Counterfeit & Fake Musical Instruments & Other Dangers of the Internet!

“They can’t post it on the internet if it isn’t true.”

That was a line from a State Farm commercial several years ago that really stood out to me. The internet is this awesome tool for connecting people, products, services and more. The amount of information and connection that you hold in the palm of your hand is astronomical! The problem though is the “and more” section of the internet…

The “and more” section of the internet has made its ugly way in to the musical products industry and not always in the obvious way of the “fake” instruments out there. There has been a massive increase in the past few years of flat-out fake and/or counterfeit instruments hitting the market. These are instruments where they are using someone else’s registered and trademarked logo illegally and putting them on sub-par instruments in an obvious effort to defraud people out their money. Some of you reading this are thinking “surely no one actually falls for that” while others are saying “yeah, I fell for that”.

This is real folks… there are a TON of fake instruments out there. I have had numerous such instruments come in to our store and the customer be completely oblivious to the fact that the instrument that they thought they found such a good deal only to discover that they overpaid for a poorly made knock off.

While many of these fakes are pretty obvious if you look closely, some are not. For example, at the time of me writing this post, I found a seller on an auction site selling a supposed “YANAGISAWA A-WO37 Alto Saxophone Nickel Plated Gold Key Professional Super Sax” for only $339.00 brand new… This model has a USA Retail Price of $15,000+ at this moment (click here for most current pricing).

However, the seller is using photos of an actual AWO37, but you KNOW that they will not be sending the same instrument in the photo. How do I know? Well, for one, I have seen customers who have purchased from a similar sale (that used the same photos) that then sent me photos of what they received to verify their suspicions that they were defrauded. However, look at the description: “Nickel Plated Gold Key”… the AWO37 is NOT nickel-plated, but in reality Solid Sterling Silver with a clear lacquer coat.

However, the seller will ship an instrument that will have a nickel-plated body with gold key (so I guess they aren’t exactly “lying” about that) and the horn will have a fake Yanagisawa logo and say A-WO37 on it… but it will NOT be an authentic Yanagisawa AWO37.

OK, so I won’t buy an obvious fake using the “smell test” to sniff it out… I’m good right?

Sadly, no… there’s more!

Not only are there fake instruments, but there are also “Grey Market” & “Out of Market” instruments… this gets a little more complicated than the obvious fakes so bear with me while I unpack a little here… for the rest of this blog post, I am going to use Selmer Paris as my example because they are oft a target for all of the issues I am discussing, but also, they have been vocal about this topic themselves. However, we have seen counterfeits on many of the major brands including Buffet, Bach, Yamaha, Yanagisawa and more!

Authorized Sales Channels
As manufactures of any product branch out in to an international market, they will typically setup authorized sales channels. They will setup in each region of the world, a Distributor to act as their authorized sales channel and source for their products in a region. In the musical instrument industry, most (if not all) of the major manufacturers will set up “Exclusive Distributors” meaning that they are the ONLY authorized channel for a given market. Any dealer who then wants to provide official product must go through the distributor.

So for example, Henri Selmer Paris has set up a company called Conn-Selmer as their exclusive North American Distributor. So if any dealer in North America wants to purchase a Selmer Paris product, they go through Conn-Selmer as the exclusive distributor. The distributor is the one who is responsible for servicing the market for that product. Where this is really important is WARRANTY. Usually, the actual manufacturer is NOT who provides a “Manufacturer’s Warranty” on imported product but rather the Distributor.

So for instance, in the USA, the “Manufacturer’s Warranty” on a Selmer Paris saxophone is a 5 Year Warranty. So why is this understanding important? Read on…

Grey Market & Out of Market Channels
With the global market of the internet, you are not constricted by things such as distance. It is just as easy for a customer sitting on their couch to order something from Las Vegas as it is to order something from London or Beijing. Add in the ease of e-commerce with mobile devices and you have so many options. BUT, these options could be a bad thing, especially as it concerns your musical instrument.

Out of Market Sale
This is where an authorized dealer in one region ships product to a region where they are not an authorized seller. So a dealer in London for Selmer Paris, while an “Authorized Dealer”, it not authorized in the USA. So you are getting an authentic instrument, but you are not getting one that was intended to be sold in the USA. As I explained above, the warranty for many items is through the distributor. So, if we continue the Selmer Paris example… if you ordered a Selmer Paris saxophone from an Authorized Dealer in London, there would be a warranty – but it is not based in the USA as it came through another distribution channel. Instead, if you have a warranty issue, you have to send it back to London!

You being the smart consumer decided to then only purchase from someone based in the USA for the warranty… it’s not that simple either!

Grey Market Sale
There are sellers in the USA who are neither Authorized in the USA or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Instead, they will purchase an instrument abroad, ship it to their own facility/house/barn/storage unit here in the USA and then they will sell it online to customers. Just like the Out of Market sale, the Grey Market sale would NOT have the USA warranty but instead, have to ship back to the region it really came from (which is often more difficult for you to ascertain as many of these sellers do not advertise where they purchase from).

Grey Market Sales are also not quite legit when they tell you that you are getting a “New” instrument either. In reality, they are re-selling an instrument that THEY bought as a consumer. So while it might have ever been used, they are really re-selling something that they bought as a consumer, which by definition makes it NOT a “New” instrument. Understand, there’s nothing illegal about this, but it isn’t 100% truthful you call these instruments new as they are not warrantied in the market they are being resold in. Would you want to buy a car that was new and later find out that it wasn’t covered under warranty because the person you bought it from want an authorized dealer?

So How Do You Protect Yourself?
You have to do your research. On the fake/counterfeit instruments, use a bit of common sense… it something sells new for $5,000+ from authorized dealers and someone tells you that they have it for $400, it is pretty obvious that they are selling a fake. Also scrutinize the product! Many times there are obvious signs of it being fake, such as the logo, finish, features, etc… the fake instruments do not LOOK like the real thing! We try our best to have excellent photos of products on our site, trying to stay away from “stock” photos so that you can see what these instruments actually look like. Feel free to compare what you see on our site to scrutinize what others are selling.

In the case of the Grey Market and/or Out of Market Sales, you have to do your research. All of the major manufacturers have “dealer locators” on their websites. Check up on the dealer first to make sure they are truly able to offer you what you are looking for.

We obviously are an authorized dealer for all of the brands we offer. If you ever have a question about an instrument that we sell or perhaps one you see offered online that you are suspicious about, please feel free to reach out to me (Dave Kessler) via email at and I will be more than happy to help!