|Dude...it's a Lawsuit Ibanez!|
Lawsuit! Lawsuit! Anyone who cruises eBay
looking for old Ibanez guitars quickly finds the word lawsuit. Like many
words in our society, this one is oft used, seldom understood. Find an old Ibanez
that is a copy of another, more familiar guitar? Clearly a lawsuit! I
have seen guitars go for much more than they are actually worth simply because the
purchaser has fallen for the hype or actually didn't know what constitutes a
"lawsuit" model. Here is my attempt to clear up an urban legend, and, in
the words of Chuck D., Dont believe the hype.
On June 28, 1977, Norlin, the parent company of Gibson, filed a lawsuit against Elger (Ibanez) in Philadelphia Federal District Court . The case was "Gibson Vs. Elger Co." with Gibson claiming trademark infringement based on the duplicate "open book" or "moustache" headstock design of the Ibanez copies. Allegedly Gibson had threatened to sue Elger/Ibanez for a long time regarding the use of the headstock which Norlin claimed as a Gibson trademark. Ironically, by the fall of 1976 Ibanez had redesigned their headstocks to look much like those found Guild guitars. The new headstock design even appeared in the 1976 catalog! So, conspiracy theorists, by the time the lawsuit was actually filed, the headstocks had already been changed. While "lawsuit" head generally means a Gibson copy headstock, the Ibanez headstock at the time of the lawsuit was actually a copy of a Guild headstock. It is an urban legend that the Gibson/Norlin lawsuit was filed against a number of Japanese companies. It is also commonly held it was over the exact copying of American designs. Neither of these urban legends are true.
This is what the headstocks looked like pre-lawsuit. Note the "open book" or "moustache" cut that was the same as Gibson's headstock.
This is the post-lawsuit headstock. Note that it looks almost exactly like a Guild headstock.
This headstock change came shortly after Ibanez introduced serial numbers. There might be a few lawsuits with a serial number dating from November/ December 1975, but most of them will not have a serial number.
Reportedly other companies like St. Louis Music (Electra), whose guitars were made in Japan by Hoshino, offered to help with the suit. To end the action, Ibanez made an out-of-court settlement with Norlin and agreed to stop copying the Gibson headstock and using similar names for their instruments.
The quality of Ibanez guitars increased rapidly during this period.
Many set-neck copies like the Model 2459 Destroyer, an Explorer copy and its
Flying V counterpart, the Rocket Roll Sr., we pretty decent guitars, but probably
weren't as good as the
Gibson/Norlin guitars of the era. The big jazz boxes and the ES-335
copies were very well made, but probably weren't up to Gibson standards. The first models introduced after the agreement were the Performers,
Les Pauls with the Telecaster-like cutaway, and the tulip headstock. Quickly thereafter followed the Studios and Musicians.