5 Lessons Learned Buying a Fake Taylor Guitar

The World of Knock-off Guitars

Knock-off guitars. These fake guitars are not something we deal with in the United States and Europe very often, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

However, it’s a hot market in Asia where many of the world’s guitars are produced and exported.

While in China this year, I bought a knock-off guitar just for the heck of it. It’s a dead-ringer for a Baby Taylor guitar, from the headstock to the binding to the gig bag. But I’m now painfully aware that it’s a fake.

Allow me to share with you not only why I bought the fake guitar (yes, I knew it was a knock-off when I bought it), but also what I have learned from the experience.

The World of Knock-off Guitars

There’s a whole world of knock-off guitars you may not know about and it doesn’t matter if brands produce their guitars in Asia or not, everyone is a target for counterfeits.

I’ve seen Taylor, Gibson, PRS, Epiphone, Fender, Dean and a number of other recognizable guitar brands being sold as knock-offs in Asia.

It’s a problem that manufacturers are starting to really pay attention to. In 2014 the CBP (Customs Border Patrol) in New Jersey uncovered a load of fake guitars valued at over $1,000,000 – that’s a lot of lost business if those counterfeits make it to market.

US Customs Border Patrol seizes $1,000,000 worth of counterfeit guitars

Some manufacturers are starting to take action against the counterfeiters. Martin Guitars, for example, has implemented a new DNA security solution to protect their brand.

The Curiosity of the Knock-Off Brand

I was walking through a music store in China earlier this year when I came across a travel-sized guitar that looked incredibly familiar.

I have owned a Taylor 310ce acoustic guitar for over a decade so I’m intimately familiar with the brand. The moment I saw the trademark headstock, I knew exactly what I was looking at.

Legpap Knock-off guitars

The brand name is “Legpap,” a company which according to their website has “its own rigorous research and development department” (and no, I’m not going to honor them with a link!). Whoever works in Legpap’s R&D must be enjoying life – the most rigorous job they have to do reverse-engineer an existing guitar.

Apparently R&D is too lazy to make up new names for the guitars, too. Models like the “GS Mini” and the “OOM” are hardly original.

5 Lessons Learned Buying a Knock-off Guitar

A knock-off Baby Taylor GuitarI bought my Legpap Baby guitar in China for just about US$140 – and if you’re not aware, that’s a little under half the cost of a real Baby Taylor Guitar. Now that I’ve had a few months to sit with my fake Taylor guitar, I’ve learned a number of lessons that I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Hopefully you can learn a few things from my $140 mistake.

#5 Playability Matters More Than Look

I’ve bought counterfeit clothing in China before and frankly ended up with some pretty decent clothes. However, counterfeit clothing is different from counterfeit guitars in this regard: with guitars, looks don’t matter as much as sound and playability.

This may seem obvious but as I think back to my time at the Chinese guitar store, I believe that I was psychologically swayed by the familiar look of the fake guitar. Even though I knew it was a knock-off, I didn’t properly test out other 3/4-size guitars to see how they played or sounded in comparison.

I was drawn in by the look and fooled into thinking that was actually important.

#4 You Can’t Fix Stupid

Another mistake I made was thinking that it would  be simple to make a few adjustments to my knock-off Baby Taylor. High action? I can easily fix that. Muted sound? A new set of strings should do the trick.

Unfortunately, not so.

As the saying goes, “You can’t fix stupid.” Poor construction easily negates any amount of fixing or adjusting I thought that I could do. On the knock-off I bought, I noticed that they substituted a completely different neck joint since they couldn’t seem to replicate it.

The binding on the knock-off Baby Taylor looks good.

As you can see, it looks well-made, but…

#3 Even the Gig Bag is Important

Gig bag for the knock-off Baby Taylor guitarYou’d think that while making a knock-off guitar they’d at least be able to create a usable gig bag, right? Sadly, this isn’t the case (pun intended).

The makers of my knock-off guitar tried to copy the look and design of the custom Baby Taylor gig bag but try as they might, the bag is essentially unusable.

Two weeks after buying the guitar I found that the zipper can’t remain closed. The tongs just don’t hold together. It defeats the purpose to have a travel guitar that I can’t travel with.

#2 Quality Hardware Makes a Big Difference

One big way that counterfeit manufacturers cut costs is by using inferior hardware. Whether its the tuner heads, pickup system or even the truss rod, these are all areas in which they can save a few dollars. This is especially true on counterfeit electric guitars but I also found to be the case on my knock-off.

Trying to tune my knock-off is a nightmare. The tuning heads aren’t precise and don’t seem to hold the tune well. I even had trouble adjusting my truss rod and I suspect it wasn’t installed properly.

Sure, I could change my tuning heads. But why go through the trouble? And as for the truss rod…there’s no fixing that sucker!

Top of the knock-off Baby Taylor

#1 Experience Matters

The number one thing I learned from this whole experience is that it doesn’t matter if you have the right equipment and the proper tools to make a guitar. It doesn’t matter if you have the same wood or even if you use palette wood to make your guitar.

What seems to matter most is the quality of the person or people who are actually manufacturing the guitar.

The binding on my fake guitar is flawless. The wood looks nice. The neck is straight and in general it looks like this Hong Kong manufacturer tried to pay attention to the details. But they’ve only been doing this for a few years.

And they suck at it.

There’s a reason that you pay a premium for names like Taylor, Martin, Gibson and others. You are paying for the decades of experience and knowledge that go into the making of the guitar. And based on the $140 I wasted on this fake guitar, the premium you pay is worth it.

The back of the knock-off Baby Taylor

Conclusion: Quality Control Matters

While I don’t regret the $140 I spent on this knock-off guitar, it was definitely a waste of money.

I don’t bring it anywhere and I show it to people more for the story than as a musical instrument. Currently my son thinks that it’s his guitar since I don’t care enough to play it.

Here’s the thing, though: if in the next few years my son does get serious about guitars, I am going to buy him a real Baby Taylor.

Then I might take this crappy knock-off and do something I’ve always wanted to try but never felt right doing until now: smashing a guitar.

25 thoughts on “5 Lessons Learned Buying a Fake Taylor Guitar

  1. Josh, maybe you could use it to play slide guitar? Then there’s always the “create a lamp or chair” option….thanks for the humorous story. Might send the link to Bob Taylor….

    1. You know, that may not be a bad idea. I’ll give that a try 😉

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Ken. I’ll see if Bob is interested but I think he’d rather focus on his real guitars. Ha!

      1. I smashed an old warped Kay back in the 70’s harder than it looked! I like the slide idea. A pawn shop that I deal with got burned by 2 Gibson Les Paul fakes

    2. To call this a Knock off is disingenuous. They did brand it a Taylor to suggest you’re getting the real thing. They did not steal “IP” here, they simply made a guitar that looks similar to a Taylor which btw in not what was happening with the guitars confiscated by customs in NJ. Those actually had Taylor or Martin logos on the headstock. This company may make poorly put together instruments but don’t put them in the same class as Knock offs

  2. Great article Josh. In that last picture, I’m not sure if it’s just the light playing tricks, but the back looks severely swollen–a sign of a very wet (over humidified) guitar.

    1. Could be, although I have reason to believe it was purposely designed that way. Thanks for the comment, Bobby!

  3. Don’t buy fake crap. Crap is crap. It is better to buy a guitar by Taylor slightly used with a little dent in it at half off than waste a hundred bucks on junk. Caveat Emptor or “Buyer Beware” still holds up… if you spend 500 US dollars at Guitar Center on a guitar that lasts you a lifetime it works out to 10 cents a day to own quality. Don’t be fooled by China. They are terrible at bridge placement, truss rods , and tuners.

  4. Great article! My concern with counterfeits and their playability is with their impact on new players. If the first few experience’s a beginner has is not completely pleasurable, they will never develop an excitement about playing. In a beginner guitar, I believe playability is the most important factor. Without that first thrilling moment in any hobby, the beginner will soon be looking elsewhere, and never look back.

  5. Hi Josh, great post. It’s completely true that no matter how good your fake looks on the surface or how accurately the counterfeiters have copied the aesthetics, there’s no way a fake product can compete with the years of experience and dedication the original manufacturers will have put into creating the genuine model.
    It’s the same with strings. We’re trying to educate the public and stamp out the scammers selling fake Aquila strings. If you have a moment, feel free to pop over to my site and check out our free strings competition.
    Cheers. K

  6. There are some brilliant Chinese solid-top guitars around for not much more money that aren’t pretending to be anything they’re not. Make sure you play a few examples before buying, and you’ll find one with spot-on intonation and an action low enough to be set up by normal bridge saddle work.

  7. every guitar has a model/serial no. and normally you would go online and register your guitar, the knock offs have replicated nos. that dont work when you register. seen a lot of knock off guitars in my playing life 48 years, hate to admit some of them sounded amazing.
    quite recent years knock off makers have been paying attention to replicating guitars
    and gosh they scare me, cant really notice the difference.
    maybe martins and taylors will come down from their high horse and make guitars more affordable. please try the yahama ll series they sound awesome, and many more higher end guitars they sound really good. i have 9 and so far takamine is my favorite.

  8. A knock-off and a counterfeit are not the same thing. Knock-offs may be cheap, but they’re not fake. Counterfeits are fake. They look like Taylors/Martins/etc. and are branded as Taylors/Martins/etc. but are made by somebody who is not Taylor/Martin/etc. Knock-offs are not illegal—cheaper copies of big brand-name goods are everywhere—counterfeits are not.

  9. Three years ago I bought two counterfeits, shipped Express Mail from Shanghai. I had some extra dough, and figured if they didn’t work, they would make nice wall hangings. One was a “Taylor” K24ce Koa, and the other was a “Gibson” Sunburst J200. They both played well unless you slapped a capo on them, so I took both to a luthier friend and even he was impressed with the BASIC value. After doing a little neck voodoo and replacing the “Fishrman” electronics, they both sounded and played fine, but was told that they would both need “fret jobs” to make them sound and play better. I sold my “Taylor” last year, advertising it for what it was, and got what I put into it, which was about $275. The “Gibson” I still have, and it sounds better every time I pick it up. A friend of mine says it sounds and plays as well as or better than a real Gibson he owned, so go figure. The price on it was $215.
    Not recommending the experience to anyone; a fake is a fake, but it’s good to know what’s out there….

    1. even the real Taylor’s and Martin’s are fake.made out laminent..the necks are laminated with strips of cast off wood. they leave the factory with 3/8 ” action.everyone of them need a $200 set up before you attempt to play them. could the Chinese be possibly worse..

      1. Martin…First off…most any acoustic guitar built with a solid spruce top and QUALITY ALL WOOD laminate back and sides and well made and properly placed bracing can sound very good.
        The action on my Martin D16 RGT and my Taylor 214 CE are set at a perfect 4/64ths at the 12th fret on the low E and 3/64ths on the high E from the factory so you should not generalize all Taylor or Martin guitars as having 3/8ths action right out of the box.

        Second… a laminated neck is stronger than a solid wood one and more warp resistant also. Some very expensive guitars use 3 and 5 piece necks for the same reason…strenght.

  10. Sorry folks. I am totally converted to Luthier built Guitars (Classicals right now). I will not buy any “factory” Guitars anymore to include the mighty Taylor’s, Martin’s or Gibson’s. Even the great factory Guitars mentioned cut corners because they are profit driven. Prove me wrong (I know you can’t). 3 to 5k is well worth it for a serious Guitar for life. More resonance and a “depth” of tone that the factory Guitars just can’t match.

  11. I got to this while looking for who may have made my replica Taylor T5. It looks kind of like the real thing, after a fashion. I bought it knowing it’s a fake, and the seller told me it’s a fake. It has no serial number or other markings except on the headstock. I paid $250 for it. (In Australia, about $100 – 120 U.S.) This fake is a ripping little guitar. The quality is there. If the builder had their own legitimate name on it, it would sell for twice, easily, what I paid for it. I also have an Epiphone reissue V, I didn’t know that was a fake until I queried the serial number that just didn’t look right. Again, a very good guitar that even the Epiphone / Gibson rep couldn’t fault. (The headstock now reads ‘Epiphony’) There are some real good fakes out there, built with quality that could easily have a legitimate name on them. But, at the end of the day a known name WILL sell. Then there is the majority of the garbage…

  12. But it’s not as if you thought you were buying a Taylor, now, is it? Did it say Taylor on it? You knoew you were buying a Legpap, for goodness’ sake. Nothing to see here.

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