Lawsuit Guitars

Lawsuit guitars are high-quality copies of popular American brand name guitars (like Fender and Gibson) produced by Japanese companies in the 1970s. These Japanese lawsuit guitars are of legendary quality and are highly sought after. There are still gems to be found, on eBay or Reverb for example, and a lot of these auctions are genuine, but some of these lawsuit guitars for sale are not lawsuit guitars at all. If you are interested in buying a lawsuit guitar, make sure you read through this article first and then do more research before you buy or start bidding on a guitar.

Anyone who’s looking for vintage guitars on eBay or Reverb comes across the word “lawsuit”.

The word is abused a lot though because it drives the price of a guitar up. What exactly is a lawsuit guitar and why are they so popular?

The popularity of lawsuit guitars is easy to explain:

  • They look identical to the originals.
  • They are equal in quality and sometimes even better than the originals.
  • They are cheaper than the originals.
  • They are vintage.

So it sounds like a good idea to search for these lawsuit guitars in order to get a great sounding vintage guitar at a good price.

Be mindful of scams though, some sellers claim to be selling a Japanese lawsuit guitar, while they are not. Inform yourself, starting here…

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The History and Background of Japanese Lawsuit Guitars

In the late 1970s, there was a general dip in the quality of the production ethic of most mainstream American guitar companies.

Household names, such as Fender and Gibson Guitars, were not cranking out the quality workmanship which they were known for in the past. This lead to the emergence of copy guitars from Asia which used arguably better parts and craftsmanship.

The company that started importing these quality copy guitars was Elger Guitars.

The founder of Elger Guitars, Harry Rosenbloom, was the first American to import Japanese-made guitars.

He imported guitars from the Hoshino Gakki company, who made guitars under the brand name Ibanez. In 1971 Hoshino bought Elger Guitars, which became Hoshino USA.

Their logos and production styles were similar enough to where American guitar companies felt that the consumer was being confused into buying guitars which they believed were from them.

A lawsuit between the parent corporation behind Gibson Guitars and Ibanez Japan/Elger Guitars lead to a precedent that stunted the production of these low-cost, high-quality guitars.

The Lawsuit

The actual lawsuit had place in 1977 and was between the Norlin Corporation (Gibson’s parent company) and Hoshino USA.

Gibson accused Ibanez of copying their headstock design.

The issue was settled out of court. In 1978 Ibanez abandoned the idea of copying popular American guitar models and started manufacturing guitars from their own designs.

Here’s a detail of the Gibson headstock that Ibanez copied:

 

Gibson headstock

Here’s a post-lawsuit Ibanez headstock, without the “moustache”:

 

Ibanez headstock

 

Later on, a lot of these copy guitar companies were shut down. Gibson and Fender went on to take advantage of the production capacities by purchasing Japanese factories to make their own lower cost copies.

Gibson bought Epiphone, Fender opened Squier.

There were other lawsuits as well. Greco and Tokai, for example, were sued because their logos looked like those of Gibson or Fender.

This might trick buyers in thinking they were buying the real deal.

Lawsuit Guitar Companies

Although there were many guitar companies making these copy guitars, Ibanez was the only company that actually got sued by Gibson.

Here’s an overview of the best known “lawsuit guitar companies”:

 

Tokai

Tokai is known for their Gibson Les Paul replicas called “Les Paul REBORN” and the “Love Rock”, which are perfect copies of 1958 vintage Les Pauls.

They also made Martin Acoustic replicas.

Tokai still makes guitars today.

 

Tokai guitars

 

Greco

Greco made Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker, Gretsch, and other replicas.

Their logo looks a lot like Gibson’s logo.

 

Greco Les Paul model

 

Fernandes

Fernandes is known for its Fender replicas. They are still making guitars today.

 

Burny

Burny is the same company as Fernandes, but instead of Fenders, Burny made Gibson replicas.

Burny guitars are considered to be the best Gibson copies. Burny lawsuit guitars are extremely difficult to find and very expensive.

They are hard to distinguish from Korean Burny models as well. Burny is still active today.

Their Les Paul model is called “Super Grade”, and the words were modeled to look like “Les Paul” (it actually looks like “Luper Grade”).

 

Burny guitars

Other “lawsuit guitar companies” include Ibanez, Takamine, Matumoku, Aria, Westone, and Electra.

Buying Lawsuit Guitars

In the past, these original copy guitars from Asia were much more difficult to find.

You would have to keep a close eye on the different collectors in order to find Japanese lawsuit guitars for sale.

This included days spent scouring pawn shops or traveling to different cities. The online world has made securing sophisticated collector’s items like these a lot easier and it can be fun an addictive looking for vintage guitars on eBay.

When shopping for lawsuit guitars on eBay or other marketplaces, it is important that you carefully examine all of the information presented in the auction.

Here are some tips and things to look out for when buying lawsuit guitars:

●  Take a close look at the logos and headstock configuration. Lawsuit guitars have a headstock that is known as an “open book” headstock, copied from Gibson. After the lawsuit, copy guitar manufacturers had to change their headstock design. Does the headstock resemble that of a Gibson Les Paul?

Gibson headstock

 

●  A true lawsuit guitar should have the design and logo style of a more expensive brand from the same era. For example, a Takamine lawsuit guitar might have a logo which is easily confusable for a Martin acoustic. Does the logo look the same like the Gibson or Fender logo?

Here’s the Greco logo as an example (looks a lot like the Gibson logo):

Greco headstock

 

●  Where was the guitar made? Lawsuit guitars are made in Japan, not in Korea or anywhere else. Of course, not all Japanese vintage guitars are lawsuit guitars.

●  Most Lotus guitars are not lawsuit guitars.

●  Most Lyle guitars are lawsuit guitars.

●  Most Ibanez lawsuit guitars don’t have a serial number (some of the most recent do though).

●  The more actual photographs and specs the eBay seller is willing to demonstrate, the better.

●  It might be a good idea to buy a vintage guitar price guide, there’s a good one published by Vintage Guitar Magazine. Knowing the market value of vintage guitars can help you a lot.

 

It is important to investigate the specific guitar in question to make sure that it is truly authentic.

Lawsuit guitars for sale on eBay or Reverb will be easily verifiable through research on various guitar forums.

You don’t want to buy a guitar without doing your homework; an authentic Japanese lawsuit guitar will have a lot of verifiable feedback on the web.

  • James says:

    I have many vintage Gibson instruments, and I also have a good stash of genuine lawsuit instruments. I just purchased an Aztec flying V, one of the lesser known companies but extremely high quality. I have mixed information on this. I was told they were built by Ibanez and distributed only in Germany, imported by Hoffman… That seems to be correct, but I would like to know for sure. Of the 12 flying Vs in my arsenal, six are Gibson… My 79 is probably my favorite. I also have a 1975 Ibanez rocket roll Sr which is arguably one of the best reproductions of the 58 Gibson Korina flying V, however the body is made of Ash but I got a beautiful one. The Aztec plays and sounds phenomenal, is a little heavier than the Ibanez but very very close… Any information I could get regarding Aztec guitars would be greatly appreciated!

  • Justin says:

    I bought a Fender Stratocaster copy from Reverb. It has no markings on it other than what appears to be a crown-shape embedded on the head stock. Anyone ideas on what company may have produced this?

  • Johnno says:

    I bought an Antoria Jazz Bass copy from a shop in Catford London in 1974… Made in Japan and original including pickups (Except for electrics and strings) … is this a lawsuit copy ?? its a bloody good copy and I still use it today…

  • Kevin says:

    I actually have a Mann Les Paul Custom which I bought in 1973 as a 14 year old. Still have it today at 61. Definitely a lawsuit guitar. Looks just like a Gibson except for the bolt on neck.

    Made in Japan.

  • Theresia says:

    Can any one tell me if Greco had a lawsuit bango? Because I have one from 1979ish with the gold greco on it and I have not been able to find any information about it or find really many at all for sale or to buy maybe two.

  • Dee says:

    As far as I know Grecos are excellent instruments, also the ealy ´80s models.

  • Andrew says:

    I have an Antoria Custom, Sunburst beveled front no serial no I have had it since 1993 and I was told it was over fifty years old then it was being used on a karaoke as a Prop six inch nails holding a handbag strap on bridges were missing and it had tacks holding cat gut in place I had it french polished and the holes filled the bridges replaced with Gibson Bridges replace all the missing parts with original Gibson parts connected it up to an amp and found it had the most amazing sound, I was told that it used to belong to someone famous it had been well played as the frets needed stoned they were that worn,the Guy I got it from owed me money and couldn’t pay so i said I would take it even though it looked less than he owed me he was a roadie and said that is how I got it he was given it in lou of wages owed. I would love to find out more about it and maybe return it to the guitarist that formerly owned itI would post a pic of it but can’t and yes it still plays I did put it in to have it valued and when I got it back a bit of the beading had been broken offI want to get that replace but feel it would completely change the look

  • joe says:

    I have a Ibanez SG copy around 1974-1975. Got it brand new still with original case. Purchased in Australia. Is this classified as a lawsuit guitar

  • Patrick says:

    Just to be clear, there is no such thing as a ‘Takamine Lawsuit’ guitar. Martin served them with multiple CAD (cease and desist) orders after their deal to make ‘Martin’ guitars fell through and Takamine continued to use the headstock design.

  • bubba sez says:

    Anyone ever seen a golden les paul copy with bone fretmarkers?

    • StuartH says:

      I will check what mine has!

  • Allen Stafford says:

    I have what I think is a lawsuit guitar it’s a Les Paul look alike sunburst with no logo on it though

  • Eric says:

    Bought one today looks like an SG… It says SUPER on the headstock… what is it….

    • Dee says:

      Could be a Burny, the used to name some Gibson copies series as “Super Grade”, and Fender copies “Super Sound”

  • Seth says:

    I have an early 70s sg copy thats not a lawsuit guitar but is an excellent guitar none the less. I scored the guitar from an ex girlfriends brother, who was in his way to thrift store it. The brand name is Bradley and the head stock is slightly longer than a Gibson. I think it’s from the early 70s it had a label maker sticker with his name on the case with 1974.The sound and action are incredible. I strummed it once with old dead strings and it was so loud I knew I had to hear it through a good amp. I think it may be pre lawsuit as it has a bolt on neck. Any info??? Much appreciated.

    • alan f gudknecht says:

      I purchased a Bradley Les Paul in the early 70’s and used it for about four years. Sounded great and no issues. They were not part of the Gibson lawsuit. I have a copy of that lawsuit. It was filed in Philadelphia federal District Court on 6/28/77. It was settled out of court. As the term ‘lawsuit guitar’ has morphed into including many brands, the only company named in the lawsuit was Hoshino Gakki Ten and Elger Company. The case number is 77-cv–2262. This only included Ibanez. Almost all so called ‘lawsuit guitars’ are technically not. Anyone can obtain a copy by contacting Patrick McLaughlin at U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania. 601 Market St. Phila. Pa. 19106.

  • Gary says:

    I bought an Eikosha strat copy from a UTA student for $100 back in the 80’s. It has a maple neck & fret board and very well built. I replaced the tuners with Schalers and the pickups with Seymour Duncan PAF strat pups plus a 5-way switch. I can’t find hardly any info on this company except for a few photos of acoustics. Any info would be appreciated…

  • Ändy says:

    Very interesting post. I have a Gibson SG lawsuit guitar. From Sunrise, a trade fair piece for market entry in Germany.
    It is not marked with Sunrise, but with CUSTOM lettering that was modeled on the Gibson logo. It has a serial number and the Gibson crown logo.
    Good woods and a nice sound.

  • Richard says:

    I’m trying to find out information on a pre lawsuit Lincoln hummingbird. I had one and have never seen another one like it anywhere. I’d just like to know the history and value.

  • Jim G. says:

    I have a Memphis brand dove copy. I researched it and it’s kind of rare. I seen a lot of electric Memphis guitars for sale and online but not too many doves. I picked it up at a yard sale for $35. I think I stole it from seeing how many are out there. I have only seen one for sale and I lost it before I could save the spot I seen it and now I cant find it.

  • Marco says:

    Hi, interesting blog, thank you.

    Did the quality of the Japanese guitars diminish after the lawsuits, or was it more in details like headtock etc. Is a Greco from 1980 expected to have the same quality as one from 1975?

    Thanks.

    • RDV says:

      A Greco from 1980 would actually be considered a better guitar than one from 1975, all other things being equal. Greco made the Super Real series in 1979.5 and 1980 that aimed to make perfect replicas but improve them to produce the best possible copy guitar. I’m awaiting a 1980 Greco SG copy right now.

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