If you read guitar forums online, you may well have heard members talking about Chibsons, and you could be forgiven for asking, “What is a Chibson?”.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ll take 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?
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.
The real reason Chibsons are so maligned is that they don’t just 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 (or Epiphone), there’s a Chibson equivalent. You can buy an SG, ES-335, ES-339, Firebird, Explorer, Flying V, or 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, etc. 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 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 avoid naming the Gibson brand or even the model name to avoid detection by the likes of Mark Agnesi. Instead, they’ll list the guitars 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, which allows them to disguise the fact that it’s clearly a counterfeit.
Is it Safe to Buy a Chibson?
There are a lot of dangerous assumptions that Chibson guitars are ones that “fell off the production line,” or that they are made after-hours and snuck out 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. It’s a recipe for poor guitars.
Lots of people have purchased 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, you’re not buying a factory-second or something made on the same shop floor. You’re buying a cheaply-made knockoff. It may seem like a great deal to get an identical-looking guitar for $200 as opposed to the $4000 cost of an original. But remember, that guitar most likely cost less than $10 to make. You can therefore safely assume it’s made with the cheapest components in existence.
Assuming you order your Chibson, and 3 to 4 weeks later it actually arrives, there’s a more than reasonable chance the overall build quality and the sound will be underwhelming. It’s 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 that 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. Even if the website doesn’t rip you off and actually sends the guitar as promised, there’s no guarantee it’ll make it through customs.
Where Can I Buy a Chibson?
If you came to this article looking for links to Chibson Guitars, you’re out of luck.
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 sites.
One of the most unnerving things about Chibsons 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 they aren’t the genuine article. Anybody buying sight-unseen may well fall victim to a bait-and-switch.
Actual stores aren’t always innocent, either. Pawn shops are havens for offloading Chibsons. Without the right clerk who knows what they’re dealing with, that guitar then gets sold 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 as a trade-in. And of course, trusting customers reasonably assume there’s no way their local guitar megastore would ever sell a fake.
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 counterfeits like Chibson Guitars are unlikely to land you in any trouble, so long as it isn’t used for public performance. The big problem comes with ordering one from overseas. There’s a big chance 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 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 the serial numbers. Counterfeiters often use the exact same 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 $800, be very cautious about proceeding
There are a number of other strong indicators that can help you to identify whether 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 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 the biggest giveaways as to the guitar’s authenticity!
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 alternately one of the new “Inspired by Gibson” range of guitars from Epiphone. They’re the only other maker officially licensed to make Gibson models under a different brand name. You’ll get an excellent quality guitar for a fraction of the price and you’ll rest easy knowing that you haven’t contributed to organized crime.