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…
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 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:
Here’s a post-lawsuit Ibanez headstock, without the “moustache”:
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.
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 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.
Greco made Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker, Gretsch, and other replicas.
Their logo looks a lot like Gibson’s logo.
Fernandes is known for its Fender replicas. They are still making guitars today.
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”).
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?
● 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):
● 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.
45 thoughts on “Lawsuit Guitars”
i wasgiven what seems to be a 1976 les paul copy .
looks identical to the greco of same mod and year, but it has the logo of Axiom.
ant hints, cause it sounds sweet?
I have an Alcivar, set-neck Les Paul custom copy…..unsure of year, was told 79/80…..it has the moustache headstock. is it “lawsuit?”
anybody know anything about IC guitars? i got an IC lespaul, it has no serial number, just IC on the headstock.
I have Masada Les Paul in black with gold hardware I bought new in 1972 in NY. I was ready to give it to a local music store in 2010 when I found out it had some value.
I purchased one of these Japanese copies at a yard sale for $50. It was ok but needed some work. New Tuners, fret polish, new electronics and a setup. After a small investment in time and money it is a really good sounding guitar that plays great. Odd thing is that there is no logo on the headstock. Nowhere on the axe is any brand name. Nowhere. The only identifiers are a Serial number WO50476 (I assume a plant and production date identifier) on the bottom back of the headstock and the pressed text “Made in Japan” on the metal plate holding the neck to the body. The headstock is mustache profile just like a Gibson LP. It is chambered, not solid body and it resonates like a great acoustic. Does anyone know anything about these?
I recently got a Conrad 12 strings guitar model 40172 , serial number 486 , anybody with information about it? It’s in a good shape, it needs a setup, cleaning and a good set of strings, ready .
Arbiter ‘lawsuit’ Les Paul Custom, 70’s/80’s guitar. I don’t think worth much now as the company not listed within this Blog? I think will sell it soon, I didn’t pay too much for it anyway.
back in the 70,s i got a black l/p copy i dont even recall the brand i have allways fiddled guitars i recived a busted up vox phantom semi hollow with all sorts of cool stuff built in with a great neck with in line tuners and block mkrs so one day i put the vox neck on the l/p copy no mods were req, and tuned it into a great player lost touch with it allong r=the way but it played every bit as good as my 61 s/g spec at the time would love to see if it ever was seen again i,d love to hold it again many friends thought it was a vov l/p it was cool it was traded for something back then i would to see if it survived thanks
I have a ” Speedfire Deluxe ’59er MODEL ” – very similar to the Ibanez black body and neck but the word Speedfire is accross the top of the head and ” Deluxe ’59er MODEL ” is in between the strings on the head. HIGH-quality everything on the guitar. Does anyone have any knowledge about the “Speedfire” part of the name. I received this as my first guitar in the early 70s and cannot find another. Thanks!
I have a kopy kat f-hole telecaster no serial number. Just a sticker on the head stock that says kopy kat. Are these decent ?and are they possibly included in the lawsuit? I can’t find anything at all please help, any extra info or thoughts would love to hear from anyone. Hoping it’s at least worth what I traded for it?
Fernandes Revival Series Stratocasters early 80s…. millimeter by millimeter the exact specs as the Fenders made in the Fender Japanese factories and shipped out the back door!
I have an Antoria 1975 Soundmaster Rickenbacker copy.
Only ever seen one other in a photo.
Never seen another.
Rather have a Rickenbacker but hey………
I play a Westone Session II from the for several years now, which is an original ;-)) Matsumoku guitar. The same model caried the name Tokai and Greco which were made at the same years in the Matsumoku factories. The first Aria guitars were also produced there, according to my information. These are all very good and solid guitars which, still now even if they are used a lot, look like new. The Westone bass guitars are also very famous. The Matsumoku can’t (not Matumoku as told in the article above) be compared by the cheap Chinese replica’s. But the brand name still exist.
I have an acoustic Luxor Dove 42 274. Can anyone tell me about it? It plays better than any acoustic I’ve played! Thank you
I have a copy of a Gibson Les Paul, it is a Japanese guitar made in the 1976, it has a serial number on it, and made in Japan,
Any one know if this is worth anything?
I have an “Electra Custom II” I bought at a pawn shop in 1998. Trying to find out more about it, it looks like one of these lawsuit guitars. Les paul style, open book headstock, but with an inlay logo of two triangles and a rectangle through them (not the peace symbol style I see elsewhere). It says made in Japan, and has a serial number. Any way to verify if it qualifies?
It is more valuable without the serial number
Are there any vintage lawsuit cortley 12 string guitars
I just bought a genuine ‘lawsuit’ guitar here in England. It’s an Ibanez Howard Roberts model made in 1975. The originals were made by Gibson, and are a version of the ES175 archtop, but with a small round soundhole instead of f- holes. A single humbucker, one volume and two tone controls. I have fitted it with flatwounds – D’Addario Chromes, 11-50. The build quality playability and sound are superb. It’s a beautiful sunburst finish, and this one is in almost new condition – virtually unplayed by the look of it. I would recommend anyone coming across one of these to check it out, it’s an excellent instrument. So good that Gibson sued Ibanez over it !
I have a Penco 335 copy I bought new around 1971 or 72. It has a natural finished quilted maple body and maple neck . It is a gorgeous guitar with no dings or scratches . I have the original case as well . Was wondering if anyone knew anything about Penco or maybe the value of the guitar today.
What about Grantson Guitars. I believe they are considered “Lawsuit Guitars” the logo looks much like “Gibson”
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!
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?
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…
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.
I have one too – cherry sunburst.
Bought it in a pawnshop in the mid 90s. Sounds great!
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.
As far as I know Grecos are excellent instruments, also the ealy ´80s models.
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
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
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.
Anyone ever seen a golden les paul copy with bone fretmarkers?
I will check what mine has!
I have what I think is a lawsuit guitar it’s a Les Paul look alike sunburst with no logo on it though
Bought one today looks like an SG… It says SUPER on the headstock… what is it….
Could be a Burny, the used to name some Gibson copies series as “Super Grade”, and Fender copies “Super Sound”
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
I just bought a Lincoln Hummingbird! And I too am interested in finding information! Let me know if you have any links♡
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.
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?
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.