Fake Fender American Telecaster

READ THIS FIRST: What you are about to see is the comparison of a couple of real Fender Telecasters to a counterfeit (fake) Telecaster, most likely made in China.  This does not show every known tell-tale sign of a fake Telecaster, because counterfeiters have no standards to which they adhere.  Mistakes made on one fake may not be present on another fake.

In Canada, treasury officers in charge of identifying counterfeit bills do not spend time studying fake Canadian bills, they spend their time studying real Canadian bills.  In much the same way, the only way to feel comfortable in spotting a counterfeit guitar is by studying the real thing, and getting to know it well enough that errors made by counterfeiters will be obvious.

This article addresses one, and only one, counterfeit Fender Telecaster.  The counterfeit you encounter may have different discrepancies from the genuine Fender Telecaster.

For the sake of comparison, the three guitars used in this article are a real Fender American Standard Telecaster (green), a real Fender Squier Telecaster made in Indonesia (cream colored), and a counterfeit American Telecaster (red).

Let's start by looking at the headstocks.

This is a real Fender American Standard Telecaster headstock.  Note the serial number is on the face of the headstock, and the serial number is clear, and sharply defined.  The hole for the truss rod is trimmed with wood, and about the same color wood as the "skunk stripe" (truss rod filler piece) on the back of the neck.  Also, look at the nut.  It's a close fit, even on both sides with the edge of the neck.  The finish on the headstock is smooth, and the finish gives the wood a polished look.   The string tree on this one is solid, well made, and good quality.  This one says "MADE IN U.S.A", and it was.  From 1976 forward, all real FenderTelecasters have the serial number on the face of the headstock.

Here's the fake Telecaster headstock. The serial number is not on the face of the headstock.  The rim around the truss rod hole is black plastic.  The nut is a poor fit, and while you can't see it very well in the photo, it protrudes slightly past the edge of the neck.  Fender wouldn't allow a nut like that out of the factory.  Also, there's adhesive crudded up just above the top level of the nut.  It's the white stuff that has oozed up from the nut on the headstock side. The finish is very glossy, and while you can't really see it, the finish has air bubbles and flaws that make it obvious whoever applied this finish wasn't working by Fender standards.  Remember, Fender pays quality control folks to watch for bad workmanship, and they weed out most of it. Occasionally a flaw will get past them, but not this many in one guitar.   The string tree on this headstock is cheap, thin, and flimsy.  It's a thin, cheap stamping.  This one says "MADE IN U.S.A.", and it definitely wasn't.

Here are the two, side by side.  You can see the fake in this photo (the top one) has the nut extending beyond the edge of the neck.  Note the difference in the placement of the Fender logos.  Note how clean and crisp the print on the real Fender is, and how the print on the fake Fender looks sort of blocky, and a little blurred.

Here's the back of both headstocks.  The real Fender has no writing on it, and the fake Fender has "Serial Number XXXXXX" printed on it.  (Placement of the serial number does not necessarily relate to real or counterfeit.)  That print is actually a decal made from a photocopy, so the text is somewhat blurred. (There's a better photo of this coming up.)  The real Fender neck (bottom) has a slot routed into it so the truss rod can be inserted, and that slot is filled with a contrasting color wood.  The fake neck (top) has the skunk stripe painted on, with black paint.  Careful examination will show where the stripe was taped off before the paint was sprayed on.   There is a slight difference in the shape of the curve of the headstocks where they flow into the necks.  The shape of the fake headstock is inconsistent with the shape of a real American Tele, shown at the bottom.  However, the shape of the fake one is very similar to some Fender import Telecasters.  Apparently the counterfeiter used an import Fender as a pattern when making the headstock design.

Whether the serial number belongs on the front or the back of the headstock is a bit of a toss-up, and it depends on the year on manufacture, as well as the exact model of the Telecaster you're examining.   Consulting a good, reliable guide such as Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars is always a good idea.  As we understand it, the N9 series was the last of the American serial numbers to be on the front (face) of the headstock.  From year 2000 and up, the serial numbers were on the back of the headstock.

Here's the fake Fender headstock.  Note that the words "SERIAL NUMBER" are blurred to the point of being almost illegible.  Fender makes these words very clear and distinct, the counterfeiters cannot reproduce crisp lettering using their methods.  For what its worth, the serial number on the back of this headstock is consistent with a real American Tele from the year 2000.  One more tell, though it's a bit hard to see:  Fender lines up their tuners exactly.  On this headstock, the uppermost tuning key is slightly out of line, and points toward the tuner for the A string.   Also, the metal circles that say "Fender" on the back of the tuners are scratched up, and the rest of the headstock is not.  That's a sure sign the tuners were crummy looking before they were installed.

The knobs on a real American Telecaster have flat tops, and are mounted to the pot shaft with a set screw.

The knobs on this fake Tele have dome tops, and no set screws.  They attach by just pushing them on to the shaft of the control pots.  Now, domed, push-on knobs don't mean a Tele is a fake, but it definitely means it's not American made.  American Teles have flat top knobs with set screws, as shown above.  Real Fender import Teles have the dome top, push-on knobs, just like this fake.  This leads us to believe the counterfeiters may have used copies of real Fender knobs made for imports.  The Indonesian SquierTele also had the domed, push-on knobs, as an import would be expected to have.

Next, let's take a look at the bridge of a real American Telecaster.  The things to note here are the flat, squared off bridge saddles, the black saddle adjustment screws that go straight back, and the fact you can't see the ball ends of the strings.  That's because the strings on a real Telecaster, all real Telecasters, regardless of origin, go through the body, and into ferrules in the back.

Here's the real Fender import Squier Telecaster, made in Indonesia. There are a few minor difference in appearance between the import bridge and the American bridge, but the three important features are the same: Flat, squared off bridge saddles, black adjustment screws pointing straight back, and no ball ends visible, because the are visible only from the back of the body.

Oh, boy.  Here's the bridge on the counterfeit Telecaster. It has the wrong bridge saddles (round, not flat), the ball ends are visible because the strings don't pass through the body, and the adjuster screws are completely wrong for a real Tele.  If you look just under of the big E string, just in front of the rear lip of the bridge, you'll see a hole where the string would pass if this was a real Tele, and the body was drilled.  The counterfeiter may have used a real import bridge, but he used the wrong saddles, and didn't drill the body.   By the time he did all the right things, his cheap knock-off wouldn't be so cheap.  It takes time and money to drill the body, gather all the right parts, and so on.

Here's our genuine Fender Squier Tele again.  Like all American Telecasters from the late 1980's up to now, this Telecaster has 22 frets.  (That last dot is at the 21st fret.)  There are some Fender Teles that have 21 fret necks in later production, but they are Japanese, Mexican, and Custom production necks.  The American Standard Tele and the import Standard Tele, for almost three decades, has had 22 frets, as shown here.Notice also the thin frets, and the exact, finely finished fret work.

Here's the counterfeit American Tele.  21 frets, not the 22 that should be there.  Note the fatter frets, and the rather clunky looking finish work.  The ends of the frets are poorly finished.

If you have a Phillips screwdriver, you can easily check the controls and see if they are American or import. Remove two screws, one on each far end of the chrome control plate, and you'll see a three way pickup switch.  On a real Fender American Telecaster, It's a round, brown fiber switch as shown above.  The volume and tone pots are almost as wide as the control plate, and the tone knob is stacked (two pots on one shaft). The round, brown switch and the large pots are earmarks of an American Tele.

Here's our Indonesian made Fender Squier Tele. Because it's an import, it has much smaller diameter pots, the tone pot is not stacked, and the three way switch is square, and mounted on a circuit board.  This is characteristic of all import Teles.  This real import Tele has a "Cor-Tek" switch, and "Alpha" pots.

Here's our fake "American" Tele.  Remember that "MADE IN U.S.A." sticker on the headstock?  These small pots and the circuit board switch are dead give-aways that this guitar is not American.  Our fake has import style controls and switches.  There's no way these controls ever came on an American Fender, as this guitar claims to be.

Okay, our last counterfeiting blunder is pretty major.  Some things, such as the appearance of a finish, or the ends of a fret, may be sort of subjective, and hard to define.  The Tele output jack, though, is a a definite identifier for a real Tele.  Notice the real American Tele shown in the photo above.  This jack is round, and recessed.  Every real Tele ever made has a jack like this.

Here's our imported Indonesian product Squier Tele.  It's real, it's got the round, recessed jack.

Here's our fake Tele output jack. Look real to you?  No?  Good, this is definitely not a Tele output jack.  Not only is it a flush fit instead of recessed, and square instead of round, it's not even a good fit. See that gap between the body and the jack?  If Teles did have this sort of jack (which they don't), Fender quality control would never allow this gap to get out of the factory without being closed.  Even if you don't know what a real Tele jack looks like, the poor fit should be a red flag that this guitar has issues.

One last telling detail; all real Teles have the date of manufacture on the end of the neck, as shown here with the Squier neck.  The same date is also marked inside the neck pocket.   On the fake Tele, the end of the neck has no date markings, and the neck pocket has no date markings.

There are lots and lots of other details on the fake Tele that don't agree with a real Tele, but this gives you a pretty good overview of some of the major differences.  Making a fake that looks just like the real thing would involve a lot more machine work, more drilling and routing, better parts, and more quality control.  In short, by the time the fake was made to be just like the real thing, the price would have to go up to the point that the profit potential of making the fake was gone.

This article was compiled with information gained from interviews with Fender experts Tony Foster and Chris Curry, and with reference materials such as Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars (1st and 2nd editions), and personal experience.  This should not be considered as a definitive guide to spotting fake Telecasters, but rather as a guide as to how we were able to spot this one. The inconsistencies, parts deficiencies, and other issues we found may change from counterfeit to counterfeit, but the general idea of spotting a fake will remain the same:  Make yourself familiar with what the genuine article looks like, and if anything looks suspect, investigate further.


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