Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fakes or Replicas?

There seems to be a fine line between what is counterfeit, what a trademark violation is, and what constitutes a replica.

Someone once said plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. Collectibles of all sorts have an inherent value above the original price. 

Years ago, replicas became available for those who could not afford originals. 

If these items sold as replicas and not original or branded with the originators name, they are legal, providing they have consent of the originator.  

Once a copy of an item is produced and sold, laying claim to being manufactured by or using of a company’s trademark or using distinctive proprietary designs, without the originators knowledge, approval, or compensation, this practice is deemed illegal.

Harry Rosenbloom
In 1954, a fellow named Harry Rosenbloom opened a music store in Pennsylvania.  Guitars and accordions were the popular instruments at the time.  The Second World War provided exposure for GI’s to see beyond their own culture.
My father became fond of Hillbilly music, as did many soldiers.  This caused a demand for guitars that exceeded manufacturing.  In the 1950's there was a long waiting list for music stores to receive a franchise from a major guitar manufacturer, namely C.F. Martin Guitars. 

Of course, the larger and more established music stores took precedent over new comers when it came to receiving merchandise. 

Elger Guitar
Mr. Rosenbloom found a solution by building his own guitars, which he did from 1959 to 1964 using the brand name Elger

His goal was to build a guitar equal to Martin. And truth be told, Harry Rosenbloom hired some fine German luthiers and they built some excellent guitars.

Vintage Ibanez

After five years into this venture, he found it would be more profitable to import guitars.  He turned to the Hoshino-Gakki Gen Company of Japan as a supplier.  Hoshino had purchased the brand name of a defunct Spanish guitar manufacturer named Salvatore Ibanez.

Greco by FugiGen
Actually, Hoshino did not manufacture the guitars, but subcontracted manufacturing to FujiGen Company and Teisco.  In doing so, Rosenbloom became the American distributor for Ibanez guitars until Ibanez purchased his assets. 

In the early 1970’s Ibanez began building and selling copies of Gibson, Rickenbacker and Fender instruments only with the Ibanez logo on the headstock. Some of the copies were second rate, using plywood for bodies, the routings were inaccurate, necks were bolted on etc.; however many of the Ibanez instruments looked and played like exact copies.  

Because they were built without permission or compensation to the patent holder, in 1977, Gibson/Norlin filed a trademark infringement suit against Elger/Ibanez USA, based on the headstock style. 

Ibanez settled out of court a year later and altered the headstock design of Gibson style instruments.

The Tokai Gakki Company LTD. of Japan has also has built copies of American manufactured acoustic and electric guitars. Interestingly, they entered a partnership with Martin to build the Martin Sigma line.  

For many years, Tokai has produced and sold Fender copies can be spot-on accurate. Throughout the 1970’s most of their line sold exclusively in Japan and Europe.  Tokai later took production of a sub-line of guitars to Korea.  Tokai’s approach to trademark infringement was not to call their instruments by USA names. 

They also utilize different parts and woods. I am not sure how they are able to avoid infringement issues. Tokai has been building guitars for many years apparently without objection.

When it comes to guitars, China makes no pretense of recognizing USA trademarks.  There are pages on the internet touting exact duplicates of Gibson, Gretsch, and Fender guitars that sell for hundreds of dollars less than what one would expect to pay.  

These instruments are indeed counterfeits since most display the trade name of Gibson, Gretsch, or Fender on the headstock.  There may be some clues when looking at these instruments, such as using three screws in a truss rod cover instead of two or the logo may be slightly off.  An Oakdale New York music store was raided in 2007 and had their stock removed, since they were passing off counterfeit instruments as the real thing.

A Canadian company has put a twist on the copy-replica guitar market.  Eastwood Guitars, founded by Michael Robinson is utilizing Asian manufacturers to produce out of production replicas of some unusual guitars.  These are instruments that were made by US companies, European companies, and Asian companies, such as Kay, Airline, Eko, Wandre, Mosrite, Univox, Coral (a Danelectro brand), Italias, and Burns of London. I believe Eastwood currently owns the tradename Airline Guitars, which was used by the defunct Montgomery Ward Co.

Robinson negotiates with the original manufacturer or trade name holder to produce replicas. His goal is to provide new instruments based on vintage guitars that may not be available or affordable to players. In my opinion the is most admirable.  Eastwood produces true replicas.  I have sampled Eastwood guitars and they are fine instruments. Most have some deviation from the original, but the concept is the same. 

Hats off to Mr. Robinson.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)


Lyle Robinson said...

Nice article. I have always been curious to try some of the Asian counterfeits to see if they are as decent as there descriptions would lend one to believe. I have a luthier made Les Paul and it is just as heavy and wonderful to play as an original. I still love Gibsons, but if I can save a bunch of cash and get a well made model that matches the specs of a Gibson or Fender, then I would go with those models.

That's my rant and I'm sticking to it...:)Thanks again and take care.


Anonymous said...

Don't think eastwood negotiates anything. I think eastwood just looks for old trademarks that have expired and the old companies that owned them went out of business. Swoops in and makes a copy as legally he now has the trademark. Kind of genius to make money, but his whole business is based off of unoriginality. I buying an airline guitar and shape not eastwood.

Marc said...

Thanks to both of you for reading my blog. I appreciate it and I appreciate the feedback.

It is just my opinion Lyle, but I can think of a number of reasons to steer clear of Asian counterfeit guitars.

Eastwood uses modern building techniques on old shapes. So yes you are buying a shape and not the original. However some of the models that Eastwood offers are superior players to the originals because of advancement in technology.

Roland Holtzen said...

I'd cut Tokai some slack, since Tokai strat copies are unique in more ways than what you see. They actually use either the same wood, only from a different region, or a totally different species. Note that these 2 factors can drastically change the sound of a guitar. As for the exact copies made, they're quite easy to differentiate, as China Copies tend not to keep any quality-control with their guitars. Checking the weight, sound and the paint job of the guitar, help. As for importing via Internet, make sure you get them from trusted providers to avoid getting fake ones.

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