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How To Spot A Counterfeit Guitar: Martin D-45 Forgery vs. A Real Martin Triple O-45 with Ron Jones, Luthier

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Ron Jones, head luthier at Cream City Music has been a full time professional luthier for thirty plus years and has accumulated a large body of knowledge with regards to the repair, maintenance and upkeep of guitars of all types.

Additionally, he's seen literally thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of guitars and quite a few Martin guitars. He came across a particularly unusual Martin D-45 the other day and thought it would be a perfect learning tool to help people who may encounter a guitar that either looks or is represented as an expensive brand but suspect something may not be quite right.




Ron Jones

Here are key things to look for when buy Martins or other high line acoustic guitars of any brand or model.

  • Overall finish: Uneven, too shiny finish that is showing grain lifting or grainy streaks. Martin  finishes are smooth and deep looking. 
  • Crudely cut, sound-hole
    • Rough edges; out of round
  • Dead Giveaway #1: A wrong size truss adjustment. In this case a 4mm vs 5mm, and exposed at cross-brace which is also not a Martin attribute.
  • Purfling (or decorative edging) around the guitar's top is one continuous piece on this copy indicating that it's a piece of vinyl or plastic instead of mother of pearl or abalone. 
    • Abalone/Mother of Pearl inlay is made from many small pieces of shell and cannot be continuous.
  • Brand and In-soundhole markings: Although the instrument may have seemingly correct brand label and interior markings in the soundhole, look closer at them. 
    • You'll most likely notice the work to be poorly and inconsistently done.
  • Dead Giveaway #2: Wrong inlay for this model on the neck
    • Martin D-45s do not have tree of life
    • The neck inlay tree of life is a combination of mother of pearl and vinyl. 
    • The white 'tree' part is vinyl. Flower parts are abalone.
  • Back and sides of this guitar are laminated. How do you tell?
    • You can tell by looking at the inside and then outside wood grain & color in the same spot on the guitar.
    • They will differ, meaning the wood is a laminate, not solid.
  • The bridge: Martin rounds off corners and the bridge saddle fits tight. This is not the case on the forgery
  • The bridge plate: under the bridge is a solid piece of wood on Martins. 
    • On this copy, it is clearly a laminate as evidenced by a peek inside of the sound-hole.
  • Inlay dots along the side of the neck should be evenly cut with no off colorations around each dot. Not the case on the copy
  • Dead Giveaway #3: Lack of proper stain color on the neck. 
    • Martin always stains the mahogany necks a darker color. 
    • Although this guitar does have a mahogany neck, the maker has left the neck color much lighter. 

                                                                    Which is which?

Best Places To Look For A Counterfeit Guitar

Uneven, too glossy finish. 

Rough, uneven sound hole cut

Continuous vinyl purfling strip

Poorly done or inconsistent labeling or model markings

Crudely cut bridge with sharp edges, ill-fitting bridge saddle slot

Uneven, messy neck dot markers

Wrong mahogany stain for a Martin. Martin uses a much darker tint.

On a real Martin, a triple-0 45:

  • Martin uses real abalone mother of pearl shell sections on the logo that have a depth and sparkle that a thin veneer can't duplicate.
  • The real Triple 0 Martin logo is the same shape/size as on the forgery but the copy is just a very thin veneer instead of the deeper Martin inlay work.
  • The Martin Triple 0-45's purfling inlay along the soundhole, along the neck and around the sides of the top has a different piece of abalone every inch or so due to the small size of abalone shells sections. 
  • The purfling on the back and top is also thinner in width on a real Martin - again, that's the size of real abalone inlay.

We sincerely hope this helps illuminate what is a dark corner of the guitar world. Many purchasers buy instruments sight unseen off the internet. If this blog/article assists even a single guitar buyer, we've done our work. If you are in the position of buying an instrument you are not 100% sure of, please contact us (800-800-0087) - we'd be happy to help vet it for you as part of our set of services.