In light of a few other threads that I've commented on in regards to "fake Strats", I decided to take a few minutes this fine morning and put together a little "tutorial" for those who have a bit less experience with Strat who may be considering buying a new or used guitar.
Before I get started here, please let me make this perfectly clear...these are only my own personal opinions
and should only be taken as such. Further, these comments are -NOT- aimed at any one specific individual. I have been playing for close to 30 years now, I work on my own guitars (which is currently around 25 total give or take projects) and I've built a number both from parts and even a couple of bodies that I've cut from scratch...in other words, I do feel I know a little
bit about guitars in general and I'm simply trying to share a little information here.
So, let's get started...
CHAPTER 1 - Don't Let Yourself Get Taken For a Ride
First and foremost, let me say that the time to ask whether a guitar (any) guitar is "a fake" is before
you buy it! If you are not completely, 100% sure about what it is that you are buying, ask questions BEFORE you buy! These seems to be something of a rash going on around these forums...seems like once or twice a month someone posts a thread that starts with "Is this a fake Strat" and often the thread goes something like this;
" I just bought a new (used) Strat off Ebay (Craigslist, Guitar Show, best friend, etc) and I was wondering if it's a "real" Strat..."
I honestly do now wish for this to sound rude but if you plunk down $400 to $800...or $1000 or $10,000 on something and you don't really know what it is that you're buying you are ASKING for trouble. So first things first here, know what it is that you are actually spending your hard earned money on BEFORE you actually bid or buy it. ASK QUESTIONS
if you're not sure. If the seller hasn't already provided them, ask for pictures...lots and lot of pictures to verify that you're actually going to receive what you think you're buying!
Serial numbers...ALWAYS ask for a serial number and either verify it through the manufacturer or at the very least, on forums such as this! It's also not a bad idea to run that serial number past the police too...there's nothing more embarrassing than playing your new guitar at a gig and having the police show up and take it from you because it was actually stolen!
Now ya'll listen up here...this is important...if the seller refuses to provide you with this information and/or more pictures, just walk away
. There are lots and lots and lots of "other fish in the sea". If you adopt a "have to have it" approach, sooner or later you -WILL- get burned. Any person who is legitimately trying to something like a guitar should be willing to provide you with all of the pictures and information that you need to verify it's authenticity. If they're not, than just assume the person is a proverbial snake oil salesman and don't risk wasting your money.
Also, while I will be the first to say that there -are- some really great deals to be had out there, if you don't know what your doing then apply the old adage, "if it sounds to good to be true, it usually is". In other words, if a person is offering you something like a "all original 1957 Fender Stratocaster" and normally this guitar goes for $20,000 to $80,000 because of it's vintage but the seller likes the color of your tennis shoes so he's gonna let you have it for only $2500....assume that something
In this day and age, everyone is out to make an "easy buck" and for better or worse, there -are- people who are out to screw you out of your hard earned money...and they -will- take advantage of you if you let them
. There's only one cure for this...do NOT let them! If you're really silly enough to toss a $20 bill up in the air just to see which way it blows, don't be surprised when someone else walks along and picks it up...and refuses to give it back! The -only- person who's going to watch out for you is -you-.
CHAPTER 2 - What to look for
Ok...you've just gotten those pictures from that Ebay seller but perhaps this is your first Strat so how do you know what to look for? Well, you can post those pictures on a forum such as this and ask for people with more experience to help out. Think of it this way...you're considering buying a used car. Are you going to really accept that "Honest Joe" is really going to let you have a great deal or are you going to take that car to your mechanic and have it inspected? Ok...personally I know how to work on cars too so I -know- what to look for but if I didn't, I would ALWAYS take that car to a qualified mechanic and make sure that it's worth fairly close to the asking price before
I signed ANYTHING. Same thing with guitars...ask for the opinions of someone more experienced than yourself. In the day and age, information is only a "mouse click away"...use it. Now that said, there are some things that you can look at yourself pretty easily, particularly when it comes to a Strat.
I'm going to use some pictures that I've obtained from other parts of this forum and from the internet in general (as well as some of my own). Please know that no copyright infringement is intended here...I'm using these pictures solely for the purpose of education and nothing else. If any of these are your pictures and you wish them to be removed, please let me know and I'll replace them with something else.
Alrighty...let's start with the headstock.
The guitar in the 2 pictures above is a fake...and a rather cheap one at that. In this case this neck likely came off of a Squier Bullet or some other inexpensive Strat copy. But how do we know this? Right off the bat there are a couple of dead giveaways....
The tuning keys. The tuning keys on this instrument are very cheap, "chrome covered" tuners. While there could be one or two exceptions, I have never seen a guitar with the Fender logo that came with these types of tuners from the factory. Real Fender strats virtually always use either a "sealed" tuner or in some cases vintage "Kluson" style tuners (and you can easily look up those terms on Google if you don't know what they mean). In fact, most of the nicer Squiers out there don't even use these types of tuners...including Affinities. Typically you will only see these types of tuning keys on very low quality, entry level instruments such as Squier Bullets or other inexpensive clones.
The truss rod. Fenders and most of the nicer Squiers have a rosewood (or other colored) inlay around the truss rod end. In this picture you can see that the wood around the truss rod end is clearly the same as the rest of the headstock. If it says "Fender" on the headstock and there is no inlay around the truss rod end at the headstock, the neck is a fake!
The logo. Ok...from the pictures here I have to admit that this is really a pretty well done logo and does look moderately authentic. Here's the thing though, there are MANY people selling replacement logos these days and in fact, it's not all that hard to print one yourself if you have a decent Inkjet printer.
Now any one of these things might
be easy to over-look depending on what the rest of the guitar looks. After all, it's not that hard to change tuners and such. Together however, they just scream "fake!". To prove my point, here's another image...this one is actually one of mine.
Now in this case you can see that the headstock does have decent quality tuners and there is an inlay at the truss rod end. However, while it's not that
evident in this picture, the logo -is- a fake...I know...I printed this one myself. This particular neck is actually from an '04 Squier Standard. In this case, I wasn't trying to fool anyone...I did this strictly for my own amusement and for the aesthetic appeal of this guitar. Please be assured that I have no intentions of ever selling this guitar! Further, I have in fact left the original serial number and "Crafted in Indonesia" in tact on the back of the headstock.
Further, if you were too look at this logo closely in person, you can -easily- see the ridges around it as I used a somewhat heavier film for making this logo and those ridges are very visible under the lacquer. It does however prove that you can't always rely on pictures to be "accurate" (particularly in this age of Photoshop).
In the case of this specific instrument, I even ordered a vintage style "F" neck plate...the "serial number" here is actually my birth date! LOL!!!
Here (obviously) is a shot of the whole guitar. If you were to blow this up, you'd see what looks like a nice "vintage" bridge right down to the Fender stamped saddles...which in fact was from an MIM that was ordered from Ebay. The finish to is actually "fake"...what looks like a nice, vintage two tone sunburst was actually done by yours truly. I was even able to get the finish to settle in to the wood here so that it looks as though some degree of "alderization" has taken place. Of course even here if you look closely, you'll see that while the neck does have that large vintage looking headstock (with the vintage correct logo), the neck does clearly look "new"...at least much newer than the finish and the rest of the vintage look would indicate.
Now here's the thing about this specific guitar...-if- I were looking to pass this off (which again I'm not) it really wouldn't be -that- hard to find some unsuspecting newbie and tell him/her that this is actually a "really really early 70's instrument made before the change over to the 3 bolt neck pattern" (which of course is obviously B.S.) and sucker them out of as much as $1500 or more. Of course this guitar does play and sound really nice...actually she plays -really- sweet even if I do say so myself so a person who didn't really know what they were doing, might actually be...errr..."inexperienced" enough to actually buy it.
That's not to say that this is a bad guitar at all...in fact I'm very proud of this one but if I were to sell it for it's actual value, this guitar is really only worth $250 to $350...in fact after the cost of finish, it only cost me about $80 or so to build!
Now let's look at some other ways to spot a fake...
The bridge. There are a number of things with a Strat bridge that you can look for but much of this comes down to understanding the various models made by Fender as well as the various vintages. Typically a Strat with a "vintage style" bridge will have saddles that look something like this;
In this case, the saddles themselves are stamped pieces of metal, which are typically nickle plated (NOT chrome) as apposed to being a "block" of chrome covered metal. Usually these saddles with have the word "FENDER" stamped on both sides of the string slots...however...there have been a few models such as the mid-80's Strats that were made in Japan where the word isn't actually stamped on the saddle. Also, there are other brands who make similar saddles, such as Callaham for example who will have their own stamps there. Regardless, this is usually pretty straight forward...most of your mid level Fender Strats and virtually all vintage Strats have saddles similar to these. It's also usually safe to assume that the older the instrument is, the more deterioration and rust you can expect to the finish of the saddles. If it's an older instrument and the saddles look brand new...even if they're stamped, it's worth asking "Why?".
Now -if- you're looking at a guitar that, for the sake of example is marked as "Made in Mexico" and it has saddles that look like this;
This should raise a red flag for a potential buyer. At first glance these may appear similar to the saddles found on newer American Standards and such but the "shiny chrome" is usually a giveaway. Am Std's will typically use a brushed stainless steel and more importantly, the intonation screw is offset where as the screws on these saddles would be located dead center of the saddle. In other words, if you're buying an MIM or an MIJ or a true Vintage (or vintage reissue) Strat and you see these shiny chrome plated saddles, take a closer look at the instrument and start asking questions!
Also in regards to bridges, it's often worth taking a look at the trem block as well. This isn't always as definitive as the saddles themselves adn typically requires a greater knowledge of various vintages of Strats. The mid 90's Mexican made Strats for example used a small, half-sized zinc alloy trem block direct from the factory however in recent years this has been changed to a full sized steal block. So if you're looking at a newer
MIM or something that is supposedly an American made instrument (such as a Highway 1, Am Std or Am Deluxe) and you see a smaller trem block...it's time to be suspicious.
Another big thing to look for is stamps and such in the neck pocket of the body and at the end of the heal of the neck. Ok...a lot of sellers can be a bit reluctant to show these things. This isn't necessarily an indication of "fraud" as much as some folks can be a bit shy about taking a neck off a guitar body...particularly if it's still strung up. However if/when possible, it's always a good idea to get pictures or take a look at these things. Fender and even most Squier's usually (not always but mostly) have some sort of date stamp...or even hand written information at the heal of the neck and in the neck pocket. To give you an idea of what to look for, here's a few shots of the inside of a '96 Mexican made Standard Strat...
Here you can clearly see date stamps that indicate when this body and neck was made. Here's a shot of a hand written date from an '85 Made in Japan Squier...
Again, pretty easy to see here and on this neck, while I don't have a picture of it, it's stamped "STS-362" which in this case indicates that the neck is a '62 reissue (very sweet too!).
Now as with most other things here, if these stamps are absent it doesn't necessarily indicate the instrument is in fact a fake, but is should "raise your awareness" to start looking closer at the other things I've mentioned.
While that neck is off, another thing to look for is the quality
of the wood..or more specifically, whether it's "real" wood or not. While Squier has, from time to time on various models, used inexpensive laminates, (to the best of my knowledge) Fender never has. If you look at the sides of the neck pocket or even in the control cavities or in the trem cavity on the back you should be able to tell if the body is a real, solid wood or if it's a laminate/plywood...plywoods will typically have several layers that even when finished, will easily show through. If it says "Fender" on the headstock but the body is clearly a plywood...something
is wrong. Time to say "thank you" and walk away.
Still other things to consider...
As with my home build instrument in some of the pictures above, consider the over-all condition of the instrument vs. it's supposed age. Most guitar finishes...even poly's will typically start to yellow a little bit as they get older as do plastic parts. If the guitar is something like an 80's or early 90's model, some signs of this yellowing should
be apparent. Yes, some
people do take very excellent care of their instruments, cleaning them regularly and wiping them down after playing them but most
people arent' usually that meticulous. If the guitar as a whole and especially if only certain parts of the instrument look "new" (or newer), -ask questions-. In the same regard, if it's clear there is a great deal of fret wear as thought he guitar has been "well played" but the body is "spotless", this could
indicate the neck and body are from different guitars.
Here's the thing about that...guitars such as Fender Strats are modular
. In other words, a neck could be off of one guitar and be perfectly legit but that doesn't by default mean the body actually is. Let's say that again I wanted to fool someone in to buying something for more than it's worth...take a Fender MIM Standard neck and put it on a cheap Squier or clone body with cheap pickups and then sell it for $350 to $400 then turn around and sell the other body and electronics for even more separately. When you are considering a used guitar...or even a supposedly "new" guitar from anyone other than an authorized retailer, you have to consider the instrument as a whole. Never assume that just because it says "Fender Stratocaster" on the headstock that anything on the guitar is legit...you -HAVE- to look!
It's also a very good idea on any used guitar to look for extra screw holes
where something may have been removed or replaced. While this in and of itself doesn't really indicate a fake of any kind, it -can- affect the value of the instrument...the more original an instrument typically is, the higher the value particularly in regards to genuine "vintage" instruments. Check under the pickguard and look around the tuners at the headstock and see if there are any extra holes that would indicate that something has been changed or replaced then adjust your offer for the instrument accordingly!
CHAPTER 3 - Use COMMON SENSE!
Ok...I as well as many others have said this a great many times now; "common sense isn't really all that common". If you're buying a high dollar item such as an electric guitar and you don't know what you're doing, BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF! Acknowledge that you may not be a "guru" just because you may have own a "such and such" before. The simple truth is that not everyone knows everything
...even myself! I dunno what it is...maybe it's a "guy thing" but it seems that a lot of people really like to talk out the side of their butts. Once many years ago when I worked in retail auto parts I had a customer come in and swore up and down that his car needed a new "muffler bearing". I kid you not...this guy went on and on and on about how poorly his car was running and that he just "knew" it was the muffler bearing. Well, for those of you who may not be so car savvy, there is no such thing. Once I got the guy past his wonderful little rant, I finally got him to admit that his friends
told him this is what his car needed...obviously they were having a little fun with him (and apparently for good reason! LOL!). Very simply, there is no shame in being "uneducated" about something you don't have any prior experience with...everyone has to learn somewhere and for everything in life there is a first time. Don't however let your arrogance or your shame force you in to doing something foolish or expensive!
Second to that I also have to say this; don't assume
that other people are honest or that they even know what they are talking about. I've posted this in a couple of places now but this past year I was looking for a Strat body for a project I was doing. On Craigslist I found a listing for a "pre-80's American Strat body" so I went and took a look. After looking at it in person, the body clearly wasn't even a Fender....American, pre-80's or otherwise but even as I stood there making these comments the guy just swore up and down that it was. In this case, the body was however real alder, was only $25 and was exactly what I was looking for. Once I got the body home and took some measurements I emailed the guy back with my proof that it wasn't "real" and suddenly the guy changed his story...said that's what he was told
when he bought it. He did offer to return my money but again it was a good price and it was what I was looking for...in fact that's the body you see in my home made Strat above.
Very simply as I said earlier, there are a lot of dishonest people out there who will screw you if you give them the chance. That said, if you know there are people out there who are looking to get your money, then it only makes sense to protect yourself. In regards to something like a guitar, DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE YOU BUY!!! If you wait until after you already have the guitar, you risk loosing your money altogether...after all, if the person was deliberately trying to screw you, chances are you're not going to get your money back! Further, if you turn around and try to sell that instrument later, you could get screwed again when -your- buyer discovers it isn't real!!!
It really comes down to this...people can whine and complain about all the thieves and dishonest people in the world who are out to get you but it doesn't change a thing. Those people have always been there and as long as people are motivated by personal and/or financial gain, they will always be there. You can't rely on "the authorities" or the church or the folks that run Ebay or Craigslist or anyone else to "protect you"...the -only- person who can do that is -you-. The items that I"ve provided here are just a small list...there are of course many other things that an experience eye and a seasoned pro can look for but these are things that tend to stick out like a sore thumb that anyone should be able to spot. Asking for a serial number and verifying it through the manufacturer only takes the smallest degree of effort. Reading and understanding an auction description as on Ebay isn't really -that- hard and it only takes a few moments to ask for more information. If something seems questionable, assume it is and then make the seller -prove- it isn't!
Ok...the ol' finger bones are smoking...time to go soak them in water! LOL! Again these are strictly my own personal opinions. I am simply posting them for the benefit of others with less experience than I have in hopes that we won't see as many people getting burned with bad guitar purchases as that always takes the fun out of playing your new instrument!
(p.s. Please feel free to sticky this post if anyone finds it of value).