Following up on earlier warnings, Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp. is continuing to fight sales of counterfeit guitars bearing the Gibson name.
Earlier this week, a music store owner in Long Island, N.Y., was arrested on the charge of trademark counterfeiting for selling fake Gibsons.
Nashville-area guitar sellers say the problem is a serious one.
Walter Carter, a former historian for Gibson Guitar and current employee of Gruhn’s Guitars on Broadway, said sales of cheap, sloppy knock-offs aren’t an industry challenge faced by most reputable instrument shops. Rather, he said, the fakes tend to be sold by sellers in the guitar “underworld.”
“It’s stores that aren’t Gibson dealers to begin with that are selling them,” Carter said.
In April, Gibson officials formally announced that the company planned to step up anti-counterfeit efforts after a North Carolina man was arrested on felony charges of allegedly selling fake Gibsons.
At the time, company officials said Gibson was working with the government and instrument marketers to crack down on counterfeiters. The statement included a reminder to customers that it is a felony to possess a counterfeit instrument, and not just to sell one.
Identifying the fakes
A company spokeswoman on Tuesday deferred to previous information from Gibson, which claims the number of counterfeits on the market has increased greatly in the last few years. Auction Web sites like eBay currently feature hundreds of instruments advertised as Gibsons, but often bearing fake logos.
Gruhn Guitar owner George Gruhn said he has encountered two types of fakes. One is the cheap, mass-produced impersonator instrument typically sold on eBay or at low-profile music stores. Gruhn said he — and most other musicians who are very familiar with Gibson’s products — could recognize a cheap counterfeit, “at a glance, and in a semi-stupor.”
But according to Gibson, run-of-the-mill instrument buyers have been taken in by fakes.
The company encourages customers to check for details like real inlaid pearl, a cursive Les Paul signature, one-piece necks, proper sizing, and wires that aren’t made of plastic. Fake Gibsons often have black-painted pickup cavities, sloppy routing and three-screw truss rods.
Can it happen here?
Todd Austin, guitar sales manager at Corner Music in Nashville, said he hasn’t seen that kind of fake guitar in Nashville. And he doesn’t expect to.
“You’d have a hard time passing that off here,” Austin said. “This is a city where 99 percent of the people are here to play music. These people are a little too educated and a little too smart to fall for this.”
A more pernicious threat to knowledgeable instrument sellers, business owners say, is the market presence of well-crafted replicas of vintage instruments.
Gruhn said he’s been approached by sellers of instruments that are painstakingly, skillfully crafted fakes, aimed to trick buyers into spending $100,000, $200,000 or more. Unlike the recent wave of sellers of cheap knock-offs, attempts to sell well-crafted replicas of vintage instruments has been a problem since Gruhn opened his shop in 1970, he said.
“The average music store owner can be taken. It is a serious problem,” Gruhn said. “As time has gone on, the quality of people and repair and forgery has improved. If they can sell one fake a year, they can get more money than they would make at their job.”