History Channel’s Pawn Stars is Fake

History's Pawn StarsI watched a rerun of History’s (cable’s newest reality television network) Pawn Stars the other night. (Season 2; Episode 5). In this episode a man named Rod brought in — what he “believed” to be — his 1960 Les Paul Custom guitar. Rod claimed to have gotten the guitar during the 1980s while touring with bands Toto and Triumph.

I got curious as to just who he was in relation to those two bands, so I hit the internet to investigate. What I found was not exactly a surprise, even if it was a disappointment.

The segment was completely staged. The guitar used in the show belonged to local Las Vegas vintage guitar store, Cowtown Guitars. The “customer” was played by an employee of that same store. And the “expert” brought in to appraise it was yet another Cowtown Guitar employee/manager. (Exposé credit goes to the guitarphiles in the Les Paul Forums.)

The customer named Rod in the Pawn Stars episode is actually Rod Miller of Cowtown Guitars in Las Vegas, where he is employed at as a luthier. How long he has worked there, I do not know. But I found evidence of his employment there fourteen months before the first episode of Pawn Stars ever aired. (See Exhibit A below.)

Rod Miller from Cowtown Guitars

Exhibit A

1972 Les Paul Custom on Pawn Stars

Exhibit B


Jesse, the guitar expert in the episode that identified the guitar as being from 1972, can be found on Cowtown Guitar’s website as one of the store’s principal contacts.

With respect to the guitar, as of March 2011, it was still listed (as sold) on Cowtown Guitar’s website. Note the same identical buckle rash in the website photo as in the episode clip below. (See Exhibit B above.)

But it does not end there. I found another episode that used more Cowtown inventory to stage a segment. In season 2, episode 14, a “customer” trades an 18th century French double-barreled shotgun for a 1978 Gibson Les Paul. Although Rick’s expert appraises the shotgun for $10,000, the owner settles for “$4,000 worth of guitar.” The customer had previously stated he was looking for a high end guitar — and it just so happened Rick had one in the back, which he admitted to never putting on display.

Meanwhile, over at Cowtown Guitars, there was a 1979 Gibson Les Paul for sale, identical in every way except for the year. (Click here to view Exhibit C.) Coincidence? Eh, probably not.

So, if the guitar was a setup, that means the transaction was a setup. And by way of the transitive property, it means the gun and customer must also be setups. In other words, the entire segment was duplicitous and a complete fabrication. (My guess is that the gun was brought in by the gun expert, himself.)

Still do not believe the show is completely fake? If the misrepresentations of these two segments involving three mundane pieces were not enough to cast aspersions over the entire series for you, you are in luck; because there is more.

There is proof of fraud as early as season one, episode eight, entitled Time Machines.

Rick Harrison buys a 1950s Coca-Cola machine to refurbish. Rick Dale of Rick’s Restorations is enlisted to restore the machine. (You might also know Rick Dale from History’s American Restoration.) The finished result is beautiful, indeed. However, there is one small problem. It is not the same machine.

Pawn Stars: Restored Coca-Cola Machine is Fake

In fact, it is not even the same model. The machine on the left is identified as a Vendo 39. But the restored machine on the right is a Cavalier 79. The dimensions of the two machines are not even the same.

This was noticed by a Gulf Oil memorabilia collector who also claimed to recognize another piece on the show. Rick’s Big Bet (Season 1; Episode 10) had a Wayne gas pump that, again, was taken to Rick’s Restorations after purchase from the “customer.”

Wayne Gas Pump on Pawn Stars

From a letter written to Rick Dale of Rick’s Restorations:

One more thing – that gas pump you restored for the Pawn Stars…funny, the man that sold that pump to you years ago is a friend of mine! (Small world, right?) Anyway, he was watching the show with his wife, and – in his words – he almost fell out of his chair when he saw that pump. His wife actually recognized it! I mean, what are the odds that a pump you bought got sold unrestored to someone, who just happened to bring it into that Pawn Shop – only for them to buy it and return it to you for restoration? They’d have to be astronomical!

[Updated Aug. 15, 2011]

I received an email a while back, which brought my attention to another likely fabricated segment: The 18th-Century flintlock from (again) the first season’s Time Machines episode (S01:E08). The customer–named simply Jim–is actually Jim Waters, a local Las Vegas comedian and actor, and “one of the founders of a Las Vegas Group called Film and Television artists of Las Vegas.” I was told Jim was hired for the scene, and that the acting agency he is with often receives submissions for actors to work on the show.

Jim Waters on Pawn StarsJim Waters Film and Television Artists of Las Vegas

Here is the clip from the show. How is his acting?

In the episode entitled Aw Shucks! (S03:E05), a customer brings in a Native American flax bow to pawn. (Watch the clip.) During the pawn and appraisal, the flax bow has a blue beaded string with orange and pinks balls. However, when the customer comes back to pick up the flax bow, it has a red beaded string with yellow, white, purple, and orange balls.

Flax Bow (before)

Flax Bow (after)

Why they could not be consistent in the use of flax bows for the segment, I have no idea. Whatever the case, the flax bow is recognizably a prop and not part of a real transaction with an actual customer.

I also found reports that the autographed Lou Gehrig jersey from episode Flight of the Chum (Season 2; Episode 25) was actually owned by Xtreme Collectibles of Las Vegas. Previously, the jersey was listed on their website for $7,999; however, at the time this was written, the website was no longer there. (There are several internet archives of the jersey’s sale page (04/2008 – 04/2010). But unfortunately, due to some weird Yahoo image storage, the actual picture of the jersey was not archived as well.)

And it does not stop there. My perusing turned up at least circumstantial evidence of staged, scripted, and misrepresented segments involving the goods below:

  • 1965 Shelby Cobra bodyframe (Season 2; episode 2)
  • Hot air balloon (Season 2; episode 5)
  • AYT XP 2200 speedboat (Season 2; episode 13)
  • Collection of 1960s Pez dispensers (Season 2; episode 15)
  • Schweizer 300 helicopter (Season 2; episode 19)
  • 1930s Coca-Cola salesman cooler (Season 2; episode 26)
  • Miami Heat 2006 NBA Championship ring (Season 2; episode 27)

Now many will defend the scripting and staging of reality shows, arguing that their principal purpose is to provide entertainment to an audience. And only a naive individual, who is familiar with the evolution of reality of television, would be shocked or vexed to learn that elements of a show are not real. It is all buyer beware. And while I agree with the generality of that notion, one must also consider a show’s topic and source.

This show airs on History — a channel that used to be known for high calibre documentaries. It had earned a veritable ethos over the years, and I had come to expect a certain level of integrity from the network. If the network wishes to air a show about a pawn shop in Las Vegas that spends most of its time buying sensational items that have little or nothing to do with real history, I would at least expect it to display a moderate amount of authenticity. Instead, we are presented with conspicuous deception under the pretense of fidelity.

Shame on you A&E. A disclaimer needs to be put at the beginning of these shows similar to Operation Repo’s since the level of “reality” is the same.


  1. Glenn says

    hey sorry to bother yous with a question … it will save me time waiting for that Pawn Stars episode to air again … does anyone remember the name of that engine that I think was called a “stop and go” engine? I did a Google search and can find nothing about it so maybe that wasn’t its name but it was an efficient engine that Rick loved and I wanted to check it out. Anyone know that episode and the name of the machine?

  2. James Garitt says

    Um, It’s a TV show. NO reality show is real — AT ALL. Besides I have family that own pawn shops, and no shops have a steady stream of rare Antiques with important historical ties pouring in. Nothing even close. It’s the history channel and they came up with a show where they are presenting historical trivia facts based around tangible antique and historical items. And the setting/format that they decided to this in is a pawn shop. In other words a pawn shop set for a TV show.

    • hifijohn says

      the problem is that while its not a scripted fiction show its not a reality show either like a sporting event ,its in that hazing middle ground, because the pawn shop does exist and everyone there really does work there,it can pass itself off as a reality show, but of course its staged.they all are.its obvious, unless they are using multiple cameras every time the camera is on another person, they have to stop and move the camera and reframe the shot, you can only do that if its all staged , also you will notice nobody who walks into the shop is ever surprised that theres is a film crew in there!

  3. Roy Myklebust says

    In season 1 episode eight where Rick Harrison buys the cola machine from someone who “had it in the family ” it turns out that the seller is Ron Dale, Rick Dales brother from Ricks Restorations. Talk about insider trading! First make up a bogus story about the cola machine, sell it to Pawn Stars only so they can come back to the same place it came from to “restore” it and then present a totally different cola machine as the restored Product.

  4. Bubba says

    the thing that always struck me as scripted is how Rick and the rest of the staff always seem to have encyclopedic knowledge of every item brought in, even Chumley!

  5. Scott says

    For me, Pawn Stars overreached with the Hendrix guitar. No way does a $1M guitar show up in a pawn shop. I used to like that show, and I understand they have to make it interesting, but the entire premise is fake.

  6. Simon says

    I’ve noticed one too where a customer brings in an old Coke vending machine which is of course all beat up. Rick buys it and takes it to Rick Dale of Rick’s Reatoration, but it must have been before Rick Dale got his own show because the customer who sold the vending machine to Pawn Star’s Rick? It was Rick Dale’s hobo barefoot brother that obviously pulled it out of their bone yard.

  7. John S. says

    You mention the 1978 Les Paul trade above (season2 episode14), that guitar is the natural finish LP in the early season show openings and it’s a gorgeous specimen. I have been keeping an eye out for that episode and have determined a while ago they are no longer running it, now I know why. I was in Vegas in 2012 and visited the store on Easter Sunday and there still was a line to get in. So phony or not they are Pawn Stars which led to Counting Cars, Rick’s Restorations & Pawnography all of which appear to be succeeding and creating more TV personalities. I met Murray the Magician and his wife in the Tropicana hotel bar in 2013 also.

  8. Ryan says

    Great article…I found it from just watching an episode of Pawn Stars which prompted me to search for “Pawn Stars Frauds”. I was glad to see that you already caught the fraud that had irked me. The Coke machine in Season 1, E8…but it gets even better than what you’ve caught here: the guy selling the machine to the Pawn Stars? Ron Dale. Who does the restoration? Rick Dale. Rick and Ron Dale are brothers. So…one brother sells it to Pawn Stars…who then hire the seller’s brother to restore it (and in this case, switch the machine entirely)? And coincidentally those two brothers have their own show launch on the same channel some years later? Just the worst.

    • says


  9. Balogné Wisslen Schet says

    so i was watchin PS season 8, Episode 16 “Gnarly Harly”. Well for a moment I was actually pre occupied on my laptop & just listening to the tv in background when a familiar sounding voice from the Gnarly Harly owner. why does this guy remind me of someone but dont recognise him when I look up to see who it is? The did alot of work to disguise him all his tats. hair under hat & fake glasses but Im 100% positive that is Mr. Jesse James himself i mean whatch it again really listen to his voice. He strains to sound different but…. heres the youtube link : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1RVh-HquOQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    I gotta be right on this

    • F.C. Hayling says

      I will give you that the two bear some resemblance to each other. But I counter with Jesse has a more pronounced philtrum than the gentleman in this clip. He also looks to have larger earlobes too — looking at 11 seconds in, specifically — compared to this guy.

      Additionally, let’s say they did have that good of makeup artist on hand that day… then why did they not also disguise that huge zit on Corey’s neck!?

      • Balogné Wisslen Schet says

        Skin overlays with artificial silicone skin type of thing would be my guess. I mean have you ever watched an episode of Walking Dead, or any Marvel Comics movies like Fab4, HellBoy, etc… I know a lot is CG in most flix theses days but there is just as much makeup & costume as well. They can make anyone appear to be someone or something they’re not. I don’t know for sure but what would stop them from doing it? Just an interesting observation.


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