Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Play Real – Beware of counterfeit products

It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Unfortunately, today’s global market place has seen imitation taken to a whole new level. I am referring to the flagrant counterfeiting of popular brands of consumer merchandise from hand bags, watches, pens, jeans and yes, guitar strings.

Initially, counterfeit versions of D’Addario branded music strings were easily identifiable. The packaging materials, print quality and the quality of the actual product were noticeably inferior. Today, with the help of high-resolution scanners and computer software, the counterfeiters have mastered the art and science of duplicating packaging. In many cases, our own quality control staff has to use high-power magnification to discern a fake from an authentic D’Addario string package.

Distinguishing between the fake and the real strings is another story. The quality of the counterfeit strings themselves has not improved appreciably. They are still primarily hand-wound strings on unsophisticated machinery, made by unskilled workers using inferior materials. This poses a serious threat to our brand equity and our loyal customers. Most of the counterfeit strings we have tested cannot even be tuned to pitch and do not have any of the quality attributes of a properly-designed and consistently-manufactured music string.

Counterfeit strings are now finding their way onto websites and now into legitimate music stores all over the world. Recently, we have found fake D’Addario string sets in the UK, Germany, Brazil, Greece, Turkey, Romania and many more. A recent survey of over 100 retail stores in four Chinese cities indicated that many shops had genuine D’Addario strings, but a majority also had counterfeit versions. It is almost impossible for the consumer to discern the difference by simply looking at the packaging.

In response to this threat, we have been working diligently on many fronts to combat this illegal and unethical activity.

1. We have hired investigators and lawyers to identify and raid manufacturers (primarily in The People’s Republic of China at this time).

2. We have raided three string producers that were caught with D’Addario and other popular brands of musical strings and packaging in various stages of manufacture. We will continue this investigation and enforcement approach.

3. We have been in active dialog with the U.S. Commerce Department, the State Department, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office and the International Trade Commission. Recently, the Senate Finance Committee requested that the ITC investigate China’s intellectual property infringement policies and make a report to Congress on the economical impact their lack of enforcement is having on the U.S. economy. I testified at a hearing for this investigation and illustrated the effects that the counterfeiting of our product is having on our company, particularly in our ability to create and maintain new job opportunities and grow our share of the domestic Chinese music string market.

4. In the summer of 2009, we began converting all guitar string product over to a new inner package that includes a unique serial number on each and every set of strings. After one year, a majority of the inventory on distributor and retailer shelves now has this new serial number technology. This number resides in an accessible database so that consumers, retailers, distributors and customs officials can actually go to and determine if the set of strings they have in their hand has a legitimate ‘Play-Real’ serial number in our database.

5. We have begun a Play D’Addario/Play Real marketing campaign in selected markets to help raise awareness to the problem and to educate our users on how to identify fake D’Addario strings.

With over a dozen family members active in the management of our company, D’Addario has endeavored to set the bar for musical accessory quality. We pride ourselves on the consistency in quality that we build into the design of our products and the processes we use to manufacture them. We also stand behind our products and openly welcome our customers to return any D’Addario branded string or accessory they purchase that does not perform to their expectations.

In the past two, years we have seen an increase in the number of defective strings being returned that are in fact counterfeit product. In each case, we will replace defective strings at no cost to you (whether they are genuine or fake). We ask our customers to cooperate with us in tracking down the source of any counterfeit products we receive from them. This dialogue is a huge help to us and we encourage you to communicate with us if ever you have difficulty with any our products.

We also ask that you consider these points when making string purchases:

• Most counterfeiters supply their products online. If you see an unbelievably low price advertised for any of our products, there is a very good chance the products being offered are not genuine. Ask questions and report unusually advertised prices to us at so we can investigate.

• All D’Addario products you may purchase online from a Chinese source at low prices are invariably counterfeit. It is virtually impossible for a legitimate importer or retailer of D’Addario strings in Asia to offer lower prices than are offered in your native market place. On most sites, such as eBay for instance, the country of origin for the sale is available to you. Remember, the unethical business people making counterfeit products have no issue with putting Made and Printed in USA on their product, even if it is not. Do not be fooled by the packaging.

• Look for the D’Addario Play-Real serial number printed on the inner corrosion protection bag for all our string sets. If there is a number on the set, go online and check to see if it is legitimate. Help us by informing us of any sets with serial numbers that are not legitimately coded into our database.

We are never going to completely purge the global market place of the unethical and illegal practice of counterfeiting, but together we can probably control this menace.

We appreciate your cooperation and consideration.

Yours truly,

Jim D’Addario


  1. Good luck with this Jim. Hard to believe people these days. God Bless you guys. I am proud to support the REAL products from the great D'Addario company. MADE IN THE USA!

  2. I am proud to use real D'Addario products. Counterfeiters suck.

  3. Let's not tar all Chinese producers with the same brush (Jim doesn't). A legitimate factory building to a company's specs with fair labour practices is just a stimulus to trade. As Jim points out, the Chinese domestic market can be huge, and well-paid Chinese workers will buy these products.

  4. I have been using D'Addario sets for my mandolas, but have an odd stringing that requires that I purchase plain steel singles. The loop end singles I have gotten have been okay, but when I switched to ball-end (because of availability) I started to see a LOT more breaking, with the same gauges. Now I suspect I know why.

    How exactly do we help D'Addario track this? These singles were purchased in US retail stores.

  5. I can't believe my eyes, all mayor web shops in The Netherlands (unknowingly) sell these counterfeit strings.
    A Google image search on "D'Addario EXL 120" shows more images of the counterfeit packaging then genuine packaging.

  6. If you think buying a cheap knockoff is an innocent act, consider that there's ample evidence of links to organized crime and even terrorist groups that support their activities through counterfeit good. Counterfeit products cost legitimate businsses $600 billion a year globally. If a dealer sells you a counterfeit set of strings, or anything else, report it to the manufacturer.

  7. Disgusting behavior. It's on the same level as counterfeit bills.
    * I wouldn't play on any other strings. D'Addario on all my string instruments.

  8. In The Netherlands I see bootleg CDs & DVDs everywhere...with obviously poorly printed sleeves. So, Jim & Peter, et al...I will start checking the stores in A'dam, R'dam, etc for fake D'Addario string packages. If you have any other tips for ID'ing these things, feel free to shoot me an email ( I love a good investigation!

  9. A difficulty in locating counterfeiters online would be the ability to discern between the real D'Addario packaging and the fake. In some of the the searches you are performing online, you may be seeing real D'Addario product; just an older version of it. To try to help you guys out a bit, let me review the images above the blog for you in hopes that it gives you some tips while looking.

    First, the counterfeit on the left is in a vinyl pouch. All of our popular sets were changed to the current envelope in 2002. We only have three electric sets that still require a vinyl pouch: XL155, XL156, and XL157. All of these have an updated look to reflect our current logo and packaging. This particular set would have been in a store before 2002 or is a print out of our packaging placed in a vinyl pouch. It is the latter.

    Second, if you look at counterfeit set on the right, you will see a black line breaks the two parts of the X in half. Our packaged sets do not have this. You will also see that the purple used in the XL and the circle around it is not a solid color. Their version has some light and dark printing within it. This would be a poorly reproduced package as we have solid purple with no variations.

    The best way to really make sure that you are getting an authentic D'Addario product is to be aware that this problem exists, and to use all of the tools we are making available to you including the serial numbers on this inside of packaging and the Play Real website. You can visit our play real site at

    You can be reasonably sure that any online D’Addario strings originating from Asia (predominantly PRC) that are at unusually low prices are not authentic. If the deal is ‘too good to be true’ it is usually a fraud – shop cautiously. If you suspect that an online retailer or a brick and mortar retailer in your country is perhaps selling counterfeit product you should ask him where he gets his supply of D’Addario strings. If the answer is Asia, beware, and if appropriate, notify us about the situation, we will investigate.

    If you ever have doubts as to the authenticity of product you are purchasing online, you can contact us at and we will try to assist you.

    Keep the comments coming! We appreciate all of the support.

  10. I have been very lucky to get D'Addario strings for my instruments. I play the mandolin most of the time. I use the EXP 75's on my F-5 Dearstone which Ray built for me 14yrs.ago and I have never broke a string that is awesome!. These are great strings. I play hard. I'm glad I have not had the problems others have had. These are great great strings! A great user! Jim Sullivan. E-mail-

  11. Just letting you know I posted your info on the European Bluegrass Music Association blog. I took the liberty of converting some text to simpler language (though minimal) in order to make it easier for folks in various countries to read. Stay tuned!

  12. Selwyn Yates - AustraliaSeptember 30, 2010 at 6:46 AM

    Yep, they got me....
    Bought 10 sets of EXL110s off ebay. First thought something was amiss when I had to completely re-tension my tremelo...the bottom E plays more like a 42 than a 46 and they sound bloody terrible.
    I'll also mention not to even trust the packaging recommended at the top of this page...mine matched it perfectly! As a player for 30+ years, I'm freaking out....just who can I trust when buying strings now?

  13. Now a days imitations is easy to make because of new technologies, but its better to stick on the original.

  14. I love the quality of your strings and I am very unhappy to hear about the conterfiting. The key to your strings is in the package. Go after them!

  15. i have been using EJ26 and EJ16's for a long time, lately i have had problems.
    the EJ26 have discoloation on the strings, it appears the color from the ball end is running onto the strings while in the packages or it's rust?.
    the EJ16 have been separating at the ball end on fresh install.
    i have always told my custoners that i prefer D'Addario over all others.
    i sometimes find myself having to use 2 packs of strings for one setup.
    i quote a price for repairs upon inspection of the guitar and cannot pass this expense to customers.
    are the EJ26 and EJ16's being counterfited?
    i buy my strings from Musicians Friend.
    thank you for the heads up.
    kenny hughes

  16. It`s a sad sad world isn`t it.Now we musicians even have to worry about counterfit d`addario strings.My friends as Jim D`Addario said: if it`s too good to be true,it`s too good to be true...

  17. cyina and all country's that these negitive string or anythang ,comes out of ,is a sham on said country....for cheap is discusting to any at to whom strive for higher leveles of IMPROVMENT.........20yrs I only use the D,ssssssss.....thnx lsf CA,julian.....

  18. Sorry to hear you guys are being "flattered" this way! And hard to believe people would actually bother to counterfeit guitar strings! I would think there can't be much profit in it, but I guess I'm wrong. I've used D'Addario strings for
    over 25 years, and always recommend them over all others. I guess the lesson is "know your retailer, and buyer beware". Yup, if it's too good to be true, it's too good to be true! Good luck to the D'Addario family and company in this endeavor!!

  19. As a bass player for 20 years having to voice
    everything from Frank Sinatra to Larry Graham,
    I needed strings of ultimate versatility. After
    trying every brand on the market, my choice was
    D'Addario XL-170's. The intonation, tone, and
    fidelity cannot be duplicated by anyone. The
    thought that some would attempt to copy a
    masterpiece creation disgusts me. NO ONE,
    anywhere in the world, can accomplish such a
    feat. Try as they may, they will all fail.
    May God and Jim D'Addario have mercy on their
    miserable souls. Long live XL-170's!!

  20. I live in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and use only D'Addario strings.
    You can be sure I'll report any case of suspicion.
    Congratulations for you efforts.

  21. I wonder if these are the said conterfeit??

  22. Jim & Brian, thank you for this very important information! Players, don't be fooled by mere images though. As owner of webshop in the Netherlands I can guarantee that we sell the genuine product although you may have seen a fake image of counterfeit packagings in the past. We get our D'Addario's from authorised European dealers only, not from China. Just to make sure that every one knows what the real ones look like we replaced all (fake or old versions) images by the genuine ones. As Anonymous September 23, 2010 3:52 PM said: the internet is loaded with counterfeit images. That doesn't necessarily mean a (web)shop doesn't sell you the real thing.

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  24. I have gone through your post on counterfeit products which is very informative
    While i was incisive through search engines , i found site solution for counterfeit products.

  25. Jim,


    Thanks for the information. I found out about this through the folks at Weber Mandolins. We'll let others know to keep an eye out for counterfeits.

  26. Ive used ej16s since they first came out,i cant find a better string,ive tried them all,i will only buy them from my local guitar store because i know the staff personally and their well earned reputation is at stake,any problems,they sort it out straight away,no fuss.

  27. I've used Pro Arte EJ46 Hard Tensions for a long time on my classical. Bought a set off off Ebay last week, when they arrived the packaging didn't look or feel right to me, without even opening the string pouch I put the serial number into the Play Real website and sure enough it came back as counterfeit. I also inspected the packaging very carefully and on the back of the box instead of the words EJ46 Pro-Arte it said EJ46 POR-Arte, big spelling mistake there by the counterfeiters. I contacted Daddario UK in Newcastle who dealt with the problem very swiftly and professionally(credit to them) I received a replacement box set today. Lesson learnt and I will only buy from Daddario authorised suppliers in future. Still the best strings in the world as far as I'm concerned. JS

  28. I recently purchased a few sets of EXL110s from a local shop (Va, USA) and noticed immediately that the strings weren't right. The metal was darker and the strings never laid out flat when I uncoiled them, still had a pretty severe curve to them. I figured maybe they had just been on the shelf fo too long and went ahead and put them on a couple of guitars. They absolutely will not stay in tune. So I decided to go to the playreal page and put in the code. It's an authentic code, but has already been used. Looks like the shop and I have been had. The thing is, the outer packaging has no discernable signs of it being counterfeit, although the inner packet is missing the quality code. I will be visiting the store and letting them know they need to pull the strings down.

  29. Why can't I or anyone else find where the hell you can check the serial no.s.

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