Heritage sues Gibson

Discussion in 'Fred's Barcalounge' started by Ricochet, Mar 19, 2020.

  1. stevo

    stevo Friend of Fred

    May 1, 2012
    Got it - very good point. It's much more difficult to find a Rickenbacker "clone" than a Gibson or Fender clone and I had always thought it was because they were able to demonstrate come kind of patent or copyright on their designs. But I'm very curious why Gibson hasn't figured this out.
    Ricochet and Tadhg like this.
  2. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    It’s really the Achilles Heel of the whole business. Every time someone creates a manufactured product, they inadvertently find that some of their competition comes from their own products, being resold. I love to buy new, but if used is substantially less costly and of equal value; well the Scot in my soul always likes to save a buck.

    It would not surprise me to see a huge glut of instruments, at some point. We’ve seen decades of buying guitars with hopes of investment payoffs. 40 years ago, new instruments from all makers tended to be of poor quality and vintage instruments increased in value. Overall, that situation has changed. Fender makes some great instruments. New Gretsch are excellent. Ironically, new Epiphones tend to be very good, but Gibson appears to have fallen into the trap of inconsistent quality.

    Ultimately, it always comes down to supply and demand. Right now, the supply of serviceable instruments strikes me as being high. That’s good for us, as players, but does lend power to the fact that instruments are functionally identical to instruments produced over the last 60 + years.

    As you mention, Fender seems to have developed a novel strategy for dealing with this. Gretsch seems to be taking the approach of developing new models which differ from the past, and Gibson, at least from what I can tell, seems to think that they can bully their way out of this dilemma.

    They have a history of bullying dealers and they are suing other manufacturers. Here’s the problem, you can’t protect much more than the headstock design of a guitar. There’s far too much prior art to be able to protect pickups, body shapes, pickguard designs, tailpiece designs, etc. Patents don’t last forever, either. In the end, about all that can be protected is headstock shape.

    So Heritage is taking steps to protect their business, and I don’t blame them. Heritage is the true legacy of Orville Gibson. The brand exists in modern Gibson, but the heart and soul of the company remains in Kalamazoo. These were the very people that built my Johnny Smith, probably my ES-340 and my 55/77 Les Paul. I imagine that all of the original people have retired by now, but I’d like to see this effort preserved to the extent possible.
    RomanS, Tater, new6659 and 1 other person like this.
  3. Anacharsis

    Anacharsis Electromatic

    Aug 16, 2019
    United States
    This is easy for me, because I am not a Gibson or Gibson-style guy. I do think their approach to litigation and C&Ds is unsavory, but I was not going tom be their customer anyway.

    The Play Authentic video and rapid back-pedaling was high comedy, and Fender has also been copied by tons of other manufacturers (including Gibson's brands).

    So I guess I am rooting for Heritage.
    new6659 and Ricochet like this.
  4. GlenP

    GlenP Synchromatic

    Jul 23, 2019
    I just love these factory tours, no matter what name is on the headstock. I hope these companies can figure out a way to keep all those people working in the shop making great musical instruments. I would be happy with a few guitars from either of these, or both. Maybe some day. There are lots of these videos like this, for those who are interested.

    Ricochet, G5422T and new6659 like this.
  5. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    I enjoyed that Heritage tour. That’s the building, and those are very likely the very guys, that built guitars I’ve owned. I had a Heritage for years, until the desert took a toll. I’ve had Gibsons that these men may well have worked on, as well, in their tenure as Gibson employees. Light from those windows fell upon my ES 340, my Johnny Smith and my 55/77 Les Paul. It’s an evocative sight.
    Ricochet, GlenP and new6659 like this.
  6. hippdog

    hippdog Electromatic

    Jul 23, 2013
    NW Arkansas
    All of the lawsuits by Gibson in the 70's led to a settlement within the industry that the headstock is protected, but nothing else. Gibson was trying, unsuccessfully, to stop the flow of classic design instruments made by foreign companies. The desire for vintage instruments birthed the market for "vintage" reissues, and Japan did it better than Gibson or Fender during the 70's and early 80's. When Gibson wanted to cash in on their own legend, they tried to stop the foreign produces. The settlement, as I understand it, made a company's headstock the only protected part of the design. Not sure what's happening with Heritage. I've owned 8+ of their instruments. During the early 2000's you could by a Heritage 535 (335 copy) used for $800. Now they sell for $1700 used. The instruments are worthy.
    new6659 and Ricochet like this.
  7. Tater

    Tater Electromatic

    Jan 1, 2017
    Port Kent
    Virtually everyone copied Martin's dreadnought design. Litigation did little to reduce the problem. Luckily, Martin decided to just concentrate on making better instruments at an affordable price. Innovation. It seems to have worked. They seem to have a more loyal following than any guitar manufacturer. They may not be the BEST instrument manufactured today, but a good combination of quality, marketing, and price points will ensure their reputation doesn't suffer.
    Ricochet likes this.
  8. L R Hutch

    L R Hutch Electromatic

    Apr 6, 2019
    Eastern Kentucky USA
    I haven't bought an overpriced Gibson in years. Neither do I intend to do so. Heritage are overpriced as well along with Fender who puts out the shabby workmanship. I do like Gretsch craftsmanship and just a little overpriced, but still Gretsch gives you more for your money than Gibson Heritage or Fender. Other than Gretsch, I just build my own guitars or have them built to my specs.
    capnhiho and Ricochet like this.
  9. englishman

    englishman Gretschified

    Apr 5, 2014
    Regardless of the suit, I held Heritage in higher esteem #1, because they are a Michigan industry and #2, they adhered to the old school method of building guitars by hand using talented employees, some of whom were around during when Gibson still lived in the same building.

    When the new owners came in a couple of years back and laid off the talent and moved the CNC machines in, I guess they lost the magic for me. I'm sure they are still fine instruments, I was just clinging to the romantic notion (however misplaced) of seasoned craftsmen practicing with a lifetime's experience and knowhow.
    new6659, GlenP and Ricochet like this.
  10. Eliminator Man

    Eliminator Man Electromatic

    Feb 7, 2018
    Plymouth, MN
    I own one Gibson, an LP Custom. I just bought my first Heritage, a 2003 Sweet 16. It is immaculate. I can't imagine what Gibson would charge for a similar all solid wood archtop. I'd give up the LP long before the 16. Seems like Gibson's poor quality control has expanded from the production floor to the legal department. There's expensive and then there is quality. Gibson is expensive and Heritage is quality.
    Ricochet likes this.
  11. gutbucket

    gutbucket Electromatic

    Dec 29, 2016
    Northern Illionois
    Before Gibson ever hired skilled workers, they made sure they hired skilled lawyers. This is nothing new for this company. They could go belly-up tomorrow and I could care less.
    Ricochet and RomanS like this.
  12. Roger49

    Roger49 Country Gent

    Feb 18, 2015
    An interesting statement.
    Presumably you have inside information from Gibson's early days to support your assertion?
    I also suspect that what you actually mean is "I couldn't care less", but I could be wrong of course.
    englishman and Ricochet like this.
  13. Blueslover

    Blueslover Newbie

    Jan 29, 2011
    There is a Fretboard Journal podcast with a bigwig from Gibson his first name is Cesar. I remember that this guy was truly into guitars and sounded like he was truly interested in improving consistency and quality and ditching “innovations” that guitarists hate. As to the insane prices for their guitars and the fact that most real musicians can’t afford them, I didn’t get the impression that that was gonna change. I really think they want it that way. Epiphone s have gotten better and better over the years and musicians who can’t afford a Gibson would be so much more likely to buy them rather than look elsewhere if they got rid of that headstock! Look at Squier , they LOOK like Fenders and more musicians take them on stage!
    Robbie, new6659 and Ricochet like this.
  14. muku

    muku Electromatic

    Jan 22, 2010
    santa barbara
    I have never liked the 2 Heritages that I have played. Overbuilt, sticky lacquer, heavy, square binding, even a name that stinks of falsehood.

    I am all for Gibson retaining their original designs. Let Heritage relinquish them. Innovate?..... and see if they stay afloat on their own identity.

    Let Gibson's new owners be Gibson. Let all other fakers innovate. I can think of a couple of improvements myself. Put money in R&D. Good luck on tonewood procurement and cheap labor.

    Let Gibson make their designs and make any proceeds from them that they can.
    Ricochet likes this.
  15. afire

    afire Country Gent

    I suspect he's referring to Gibson's more recent management seemingly prioritizing legal action over making guitars, not what was going on back in Orville's day.
    And "could care less," while not logical, is common American usage. I don't know if it varies from region to region, but I've definitely heard it more in my life than "couldn't care less."
    Ricochet likes this.
  16. stevo

    stevo Friend of Fred

    May 1, 2012
    I guess Gibson took the early fight to it and that's when they settled on the headstock thing? Seems like Fender was smart and there is a whole market for made in Japan Fender Telecasters. So much more to talk about here - not enough time right now. But one of my favorite guitars of that era was the Yamaha SG2000. I don't know if it was ever a lawsuit target so much as part of the "lawsuit era".
    new6659 and Ricochet like this.
  17. stevo

    stevo Friend of Fred

    May 1, 2012
    I guess Gibson took the early fight to it and that's when they settled on the headstock. Seems like Fender was smart and there is a whole market for made in Japan Fender Telecasters. So much more to talk about here - not enough time right now. But one of my favorite guitars of that era was the Yamaha SG2000 that Carlos Santana played.
    Ricochet likes this.
  18. gutbucket

    gutbucket Electromatic

    Dec 29, 2016
    Northern Illionois
    You've never heard of all the lawsuits this company has pushed over the years? (Picking Jaw Off the Floor)
    Ricochet likes this.
  19. radd

    radd Country Gent

    Dec 27, 2017
    Santa cruz

    Here are a couple shows why I love my Japanese Takamine and Chinese Eastman, hand crafted

    Ricochet and GlenP like this.
  20. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    There are certain things which can be protected and certain things which can’t. The basic design of an archtop guitar certainly goes back to the L-5 in 1922, if not earlier. Gibson, Heritage, Gretsch, Eastman, and anyone else, can make all of the archtops we want. What’s the difference between an L-5, a Country Club and a Heritage Super Eagle. All three are 17”, single cutaway archtops with solid spruce tops. If there had been a case against Heritage, it would have been made long ago.

    Limiting the discussion to archtops, there are only a handful of designs. The L-5 was the prototype for most solid top archtops. Epiphone made one that was very similar, Gretsch, Vega (the banjo company), not to mention D’Angelico and Stromberg. All of these varied in details, headstock, tailpiece, pickguard, but all were conceptually very similar to the L-5.

    In 1949 Gibson came out with the ES-175, a 16”, laminate top, archtop with a single cutaway. The Gretsch 6120 is conceptually very similar, as are countless other 16” archtops. John D’Angelico and Jimmy D’Aquisto both made laminate models which were, essentially, ES 175 copies.

    Some years ago, Gibson went after Paul Reed Smith for their single cutaway, slab bodied copy of a Les Paul Jr. In my opinion their case was shaky at best and they are said to have resorted to the “smokey room” argument, that in a smokey bar, an observer could not distinguish the PRS from the Les Paul. That strikes me as laughable. Gibson lost, BTW.

    The idea that the headstock design is the only thing which can be protected was undoubtedly based upon legal precedents in other areas. Look at a ‘49 Ford and a ‘53 Chevy, it’s the same basic shape with different window dressing. In fact, automobiles serve as a perfect example of what can, and what cannot be protected. The vehicles of the late ‘20s through the early ‘40s were all of a similar shape but differed in grills, taillights and other periphery.

    Gibson’s headstock is not an invention, but it defines their brand and deserves to be protected indefinitely. The Ford script logo is another example. These are not patented inventions, these are trademarks.

    Utility patents have a duration of 20 years. If I invented the thin hollow-bodied archtop guitar my patent of a product that serves that purpose would be 20 years. 7,305 days after the patent was filed, anyone could make a functionally identical instrument without giving me a dime. They couldn’t copy my trademark headstock design ... ever, but that’s a different type of protection. There are also design patents which cover styles or artistic aspects of functional designs, but these last only 15 years.

    I don’t disagree for one minute that Heritage’s line is very similar to Gibson’s, but I don’t see that as much of a problem. The utility patents on any of these instruments are long since expired. BTW, one purpose of patents is to get innovations out I to the market instead of being retained in secret.

    Patents reward innovation and help innovators to recover their development costs, but they are limited in duration. Gibson’s history of lawsuits suggests to me that they are seeking to expand trademark protection to items which are only eligible to be covered by design or utility patents. If they are trying to play the “victim card” in these matters they serve no interest other than seeking to eliminate legitimate competition by outspending them in court. If this is, indeed, what they are seeking to do, it strikes me as an abuse of the legal system.
    Robbie and Ricochet like this.
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.