Warning: At the bottom of this page is a listing of current Ebay auctions that claim to sell lawsuit guitars.
There are still gems to be found and a lot of these auctions are genuine, but some of the lawsuit guitars found on Ebay 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 a lot more research before you start bidding on a guitar.
Anyone who's looking for vintage guitars on Ebay 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?
Definition: 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 because:
So it sounds like a good idea to search for these lawsuit guitars on Ebay in order to get a great sounding vintage guitar at a good price.
A word of warning though: be mindful of scams! Some sellers claim falsely to be selling a Japanese lawsuit guitar, while they are not. Inform yourself well, starting here...
In the late 1970s, there was a general dip in the quality of the production ethic of most mainstream American guitar companies.
Household names, like 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.
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.
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":
They also made Martin Acoustic replicas. Tokai still makes guitars 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 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.
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 collectors items like these a lot easier, it can be fun an addictive looking for vintage guitars on Ebay.
When shopping for lawsuit guitars on Ebay or other marketplaces, it is very critical 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:
It is important to investigate the specific guitar in question to make sure that it is truly an authentic.
Lawsuit guitars on Ebay will be easily verifiable through research on various guitar forums.
You don't want to buy an Ebay guitar without doing your homework; an authentic Japanese lawsuit guitar will have a lot of a verifiable feedback on the web.
Here's a list of current Ebay auctions that claim to sell lawsuit guitars. There are still gems to be found, but be warned and do your research!