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Background of Burny
Both Burny and Fernandes are the same company. Fernandes started off first in the 70's making Fender replicas. The brand Burny was birth later by Fernandes as the division that made Gibson replicas. To date, both Fernandes and Burny are still making guitars just like their Tokai counterparts.
When it began in the 70's, there were no problems with copyright issues. This saga only surfaced a decade later in the mid 80's when Fender and Gibson felt that their empire was threatened. To avoid the copyright war, Fernandes began to make changes to certain parts of their design like truss rod cover, shape etc.
Changes to Fender Copies
These modification taken on by Fernandes extended to both the Strat and Tele copies. After the lawsuit threats emerged, Fernandes most obvious change was to their headstock shapes - it was changed completely. The rare old Fender copies are extremely detailed, though no longer in production, can still be found in the vintage market. These vintage copies were commonly known as the “Revival” series. This name was given because they were essentially reviving the old classic Fenders. The headstock logo was design such that from a distance it looked just like a vintage Fender. The saddles were stamped, instead of the word "Fender" the "F.S.R.G." alphabets took its place. These alphabets stand for Fernandes Sound and Research Group.
For the Burnys, the LP models were given the name “Super Grade” instead of “Les Paul.” The wording were crafted to look just the words "Les Paul". If you are not familiar with the "Super Grade" series, you may mistaken the words as "Luper Grade" due to it's attempt to model the words "Les Paul". For the Gibson copies, fortunately the most part of the design stayed the same. E.g., angle ratio between body and neck, curves on the maple top, and even the open book design on the headstock.
The Burny Super Grade Les Paul’s have been reported by many recording and gigging professionals as “the best” clone of the real classic 50’s and 60’s Les Paul’s. They say the feel is identical and especially enjoy how Burny focused on making really fat necks on their Standards. Some go as far as claiming that these copies matches neck to neck with a vintage Les Paul - which cost around US$30,000.
The Different Burny Series
Burny models that with RLG-XX. The XX were numbers that indicated the guitar series. The bigger number means the better the guitar in terms of sound and finishing qualities. Take the LP Standard copy for example, there are the RLG-45, RLG-55, RLG-70, RLG-90 etc, the best being the "Super Grade" model made in Japan. However, do note that there are models that are made in Korea. I wouldn't fault the Korean version since they are much cheaper in comparison to those made in Japan. However, if you would just compare the 2 makes in terms of quality, the Korean version does not come close to the Japanese version.
There are also the Burny FLG-XX series. These are known to be older versions of Burny - pre RLG era. An estimate timeline of their birth would be early 80s and before.
About Burny and Fernandes pickups
Amongst all the different lawsuit copies, Burny and Fernandes have the best pickups. Fernandes had their L-5000, L-5000 Vintage II, and L-5001 single coil pickups, while the Burny model Les Paul’s got the famous VH-1 pickups, that have extraordinary tone. The only reason why they have come this far in their tone is because of the timeless effort they have put in R&D.
The older Fernandes guitars do have serial numbers on occasion, and can be found on the neck plates of the Stratocasters of the Revival series, but otherwise, Burny and Fernandes didn’t often use serial numbers. Dating a Burny or Fernandes can be loosely done by looking at the truss rod cover. The Gibson bell-shaped covers are found on 1970’s to early 1980’s models. The bell-shape cover with thin white band and ridges sticking out from the side are found on mid-1980s to early 1990’s models. The late 90's model to present will have the palace-shape and 3 screws truss rod covers.
As mentioned, Burny is still making these guitars in Japan. However, some of these are manufactured in Korea and China. Most believe that the Korean/China made Burny is identified through a 3 screws truss rod covers. However we have found that new Japanese made Burny comes with 3 screws truss rod covers too. So how do we tell? As far as we have researched, the difference is that the Japanese models have long tennon - this can be seen in the joint construction when you remove the neck pickup.
Between the Korean and China made pieces, many believe the Korean model is slightly above the notch. But this is unproven. The Japanese made pieces are still the models to go for.
The old “lawsuit” style models are very rare to find nowadays, and are highly collectible. Even in Japan, prices are double of what they were 2 years ago due to collector interest all over the world.
I have seen on a couple of occasions where some sellers try to modify a Korean version and claim it to be a Japanese model. So if you are buying from the internet, be very careful. Especially when the 2 make can only be differentiated from the truss rod cover it is hard to tell by just photos.