Save the smaller guitar builders sign now

As customers and members of the guitar-buying public, we feel that any court action in enforcing 50-year old trademarks, especially when previously undefended or under-defended, or recent trademarks on 50-year old designs, causes great harm to the guitar-buying public.

We do not take any position on the legal merits of the recent court action in the Gibson Guitar Corp. vs. Paul Reed Smith Guitars, LP, action regarding the PRS Singlecut model and alleged violations of the Lanham Act. We do not profess to be experts on the case law involved. Rather, we feel that this recent spate of action by Gibson and Fender will be a detriment to our interests as consumers.

We do oppose Fenders recent attempts to trademark their body styles some 50 to 60 years after the introduction of those body styles, and decades after other builders began issuing guitars in those styles. Our position is that to a large degree, innovation in the guitar industry necessarily consists of improvements to existing design and the further evolution of the craft as it relates to building quality stringed instruments.

In the same way that the basic design of the tire was perfected long ago, it is our position that the early innovators of the electric guitar in the 1950s (Paul Bigsby, Leo Fender, Ted McCarty, Les Paul) created the wheel from which further guitar innovation flows. It is a recognized fact that specific, now-trademarked designs of both Fender and Gibson guitars were actually borrowed from Paul Bigsbys early designs.

Modern builders such as Paul Reed Smith, Tom Anderson, John Suhr, Scott Lentz, Don Grosh and others have succeeded as guitar builders not because they have reinvented the wheel in a new shape. Rather success came because they have made marked improvements to the wheels that were previously only available through Fender and Gibson.

Just as a piece of round rubber does not constitute a workable automobile tire, neither does a piece of wood cut into a specific shape constitute a workable, much less exceptional, guitar. Rather, it is the pursuit of advancements in technology and construction while working within classic, proven designs that advances the science of guitar making.

In fact, smaller builders such as PRS, Anderson, Lentz, Grosh and Suhr were able to gain their initial foothold in the market because of a drop in the quality of instruments made by Gibson and Fender. This formed a quality vacuum which these smaller builders filled.

These improvements are not always obvious to non-players. Many of these improvements are subtle, minor tweaks to an existing design that afford a breakthrough in tone, balance or playability. These tweaks may or may not meet the demands of the Lanham Act, but to likely customers of these high-end products, these often-minor improvements make a world of difference and greatly influence product purchase.

It is our contention that eliminating smaller builders from the marketplace and leaving Fender and Gibson as the only builders capable of producing these classic designs will result in a lack of available alternative choices, a drop in the overall quality of new guitars in the marketplace, and an increase in price as they attain monopoly status with regard to these classic designs.

We do understand that guitars are not limited in shape by the same physical constraints that bind a wheel to a circular shape. However those early stringed instrument designs, as far back as Paul Bigsby in the realm of electric guitars, and indeed as far back as 17th century European violin makers achieved a balance, symmetry and playability that has stood the test of time.

This test of time is proven not only by the massive sales that these designs have enjoyed, but also by the derivations and improvements made to those designs by scores of builders since 1950.

Again, we take no position on the strictly legal merits of these cases before the courts. As customers, however, we express great concern that strict enforcement of these designs, decades after other luthiers have adopted and advanced the technology and construction of those early designs, will have crippling effects on both the marketplace, as well as the choices available to the millions of guitar players in the United States.

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Kitty ChoiBy:
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The courts, attorneys and litigants involved in Gibson Guitar Corp vs, Paul Reed Smith, LP; Fender Musical Instrument Company, and the smaller guitar makers of the United States

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