The counterfeit string epidemic

Sadly, there’s a growing problem in the guitar world: counterfeit strings. If you buy strings regularly and have ever got what seemed like a great ‘multi-buy’ deal on eBay, then there’s a good chance you’ve already fallen victim.

The bottom line

The only way to be absolutely sure you’re buying genuine strings is to buy them from a reputable dealer (e.g. a trusted music shop) or direct from the manufacturer (e.g. from the D’addario website). You’ll also get better customer service from these places should you need a replacement or refund.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use eBay or Amazon if you exercise caution and conduct some due diligence on the seller…

The problem

Unscrupulous manufacturers are counterfeiting strings by major brands like Ernie Ball, D’addario and Elixir and passing them off as the real thing. These strings are rife on eBay in particular but can also be found on other online marketplaces including AliExpress and Amazon. The vast majority appear to originate from a certain country in East Asia.

Not only are the strings counterfeit, they’re poor quality and may not even be what you have ordered. They may be cheaper, but you’re still paying way more than they’re worth.

It can be almost impossible to tell a counterfeit set of strings from the real thing when buying online. There are telltale signs you could notice if you held the pack of strings in your hand – but you can’t do that when buying online. The picture you see is likely a picture of the real thing, so no clues there either.

Prevention: Things to look for before you buy


If you use eBay or Amazon to buy guitar strings, the most important thing to do is check who the seller is and make sure it is a shop or seller that you recognise and trust.

Don’t be fooled by banners that say ‘UK stock’, or the ‘Postage’ field which may say the item is ‘located in’ a UK city. Instead, click on the seller’s name and look at the ‘About’ information – this will often reveal the true source of the item.


Another key red flag is the price. In this context, the cliché is true: if the offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is!

Beware of ‘multi-buy’ offers with a Union Jack flag plastered all over them.

If the offer is for 3 sets of strings for somewhere in the region of £6-£10, be very wary.

Telltale signs of counterfeit strings

If you’ve already purchased strings, here are some signs that they may not be authentic:

Packaging – it can be hard to tell counterfeit packaging from the real thing unless you have an example of each for comparison. A counterfeit set will likely copy wording and graphics exactly but colours are often less vivid and printing less professional. The packaging itself may also feel less robust and, in particular, the vacuum packaging is poor compared to a genuine set. This means that the strings have not been stored in an optimum environment and are already compromised the minute you take them out of the pack. In a multi-pack of counterfeit Ernie Ball electric guitar strings that we tested, different strings (D, G, B and high E) repeatedly snapped at the saddle after only hours of use. When replaced by a genuine set the problem vanished

Gauge – string gauges are inconsistent and may not match the gauges advertised on the packet. If you have digital callipers, you can check this for yourself. For example, we have experienced .010-gauge strings in packs that should have been .009-gauge

Colour – the colour of the strings, particularly the wound strings, is duller. Again, this can be difficult to notice unless you have a genuine string with which to compare

Feel – many victims of counterfeit strings report that the strings feel greasier than normal, right out of the packet. The composition of the strings also cannot be guaranteed (some players have an allergy to nickel – which is often used in wound strings – and need nickel-free strings)

Sound – counterfeit strings can sound thinner or less bright than genuine strings, and may not hold their tuning as well

Quality – Counterfeit strings are often rolled up more tightly in the packet and can have kinks in them as a result. They also break more easily and may even snap during installation and initial tune-up. In one set of counterfeit D’addario acoustic guitar strings we tested, the high E string felt far too tight as it was being tuned up for the first time, and it snapped before the tuning had even reached C#/D.

In times of increased cost of living, cheap multi-packs of strings can seem like an attractive proposition. However, the sad reality is that sellers of counterfeit strings are only interested in defrauding you as a consumer and they have absolutely no concern for music or your instrument.

The more we (knowingly or unknowingly) buy counterfeit strings the more the price of genuine strings will be pushed up. Not to mention we are giving our hard-earned cash to criminals (counterfeiting is a crime!).

Let’s not subject our guitars, or ourselves, to counterfeit strings. Buy genuine and support reputable traders.

Selborne Guitars only uses authentic strings for electric, acoustic and bass guitars. We primarily (but not exclusively) use D’addario strings unless you prefer another brand.

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