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I Know This Question Tends To Irritate Some People But Here Goes:

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Sep 16, 2019 - 7:51:06 PM
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timacn

USA

506 posts since 7/30/2004

What's the latest on the great Gibson repro neck debate? If a banjo pot is a genuine Gibson, is it permissible to put a repro neck with a Gibson script logo on the peg head, or is that an unlawful trademark violation? Lots of speculation on this, but nothing definitive.

Anybody know how Gibson feels about this, particularly since they are no longer making banjos?

Sep 16, 2019 - 8:15:08 PM

306 posts since 2/28/2006

Contact Scott Zimmerman (Desert Rose) - he has indicated in the past that this has been definitively determined in favor of people who make Gibson repro necks for Gibson pots.

All the best.
Brian Saulsman

Sep 16, 2019 - 8:19:40 PM

1865 posts since 12/31/2005

Earl Scruggs did it.

Sep 16, 2019 - 8:31:22 PM
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14807 posts since 2/7/2003

Thanks Brian, YES it has been determined in EXTENSIVE Federal court rullings.

For repair or restoration it is TOTALLY legal to use build EXACT replacement components including TRADEMARKED designs and LOGOS, you do NOT need to contat or gain permission of the Trademark holder.

It is TOTALLY illegal to make a new item using the Trademarks of course.

As before any active builders or repair people who NEED this information, I can supply the actual court ruling signed by the Federal judge

Scott

Sep 16, 2019 - 10:01:05 PM

timacn

USA

506 posts since 7/30/2004

I've heard some of these arguments before. Most of the prewar Mastertones that I see online are Gibson tenor banjos with conversion 5 string necks. Would a 5 string neck be considered an "exact" replacement or replica of the original tenor neck?

Sep 16, 2019 - 10:07:16 PM
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14807 posts since 2/7/2003

You can put ANY neck design you want on it, there is no need to inject hundreds of what if what if.

If its an existing product, YOU ass the owner have the right to restoration or modification, it is allowed under FEDERAL LAW, and as a craftsman, YOU have the right to do the work

Scott

Sep 16, 2019 - 10:28:47 PM

chuckv97

Canada

43497 posts since 10/5/2013
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I have a 1930 TB-1 conversion.. Hatfield neck,, Blaylock ring. The Gibson logo on the headstock, the “Mastertone” block on the fingerboard. People have asked me that same question, considering it wasn’t a Mastertone to begin with. I just tell them it’s a Gibson with a tone ring, so now it’s a Mastertone. btw, I wasn’t aware of the legal proceedings - thanks Scott.

Sep 17, 2019 - 5:28:38 AM

1640 posts since 2/10/2003

quote:
Originally posted by desert rose

Thanks Brian, YES it has been determined in EXTENSIVE Federal court rullings.

For repair or restoration it is TOTALLY legal to use build EXACT replacement components including TRADEMARKED designs and LOGOS, you do NOT need to contat or gain permission of the Trademark holder.

It is TOTALLY illegal to make a new item using the Trademarks of course.

As before any active builders or repair people who NEED this information, I can supply the actual court ruling signed by the Federal judge

Scott


The gray area created by the ruling is how much of a Gibson banjo has to be present in order for it to be considered a restoration or repair and not a creation of a new banjo using some Gibson parts. In other words, the ruling would support replacing a neck using trademarks on a complete genuine Gibson pot. I don’t think it would support “restoration” or “repair” of a banjo if you just had a couple of Gibson hooks and nuts and were manufacturing the rest using trademarks and calling it a restoration. Where is the cutoff?

Sep 17, 2019 - 5:40:50 AM
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3203 posts since 7/12/2006

i personally dont care what Gibson thinks . they abandoned a rich heritage ,unlike Martin. Youre doing them a favor by just putting the logo on it.

Sep 17, 2019 - 6:18:03 AM

1905 posts since 1/10/2004

There aren't really banjo police. Most of these transactions are deeply under the radar. Use your own best judgement. If you have substantially a Gibson pot but are adding a ringing or replacing the rim for some reason or some hooks I think you're good. Over time you can replace any and all of it and nobody's to stop you. Almost anything goes, but the person who just sets out to make a fake from scratch knows what they're doing.

Sep 17, 2019 - 6:57:42 AM
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225 posts since 4/14/2017

Oh, to be on the banjo police,That CITES the law for good, with a 5-string badge and a billy club,of Brazillian rosewood. Oh, to be on the banjo force, with patent shoes and might, to hold those pickers to the law, in ebony and white.

Sep 17, 2019 - 7:09:33 AM

1640 posts since 2/10/2003

quote:
Originally posted by Bradskey

There aren't really banjo police. Most of these transactions are deeply under the radar. Use your own best judgement. If you have substantially a Gibson pot but are adding a ringing or replacing the rim for some reason or some hooks I think you're good. Over time you can replace any and all of it and nobody's to stop you. Almost anything goes, but the person who just sets out to make a fake from scratch knows what they're doing.


I agree.  However, Gibson if they are going to pursue sending cease and desist letters and or law suit threats, as they did in the past, are going to be sending them to the well known banjo neck makers/builders we all hear about here, as they are the ones who they know are using their trademarks. The builders already know they are protected by a federal ruling regarding using the trademarks in repair and replacement. However what has never been tested is how much of an original banjo needs to be present in order for the trademark use to be considered a repair.  Just because there is a federal ruling doesn’t mean there are not valid infringement suits to be brought against these builders.  Although it has been decided that trademark use in repair or replacement of parts is a valid use, it has not been decided what is actually considered repair/replacement of an original and what would be considered a conglomeration of various parts, with some being Gibson and therefore an invalid use.  

Sep 17, 2019 - 8:25:59 AM
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14807 posts since 2/7/2003

I generally dont reply to posts where I cant communicate with someone by name.

I think the best advice can give you is IF splitting hairs like this is a concern to you DONT do it. You havent seen the ruling so you are grasping at straws here and making assumptions

As I said above I have supplied builders and repair people with DOZENS and dozens of copies of the hard copy ruling for them to study and see for themselves the wording. Its NOT available on line, and I wont supply copies to anyone but builders and repair people, I have refused to supply copys to a number of the NAME brand banjos, they can pay their lawyer to teach them. Im into empowering the little guy

Scott

Sep 17, 2019 - 9:49:45 AM

354 posts since 1/28/2013

I have a Hearts and Flowers with Gibson peghead on my Huber pot. Huber is supposed to be an exact copy of a Gibson anyway, so why not. It was cheaper also.

Sep 17, 2019 - 7:58:47 PM
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1740 posts since 10/17/2013

Don’t ever try to pass off a Gibson Copy as a bonafide Gibson, because it just isn’t and won’t be. Don’t try to claim warranty work on a copy. I have only owned two factory original Gibsons, and both were prewar. I’ve never owned a factory original postwar Gibson.

Only a banjo built by Gibson, with all Gibson parts, can truly be called a “Gibson banjo.”

 Anything else, no matter how close it resembles the real thing, or even has mostly Gibson parts, if it’s not factory original, is a COPY!

Edited by - bluegrassbanjopicker on 09/17/2019 20:02:11

Sep 17, 2019 - 8:41:02 PM
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7034 posts since 11/4/2005

I would be interested in the federal court citation Scott (desert rose) referenced. The only thing I remember is the Gibson suit against Elderly, which ended in an undisclosed settlement, after Elderly's lawyers had argued pretty persuasively that Gibson had in effect abandoned its original trademark and trade dress through non-enforcement.

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 09/17/2019 20:41:35

Sep 17, 2019 - 10:20:08 PM
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1905 posts since 1/10/2004

I don't know this for a fact, but I seem to recall references/claims/whatever over the years to Gibson's trademark/trade-dress rights essentially being limited to post-war stuff... flyswatter peghead, blocky-looking inlay patterns, that sort of stuff that doesn't get copied much. And even that may not be true. But any other newer post-war creations could potentially be protected. They obviously have rights to their own name including it's various script logo incarnations, but everything else especially pre-war is copied freely and shamelessly. Double-cut, fiddle-cut, snake-head, H&F, wreath, eagle, etc, etc, etc.

The question though is really about re-necking an instrument. Gibson was willing to do this in the past, because people want a different scale and number of strings on an existing pot that otherwise has all that pre-war magic, and the conversion is virtually always to a 5-string. But for various reasons (one obviously being that Gibson isn't even in that business any more), you'd likely choose someone else to do the work for you. On your GIBSON banjo. I don't know why anyone would be reasonably expected to put a different name (what name would you even use?) or none at all on the peg head of their new neck in that case. Allowing use of a period-correct Gibson logo crafted by a non-Gibson artisan is a reasonable accommodation in this case and doesn't really infringe Gibson's rights. It obviously can't harm their banjo sales. The debate over how much you can change on a banjo and it cease to be a Gibson is a philosophical one, but saying you can change nothing at all is rather extreme. Tuners, heads, bridges, tailpieces, nuts and assorted small parts are changed frequently and virtually never in the past sourced directly from Gibson. It's still a Gibson banjo. Sometimes somebody wanted to try a different rim or a different ring. It's still a Gibson a banjo, with upgrades. A pre-war Gibson banjo pot didn't stop being a pre-war Gibson banjo pot because you couldn't go back in time and get a pre-war Gibson 5-string neck for it from the Kalamazoo factory.

Otherwise.... when Earl picked his Granada he wasn't playing a Gibson banjo for the last 50 years.

Sep 18, 2019 - 12:47:24 AM

1640 posts since 2/10/2003

Let’s say you, player A, have a Gibson banjo (specifics do not matter in this case). You decide to change out the rim for a different one (tony pass, etc) and change the tone ring (blaylock, etc). You sell your old Gibson rim to player B, who subsequently pieces it into a banjo and has it fitted with a neck made by someone other then Gibson, with the Gibson logo. You sell your ring to player C who fits it into a banjo and also has a neck made by another with Gibson’s logo. Essentially now that original banjo has turned into 3 banjos all with the Gibson logo on the peg head. Which one of these necks made by others would not infringe on Gibson’s trademark? Are they both considered repair and restoration of a Gibson banjo, and therefore can use the logo without infringement due to precedent set in this oft cited court case. I highly doubt any judge, if it came down to it would rule it was authorized use.

Sep 18, 2019 - 6:55:39 AM

1905 posts since 1/10/2004

I was also mulling this turning one banjo into two or three idea yesterday. Again, I think the person using the parts knows what they are doing. They didn't start with "a Gibson banjo" and that's the key. It's the spirit of the thing. Banjos #2 (and #3) are parts banjos and likely considered copies or fakes. It's up to the person who sells such an instrument to be forthcoming about what it is, or up to us to see through it. As to Gibson's rights or harm, reusing one of their existing necks, rare as that may be, is legit. Creating a Gibson copy neck for a purely parts banjo pot, or even another builder's pot they might have a real claim against, unlikely as it is to be detected or enforced.

Also consider for a pre-war conversion pot with great tone it would be a minor loss to Gibson not to still have their name on such an instrument even if they don't make them any more. Imagine if Earl's replacement necks had just left off "Gibson".

And so long as Gibson no longer makes banjos anyway then almost any quality Gibson copy neck on almost any banjo pot just bolsters their brand. Of course IANAL, and they are free to see it differently.

Sep 18, 2019 - 7:02:26 AM

70093 posts since 5/9/2007

When Jimmy Cox converted my '29 tb-2 in '99 I asked for a neck with the "Cox" logo on the peghead.Jimmy said he couldn't do that saying Gibson said the neck had to be a copy of a Gibson neck with peghead script and Mastertone block.

Sep 18, 2019 - 7:24:32 AM

258 posts since 9/21/2018

quote:
Originally posted by desert rose

You can put ANY neck design you want on it, there is no need to inject hundreds of what if what if.

If its an existing product, YOU ass the owner have the right to restoration or modification, it is allowed under FEDERAL LAW, and as a craftsman, YOU have the right to do the work

Scott


I don't think this is a what if... Where was the line drawn on that, Scott? Start with a Gibson manufactured rim and it's considered repair/ restoration/ modification work? I don't plan to use Gibson copyright or patent designs in the build I'm working on, but the thread has sparked my interest, especially with what they have going on in the guitar world currently. 

Sep 18, 2019 - 7:31:43 AM

70093 posts since 5/9/2007

My "2" has the numbers chalked,penciled and painted in the neck,rim and resonator.
I wonder if that had anything to do with Gibson calling the shots on the design of the conversion.

Sep 18, 2019 - 7:56:48 AM

1905 posts since 1/10/2004

I do have a more concrete opinion (and it's just that) on when it is still a Gibson banjo. To me there are only four major components in a Gibson-style banjo: neck, rim, tone chamber and resonator (let's ignore open back here). I think to be a Gibson banjo you need to still have any two of those original components. Preferably and most often you'd want at least 3, but there are cases where 2 is more likely, like sub-Mastertone conversions. As to the rest of the smaller hardware, especially the flange, you'd want to keep as much of it as possible Gibson original, but all of it is subject to wear and replacement.

This sort of "rule of 2, preferably 3" almost always will have the resonator as one of the two, but leaves open the possibility of a couple of odd combinations like neck and ring or resonator and ring, but assuming there's usually other assorted hardware still present it would suffice in my mind.

Sep 18, 2019 - 8:06:05 AM
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1260 posts since 3/24/2006

It's a banjo being discussed here, not uranium. Gibson is out of the banjo business never to return again. Neither Gibson nor the government (banjo police) care what your banjo says on the peghead.

Sep 18, 2019 - 8:19:16 AM

258 posts since 9/21/2018

quote:
Originally posted by Bradskey

I do have a more concrete opinion (and it's just that) on when it is still a Gibson banjo. To me there are only four major components in a Gibson-style banjo: neck, rim, tone chamber and resonator (let's ignore open back here). I think to be a Gibson banjo you need to still have any two of those original components. Preferably and most often you'd want at least 3, but there are cases where 2 is more likely, like sub-Mastertone conversions. As to the rest of the smaller hardware, especially the flange, you'd want to keep as much of it as possible Gibson original, but all of it is subject to wear and replacement.

This sort of "rule of 2, preferably 3" almost always will have the resonator as one of the two, but leaves open the possibility of a couple of odd combinations like neck and ring or resonator and ring, but assuming there's usually other assorted hardware still present it would suffice in my mind.


Gibson used a myriad of different tone rings throughout the years if I'm not mistaken. Wouldn't that one be moderately difficult to prove? 

Sep 18, 2019 - 8:52:11 AM
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1905 posts since 1/10/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Moose_Roberts

Gibson used a myriad of different tone rings throughout the years if I'm not mistaken. Wouldn't that one be moderately difficult to prove? 


In some instances yes.  Obviously a Kulesh doesn't belong on a 60s bowtie.  50s-60s rings are somewhat non-descript but I think they can be roughly identified, and there are those who can supposedly authenticate pre-war rings.  I'm talking more of a scout's honor type situation.  If for a particular banjo you either know or through provenance have reasonable cause to believe X number of major components are original to that specific banjo because they look right or are right then I think you're good.  When it comes to buying and selling though it's always caveat emptor and getting second opinions.  There are scams and scammers out there but there are also a lot of instruments that really are exactly what they appear to be.

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