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.
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.
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
I 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.
As you can see, it looks well-made, but…
#3 Even the Gig Bag is Important
You’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!
#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.
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.