A number of websites have cropped up that claim to be able to provide visitors with information about their guitar via its serial number. This has misled some guitar owners into believing that their counterfeit guitar is an authentic one.
In fact, some counterfeiters or sellers of these fakes now even refer potential buyers directly to one website in an effort to verify the 'authenticity' of the fake guitars they’re peddling.
For example, one consumer recently forwarded Gibson’s manager of brand protection, Ric Olsen, a craigslist.org posting, wherein a fake guitar was being sold as an authentic Gibson. The ad read: “I am selling this beautiful Silverburst Les Paul Custom. Please note that though the headstock says Gibson, it is not a Gibson, but rather an Epiphone. You can verify this by putting the serial number, 08015553, into the following database: www.guitardaterproject.org.”
Olsen wanted to be clear that this site and others like it — intentionally or not — are perpetuating the counterfeiting epidemic, one that is built on this kind of misinformation.
With the years of shipping records in manufacturer's books and dozens of variations on numerical schemes used across the years, decoding serial numbers isn’t an art that any one guitar aficionado, or piece of software, can undertake.
“Although Guitar Dater Project may correctly identify a guitar here and there based on historical data uploaded, it is a very unreliable way to truly identify and authenticate a Gibson or Epiphone guitar,” said Olsen.
“I could give you a serial number from a fake right now, and you could enter it on this Web site, and it would tell you it’s a real Gibson or Epiphone. But it’s definitely not.”
Counterfeiters are taking advantage of Guitar Dater Project and other similar websites by sending in a bulk of fake serial numbers. This data is uploaded and subsequently appears to show that particular serial number as authentic.
The Guitar Dater Project said that it: “aims to provide you with the information hidden in your guitar’s serial number in plain English. It is a work in progress and is constantly evolving, much of which is due to user feedback.”
Olsen warned that there are some easy ways to detect an incorrect reading from the site.
“If you come across, say, a ‘brand new’ guitar, but the serial number tells you it’s anything older than one year ago, question it,” he said. “If you’re looking at a piece that is older than one year old and it’s being sold as ‘new,’ that’s a red flag because a lot of these fakes are coming with serial numbers that actually roll to a manufacturer date of up to five years ago or longer.”
Gibson has issued legal notices to the Web site to simply post a disclaimer but they haven’t responded.
For more information on identifying a guitar by its serial number, click here.