of copyright. ‘A lot of companies have their equivalents to the big traditional guitars out there, but they’ll vary the body, hardware or appearance enough to be obviously not infringing on the visual trademark,’ he states. ‘There’s only so many forms that can handle the function of a guitar. It all comes down to the headstock. The headstock is carried over multiple guitars within a brand, so it defines the brand more than anything else.’
We’d be inclined to agree; it was, after all, a humble Encore ‘copy’ that set this writer on the path to a genuine ‘Made in the USA’ limited edition Telecaster. Hall views this upward progression as uncommon. ‘I don’t buy into the theory that offering cheap copies is a way to introduce younger or less economically-endowed buyers to the product with the thought that they’ll upgrade later,’ he tells us. ‘In fact, it really leaves no incentive to save or dream of upgrading. It also does nothing to stamp out the increasing, lingering pool of lower quality instruments that, like cockroaches, never seem to go away.’
Gibson’s Slash Appetite Les Paul: copying a copyist?
Rent-a-ghost For those who have never heard the term, a ghostbuilder is someone who builds a guitar for a brand or famous guitarist, but much like a ‘ghostwriter’ remains in the shadows uncelebrated. Sometimes these luthiers fill in when companies don’t have the equipment; one example is Ed Roman Guitars in Las Vegas, who ghostbuilt several left-handed basses for Spector as the company didn’t have the machinery to make them.
odd, considering the original wasn’t genuine in the first place. Sure, the ‘Appetite’ was an exact replica, but it’s hard not to see Gibson’s move as (at least in some way) endorsing ghostbuilding; after all, the guitar to some extent re-popularised the brand. Gibson declares it’s ‘the axe that launched a thousand we’ve recently filed a case in US Federal court against such a builder. Furthermore, allowing these makers to utilise any form of the trademarks opens up the door to losing the trademark completely.’
An interesting point, and the practice is without doubt illegal, but nevertheless it continues and many of these builders are highly skilled and extremely well respected in guitar circles. They provide a guitarist with a fantastic personalised instrument without damaging any existing endorsements that artist may have.
‘Fakes dilute the brands, and the brand name is always a big assurance of quality, whether the instrument is new or secondhand’
Fakes: the players’ decision The issue of counterfeit guitars is a mixed-up, many-faceted stew, and
Multitudes of famous axemen have called upon the services of ghostbuilders to make their guitars over the years. Ted Nugent commissioned Paul Reed Smith to build a solidbody version of his Gibson Byrdland in the late ’70s, Randy Parsons recently made a stunning copper-topped ‘Gretsch’ Triple Jet for Jack White, Roger Giffin built two replicas of ‘Blackie’ for Eric Clapton and an exact replica for Peter Frampton of his three-pickup Les Paul, and Motörhead’s Phil Campbell had Dave Dearnaley make him a Flying V that eventually went to Dave Grohl. There are many, many others too.
One infamous ghostbuilder was Kris Derrig. Although most guitarists won’t have heard the name, Derrig built Slash’s ‘Appetite’ ‘Les Paul’ complete with Gibson logo on the headstock. This is where it gets interesting. As many readers will know, Gibson recently released a Slash replica. With all the furore surrounding ‘fakes’, this seems riffs’, so for both parties in this case, perhaps imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
As we’d expect, John Hall has no time for these underground luthiers. ‘To me this is essentially a form of prostitution and it’s never acceptable to us,’ he states. ‘In fact,
opinions radically differ depending on whom you’re speaking to. For some it’s the name on the headstock and the ‘Made In USA’ stamp that denotes the real thing; for others it’s a privately-made custom built guitar that’s all about the tone, regardless of luthier or brand.
Regardless, the bottom line is that the laws of copyright and intellectual property define what is or isn’t ‘counterfeit’. It lies within the conscience of the individual as to whether they go down the rocky road of buying a Chinese fake… and purchasing a genuine guitar is always
The UK has its share of individuals faking vintage Fenders. Here’s a sonic blue
the safer route to getting a tone to die for. ‘One thing to understand is how much anything like this can dilute the brands,’ says Petersen. ‘The brand name is always a big assurance of quality, whether the instrument is new or secondhand.’
The future of counterfeits is resting firmly in our hands. As they say, the public gets what the public wants. The sad thing is with counterfeits is you never can be sure.
28 Guitar & Bass FEBRUARY 2012