar with the seller who stated that it had never been played and would ship in the original carton which was not pictured. The more I looked at the single picture of the guitar, things started to look fishy. I’ve posted a picture of this guitar and the EVH equivalent next to it. Can you see any differences?
The first thing I noticed was that the fingerboard had a glossy appearance. If you know EVH guitars you know Eddie always liked his fingerboards unfinished – no laquer applied to the fingerboard or the neck. Once I found that discrepancy, I really started digging. Upon close inspection of the picture I found the fake didn’t have the string retainer on the headstock. The tremolo looked funny to me also. I compared that photo with one from an original online and found the EVH logo was missing on the fake guitar’s tremolo saddle. Also, the body was routed for a recessed tremolo whereas the EVH tremolo is mounted flush on the body. Mounted this way, it would be impossible to use or even install the D-tuna. Upon further inspection I found that the two half circles on the fake were not concentric as they were on the original guitar. Another dead giveaway, if you look closely, is the silhouette of a woman whose head is replaced by the Volume knob. On the fake, her feet extend past the base of the fingerboard and onto the upper bout of the guitar. On the original, her feet end at the bottom of the fingerboard. It was clear to me after finding these abnormalities, that this guitar was a fake.
I contacted Ebay and reported the seller. While it’s possible the seller didn’t know it was a fake, for the price he was selling it for, in supposedly “new “condition, he had to know.
As far as knowing it was a Chinese copy of the guitar, while I have no proof, I can tell you that last year I did an online search for this model guitar and a link appeared for a company in Taiwan (now defunct) that would build a copy of this very guitar and ship it to you for $350 including a case. Taiwan is an island off the coast of mainland China that is independent from Communist China (The Peoples Republic of China) and whose existence is still a touchy subject between the PRC and the US. The US considers Taiwan (sometimes called Free China) to be a free, independent country separate from the PRC. The Taiwanese have been making copies of virtually anything marketable for decades. Their copies of IBM PC computers were so good and so cheap you could buy the parts and build your own PC for a fraction of that the American companies were selling them for in the 80s and 90s. As with anything that is made cheaply it comes with its own form of reprisals – usually lower quality than the original and if something goes wrong, you own it. It’s a little ironic, that a Chinese (Taiwanese) company is making copies of a guitar made in Mexico but if they think they can sell it, they will try. I also find it a little bit ironic that buyers on Ebay would take a chance on a known copy of a famous guitar when companies such as Epiphone make great quality copies and do so with their parent company’s (Gibson) blessing.
As with any item you may be thinking of buying on online, use caution and do your homework. Ask questions, request additional pictures of the item. Don’t be hasty and buy an item before you research it, even if it means you lose out. Better someone beats you to it than you spending your money and getting taken. As always, buyer beware!
Have you had an experience with buying a faked guitar? Do you own a “Chibson” or other copy of an American guitar? What’s your opinion of it? What differences do you see in the fake “Circles” guitar that I didn’t mention?
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