What are Chibson Guitars? Watch out for that Chibson Les Paul!

If you read guitar forums online, you might well have heard some members talking about Chibsons, and you could be forgiven for stopping to think, “what is a Chibson?”.

Chibson is a term often used to describe counterfeit Gibson guitars, the majority of which are manufactured in China. For obvious reasons, they’ve caused a significant amount of controversy in the guitar community, but that controversy is often matched by the curiosity that some players have about these guitars.

Chibsons are often dismissed by purists (usually genuine Gibson owners), but there’s a growing community of guitarists looking for new mod platforms, and many of them have seen the potential in these Les Paul knock offs. 

To their credit, today’s Chibsons are head and shoulders better than the first ones that showed up in the west in terms of aesthetics, build quality, and fit and finish, but therein lies the danger – they’re getting harder and harder to spot, which can be a real problem if you think you’re buying the real deal. 

In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ll be taking a look at the darker side of the guitar industry, a world in which replicas of premium models that retail for thousands of dollars at Sweetwater or Guitar Center can be had for as little as $150 plus shipping. Keep on reading to learn:

  • What is a Chibson?
  • Is Chibson an Actual Brand?
  • Is it Safe to Buy a Chibson?
  • Where Can I Buy a Chibson?
  • Is it Legal to Buy or Own a Chibson?
  • How to Spot a Chibson
  • And Much More!

What is a Chibson?

I bought a fake Greeny Les Paul - Not an actual Gibson/Epiphone

In a nutshell, a Chibson is a counterfeit Gibson guitar, typically made in China, or elsewhere in the far east. The reason that Chibsons are so egregious isn’t that they are ripping off Gibson designs – some of the biggest names in the industry have been doing this for decades, heck, Gibson have been guilty of this themselves, despite Gibson Director of Brand Experience Mark Agnesi and his unhinged, “Play Authentic” rant.

The real reason that Chibsons are so maligned is that they don’t only copy the overall design, but they are actually being branded as Gibsons. They have Gibson logos, Gibson headstocks, some come in Gibson branded hard cases, and in many cases, they even come with Gibson case candy.

Les Pauls are by far the most copied model, but it doesn’t stop there. If you can name a Gibson model, there’s a Chibson equivalent. You can buy an SG, an ES-335, an ES-339, a Firebird, an Explorer, a Flying V, literally any Gibson! Even the custom shop and special editions aren’t off limits, you can even find relic’d Chibsons.

The overwhelming majority of Chibsons and Gibson counterfeits tend to be electric guitars. Very rarely do the counterfeiters attempt acoustics, given how much more complicated it is to make an acoustic guitar, let alone clone an iconic design.

There are, of course, counterfeits made of guitars from all the big name brands. You can find fake Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters, knock off EVH Frankenstrats, counterfeit ESPs, you name it, there’s a copy. But, to qualify as a Chibson, it specifically has to be a copy of a Gibson model with Gibson branding on it.

Is Chibson an Actual Brand?

Chibson is not an actual brand name, nor do the guitars come from a single factory. Chibson is a collective name for any counterfeit Gibson made in the far east, that is actually branding itself as an authentic guitar made by Gibson.

The sellers of these guitars have entire digital shopfronts, normally with autogenerated usernames in order to remain fairly anonymous. Within their stores, they’ll actually avoid naming the Gibson brand or even the model name to avoid detection by the likes of Mark Agnesi. Instead they’ll list it with a product name that alludes to what it is, without actually saying it; take this listing for example:

Nowhere does it say Gibson, or Les Paul. In the pictures, the headstock never makes it into the frame in order to disguise the fact that it’s clearly a counterfeit.

Is it Safe to Buy a Chibson?

There is a lot of dangerous assumption that Chibson guitars are those that “fell off the production line”, or that they are made after hours and snuck out of the back door from a legitimate plant. This simply isn’t true. These guitars are made in standalone factories, often with substandard tools and equipment, in dangerous working conditions – a recipe for poor guitars.

A lot of people have bought Chibsons without any issue whatsoever. But, as with all things, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

When you buy a Chibson, as mentioned, you’re not buying a factory second, or something made on the same shop floor. You’re buying a cheaply made knock off. It may seem like a great deal, getting an identical looking guitar for $200, especially compared to the $4000 cost of an original. But remember, that guitar most likely cost less than $10 to make. You can therefore safely assume, that it’s made with the cheapest components in existence.

So, assuming you order your Chibson, and 3 to 4 weeks later it actually arrives, there’s a more than reasonable chance that the overall build quality and the sound will be pretty underwhelming. It’s pretty unlikely that whichever factory made it employs any kind of quality control, so, much like a burger from a fast food joint, it’s unlikely to resemble the picture you saw all that closely.

Typical problems with these guitars include poor alignment, twisted necks, gritty, or even broken, electronics, poor finish quality, and more.

Receiving a poor quality guitar is actually far from the worst case scenario. There’s actually a pretty good chance you won’t receive anything at all, and you’ll part with your hard earned cash and receive nothing in return. The risk of credit card scams and identity theft schemes being run on the types of websites that sell Chibsons and counterfeit guitars is very high, and even if the website doesn’t rip you off, and send the guitar as promised, there’s no guarantee it’ll make it through customs.

Where Can I Buy a Chibson?

I Bought a "Chibson" but Got a REAL Gibson!

We aren’t going to do the counterfeiters any favors by supporting their business and providing links. If you’ve read the room correctly, you’d realize we at KGR are anti-counterfeit. If you are particularly motivated to push ahead and purchase one of these guitars, however, they aren’t hard to find on some of the larger e-commerce site.

One of the most unnerving things about Chibsons, however, is the ease with which some people are able to import large volumes of these guitars and effectively flood the market with them. They’re often sold on buy/sell/trade sites, Marketplace, and other similar sites, without any indication that it isn’t a genuine article. Anybody buying sight unseen may well be the victim of a bait and switch.

Actual stores aren’t all innocent, either. Pawn shops are havens for offloading Chibsons, and without the right clerk who knows what they’re dealing with, that guitar then gets sold on to someone else at a genuine Gibson price. Particularly convincing counterfeits might even slip by some of the less observant employees at big box guitar stores in a trade in, resulting in a trusting customer assuming there’s no way their local guitar megastore would ever sell a fake…

Packaging and Shipping

Even real Les Pauls are notorious for losing their heads in shipping, so it goes without saying that waiting for a Chibson is likely to be a nerve racking experience – especially if you don’t know whether or not the seller will honor a refund. 

These guitars are usually packaged in basic shipping materials. They (more often than not) ship in styrofoam boxes, which are then heavily wrapped in shipping tape. As mentioned, this does put the guitar in real danger of damage during transit, and speaks to the broader cost cutting efforts employed by the people who make and sell Chibsons. 

Shipping times can be quite lengthy, which is something else to bear in mind if you’re considering putting in an order for one. Three to four weeks wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, but we’ve seen stories of guitars taking months to arrive.

Quality and Craftsmanship

It goes without saying that the biggest appeal of Chibsons is the price, so how much can you realistically expect in terms of quality and craftsmanship?

In the Chibsons that we’ve seen in recent years, we’ve seen noticeable improvements across the board, which has made them much more playable right out of the box. However, the biggest downside of Chibsons is that you’re rolling the dice whenever you order one – and that’s because of inconsistencies. Some people have received guitars that they swear would pass for the real thing any day of the week, and others who’ve bought from the same sellers have described their new “Les Paul” as nothing more than firewood. 

Some of the most common inconsistencies include the logo placement, the shape of the “open book” headstock, cracked binding, and the alignment of the tone and volume controllers, but there’s no telling what could potentially be wrong with anything you order until it arrives at your door. 

Despite these issues, though, there are a lot of frankly beautiful tops and finishes available on some of these replicas, which is a big part of why the modding community is drawn to them. When you see them as a sort of fancy blank canvas for the custom Les Paul of your dreams, you start to see a bit more of the appeal.

Playability and Setup

Although we noted that there have been improvements to the quality of some of the Chibsons available today, the vast majority are notorious for showing up with big issues in terms of action, and neck relief.

The fretwork, however, is the biggest issue we’ve heard of. These guitars are known to arrive with everything from basic issues like sharp edges and gritty crowns, through to major problems like poor leveling and full on dead spots. Poor fretwork isn’t only bad for playability, it can render a guitar completely unusable in terms of intonation, too. 

As mentioned, sometimes these issues can be resolved quite easily, but there’s a chance you may end up needing to pay a guitar tech or luthier more than you paid for the whole guitar to set it up right.

Sound Quality

Just as with the general build quality, the sound quality of a Chibson can be a total unknown. The sellers rarely have any idea what pickups and electronics they’re using, and in many cases they’ll just use the cheapest they can get their hands on, which means you as the buyer are in the dark until it arrives. The wiring can often be shoddy, and there’s rarely any shielding, which often results in significant hum. You can also anticipate your guitar arriving with poor quality pots and switchgear, too, which can result in scratchy sound that cuts in and out while playing.

Again, this is rarely a detraction for the modding community, as more often than not they’ll just pull all the electronics out wholesale to replace with better components. If you’re handy with a soldering iron, but not so much with woodworking, this can be a good path for you to get started with your own custom Les Paul build.

Customization and DIY Potential

Building your own guitar from scratch is one of the most rewarding projects a guitarist can undertake, but it’s not always as simple as even the kits make it look. Most first time builders tend to look towards Strat and Tele style builds because of the bolt on neck arrangement, avoiding the intimidating prospect of building a proper set neck Les Paul style guitar. 

Enter the Chibson – A lot of amateur guitar builders are looking to these cheap LP style guitars to use as their base. Many of them come with stunning flame tops, binding, and other aesthetic embellishments that would not only take significant skill to install at home, but potentially weeks or months of construction time. By buying one with the intent of pulling off the cheap stock hardware and electronics, and replacing them with quality equipment, it’s possible to end up with a great looking guitar set up and equipped just the way you like it at a fraction of the cost of the real thing.

Value Assessment

When considering buying a Chibson, it’s super important to think about its overall value. It really is a case of risk vs reward. You may end up with a fantastic guitar for a tenth of the price of a real one, but there’s an equal (or greater) chance that you’ll end up with something that, at best, needs significant work to become a good guitar, or worse, arrives unplayable and unfixable.

When you’re calculating the risk, you’ll need to factor in the cost of the guitar itself, as well as any upgrades or modifications to the hardware or electronics. You’ll also need to think about how much you might need to spend on a setup or repairs from a guitar tech or luthier.

When you’ve added these costs up, you’ll probably find that you’re close to the price of a real Gibson Les Paul, albeit a lower end model like a Studio or Tribute, but still, you’d have the genuine article. Even if you’re not quite at Gibson money by that stage, you’ll be comfortably in brand new, mid to upper range Epiphone territory, with a warranty, a known return policy, and consistent quality control – something that’s definitely worth thinking about.

Is It Legal to Own or Buy a Chibson?

First and foremost, this is not legal advice. Our research tells us that the private party sale within the US, for personal use of a counterfeit guitar like a Chibson is unlikely to land you in any trouble, provided that it isn’t used for public performance. The big problem comes with ordering one from overseas. There’s a big chance that you could get yourself into hot water for knowingly importing counterfeit goods, so perhaps that $200 Les Paul might not be worth the trouble after all!

How to Spot a Chibson

There are some absolute giveaways that can immediately identify a Chibson, here are just a few of the biggest markers:

  • If the truss rod cover has more than 2 screws, it’s not genuine – Gibson has never made a 3+ screw truss rod cover
  • If the “Gibson” text on the headstock is excessively bold, it’s probably not real
  • If the fret markers aren’t perfectly aligned, there’s a good chance it’s a Chibson
  • If the binding doesn’t cover the fret edges, you’re looking at a counterfeit
  • If somebody is selling a number of “Gibson” guitars, ask to see every example. Look for inconsistencies, and in particular, check all of the serial numbers – counterfeiters often use the same exact serial number on every guitar they make in that style
  • If the price is below market average, stop and think – Gibsons hold their value better than most guitars. For example, if you see a Les Paul for sale for under $700, be very cautious about proceeding.

There are a number of other strong indicators that can help you to identify whether or not you’re looking at the real deal. Take a look at our piece about spotting a fake Les Paul to learn even more.

Final Thoughts on Chibson Guitars

Whether or not you choose to proceed with buying a fake Gibson, or “Chibson”, is up to you. At the end of the day, all you’re gaining by doing so is getting a headstock and a logo, and in many cases, the headstock and the logo will be some of the biggest giveaways as to the guitar’s authenticity! Even if you’re thinking about buying one as a mod platform, you’re still left with a guitar that’s difficult to sell on if you ever want to get rid of it, and there’s a good chance you’d end up spending a lot more than you’d think.

Buying replicas, fakes, counterfeits, whatever you want to call them, does harm the guitar industry. Companies spend more money trying to shut down the counterfeiters, which in turn leads to bigger overheads, and increased costs are passed on to the customer in price increases for instruments.

If you can’t afford a Gibson, give some serious thought instead to either buying a used genuine Gibson, or alternatively, one of the new “Inspired by Gibson” range of guitars from Epiphone, the only other maker licensed to officially make Gibson models under a different brand name. You’ll get an excellent quality guitar for a fraction of the price of the Gibson equivalent, and you’ll rest easy knowing that you haven’t contributed to organized crime.

  • Simon Morgan

    Simon is an Orlando based musician, but originally hails from Newcastle, England. He started playing bass and guitar in 1998, and played the local scene throughout his teen years before running away to work on ships. These days his passion is budget guitars, amps and pedals - though he's not afraid of the finer things.