False starts LAND OF THE RISING SHAM
A spectacularly shoddy Rickenbacker fake from Tradetang
Ibanez Les Paul copy with post ‘lawsuit’ headstock and a Tokai Springy Sound with an exact Strat headstock tourists, expats and so on – people who can easily transit the countries with luggage or the shipment of personal effects. Personally, I would estimate that more than 90 per cent of the tourists/expats I meet in China ask me where they can buy a high-quality counterfeit. ‘One continuing rumour I hear is that a few music shops in the West are contributing to the existence of counterfeits in the marketplace back home,’ he continues. ‘The music business is tough, especially in this economy, and being able to survive with the huge profits on counterfeits might prove too much to resist for some.’
There have been such cases in the US. In 2007, Bernhard Mussucemi, owner of Oakdale Music, New York, was charged for selling counterfeit guitars; he’d allegedly bought $20,000 worth of fake Gibsons on eBay. Also in 2007, Steve F Sexton from North Carolina pleaded guilty for use of counterfeit trademark having sold fake Gibsons to unsuspecting customers, among them a 15-year-old boy who’d stumped up his savings. ‘They know perfectly well what they’re doing, and they’re perpetuating the problem,’ says Hall. ‘If they wouldn’t handle these copies with zero profit margins, they’d be selling genuine instruments that make it worthwhile to remain in business.
‘Unfortunately, there’s always some sleazy, opportunist retailer that makes that deal with the devil, and there’s no shortage of distributors willing to supply them.’
Whether purchased from the net or bought from a dodgy dealer, retailers find fakes regularly cropping up. ‘In the last three or four years, it’s one every four months or so,’ says Petersen. ‘Sometimes it’s a customer trying to sell them to us; other times they come in for repair or setup. More often than not they aren’t aware they have a fake, though sometimes they know exactly what they have.’
The bottom line is that the consumer has no guarantee or protection from Chinese fakes, whether buying online or via some homeland retailer who should know better.
Providing a clear history of counterfeit guitars is no easy task, but there are some clues. The story probably begins with the infamous Japanese ‘lawsuit era’ guitars from companies like Greco, Tokai, Aria, Burny/Fernandes and Ibanez that came to prevalence in the ’70s.
While production quality in American-built guitars was seeing a major decline, Japanese guitars were extremely well built (for the price), and some believe these cheaper instruments far outshone the models they were mimicking. American Harry Rosenbloom took note of the state of US manufacturing, founded Elger Guitars and began importing guitars to the US via Japanese company Hoshino Gakki (whose brand was Ibanez) having seen an opening for guitars that were reminiscent of the real deal.
Hoshino purchased Elger in 1971, but when these copycats started appearing in the States in the mid-’70s, Gibson, Fender and Martin (amongst others) were understandably annoyed – and perhaps aggravated by the fact that these guitars were far from just shoddy copies. Sure, the headstocks bore different names, but they were designed to mirror the logos of the major brands and thus, in the opinion of the big players, were way too close to the mark; Tokai’s 1958 Gibson Les Paul replica, for example, was called the ‘Les Paul Reborn’, spelt out in that wellknown cursive scrawl.
In June 1977 Gibson sued Ibanez/Elger and sent out a ‘cease and desist’ order – specifically focusing on the all-important ‘moustache’ headstock design; Ibanez complied later that year. Eventually the other ‘lawsuit era’ companies, faced with the prospect of litigation, also made changes. This prompted Gibson to purchase Epiphone to make cheaper models and
Feeding the monster? As we all know, many of the big brands sub-contract the manufacture of certain lines to other countries, particularly to the East where manufacturing costs are far lower.
Fender to start its Squier line for the same ends. Fender and Gibson also went on to buy up Japanese factories.
Rickenbacker encountered problems with its own distributor. ‘We saw some of the first fakes as early as the 1970s, but between the low build quality and the quantity it wasn’t too worrisome,’ John Hall says. ‘One of the first counterfeiters, if we can call it that, were Rose Morris in the late 1960s; they knocked off the Rickenbacker line with the Shaftesbury brand gear, which wasn’t too brilliant, as they lost the Rickenbacker UK distribution over that.
‘Aria was an early counterfeiter, which was surprising, as they made some of the better Japanese guitars that had their own distinctive design. While [Aria boss] Shiro Arai seemed like a very nice, distinguished man, he was of an age where by old tradition he didn’t seem to embrace the ethic of intellectual property, as observed in western culture.’
Gibson moved Epiphone production to Japan in the ’70s and used Aria as their contractor, who almost exclusively built Epiphones through to the late ’80s. Gibson eventually moved production to different Japanese companies and then to Korea, and it’s surely no coincidence that fakes started appearing in those countries at around that time.
From Japan, the problem has slowly spread throughout the East ever since. ‘This has really been a slow but pernicious process,’ comments Hall. ‘Beginning in Japan, migrating to Korea, and then finally maximised in China. This migration, of course, was directed by the rise in personal wages in each of these countries, as well as labour unions and more expensive sources of supply.’
Fender outsources some aspects of its manufacturing to Mexico and China, Epiphones are made in the Far East, PRS’s SE line is built in Korea… the list goes on. For example, many people may not be aware
FEBRUARY 2012 Guitar & Bass 23