Japanese “Lawsuit” Guitars

tokai.jpg
They are known as lawsuit guitars because they are of such good quality (often matching or even surpassing the original Fenders and Gibsons they replicate), that:

Around 1981, though, Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker and a few other US guitar manufacturers got their hands on some “lawsuit” guitars made in Japan and quickly threatened to sue when they saw how exact the Japanese replicas really were. The Japanese replica-making guitar manufacturers were forced to stop making these “copy” guitars around 1983.

There are still tons of these guitars around if you search the used guitar shops and pawn shops, although some of the more famous models outprice the American equivalents they were originally based on!
Read more about the lawsuit guitars on this site.

11 Replies to “Japanese “Lawsuit” Guitars”

  1. Err, the only lawsuit was by Gibson on Ibanez for copying the “moustache” shape at the top of the headstock and the headstock inlay on some Les Paul models (no other design details whatsoever). This happened in 1977, a year after Ibanez stopped using this design.
    Japanese guitar companies were never forced to stop making copies in 1983. Guitar shops were full of them at the time, I worked in one:) Tokai got their knuckles rapped for using a logo very similar to Fender’s in 1982/83 but their guitars continued to be slavish copies of classic guitar models. Fender did not sue, they just made similar quality copies through Squier with the JV Strat until they realised this was comparable to their own Strats so downgraded parts and quality gradually. Gibson later made copies through Epiphone.
    Some Japanese 70’s/80’s guitars are really good, some are well constructed but fall short on the electrics and hardware but the vast majority are just cheap guitars, no better than Korean/Chinese exports these days. None are “lawsuit” except for the aforementioned Ibanez Les Paul copies.
    The mystique about Japanese “lawsuit” guitars can easily be dispelled if you look at Harmony Central where owners wax lyrical about Les Paul copies with bolt-on necks, Strat copies with cheap ceramic pickups and plywood bodies. No one wants to admit to having a crap guitar on Harmony Central it seems. Which is a shame as it continues the myth of the fabled “lawsuit” copy.

  2. I have a 1978 Zapp LP copy, purchased brand new. I also had a Zapp practice amp that came with it as a package. I could not find any serial numbers or other numbers on it to elude to the manufacturer, but the amp was made by Red Tree Music. I saw a Lotus LP copy on the Myrareguitars.com website that has the same diamond shaped pearl inlay configuration on the headstock, but the site owner said he never heard of Zapp. Anyone with more info please email me at jorlittaAThotmailDOTcom. Thanks

  3. this is the first time i have heard of anyone showing interest in these guitars. i still have the one i learned on in 1982, my first guitar and bought by my brother for $100. its s little beat up but has thousands of hours of good times on it.

  4. I own 2 Japanese built guitars, and love them both. Many of the Japanese guitar makers these days have outsourced their production to save money, so a lot of modern “Japanese” guitars aren’t Japanese at all. I challenge anyone to show me that something like a Japan built Tokai Love Rock is in any way inferior to a Gibson Les Paul. I also know many people who love their Greco, Burny and Aria Les Paul copies better than the real thing. Why buy a Chinese Epiphone when there are Japanese copies from the 70’s and 80’s that are much better, in some cases rivaling the Gibson originals, for the same money?

  5. comment? yes, i will…. do a google search using these key words………
    japanese lawsuit outboard motors
    japanese lawsuit televisions
    japanese lawsuit forklifts
    japanese lawsuit pianos
    japanese lawsuit automobiles
    japanese lawsuit guitars
    etc, etc, etc…………..the japanese are in an economic war with the world, and the usa in particular, and if you don’t believe how dastardly they are, check out also world court actions on illegal whaling, and the illegal ivory trade……..
    there is no debate for me about headstocks and whether some japanese guitars are better than what they ripped off… i don’t want anything they make……….

  6. When are we, as Americans, going to wake up and see what’s happening to our country? By buying these Japanese rip offs, be it guitars, forklifts, pianos, etc. we are putting Americans out of work! The job you save might be … your great-grandson’s!!!

    1. pssss…most of the machinery used for production in America comes from overseas right. That includes the machinery used to assemble your American vehicle, assuming you drive one.

  7. Does anyone have any knowledge of a Japanese Kizan acoustic. I purchased this guitar in 1973 for $139.95. I can’t seem to gather any information on it

  8. I own and am currently selling a Kizan acoustic guitar, vintage approx 1973. It was made by Yamaki, and is stamped Jamaki GF 240 on the inside. I never heard of “Kizan” and do not know how or why that name was used. The back of the machine heads also say Yamaki. Hope this helps. David

  9. “Kizan” is an export trademark by YAMAKI.
    “Kizan” meaning is many mountains.
    “YAMAKI” meaning is like a “mountains many”.
    I have two Kizan GF240.
    One Kizan is stamped as YAMAKI in a sound hole.
    My Kizan GF240 is like a YAMAKI AY343S.
    It is YAMAKI F-170 equivalency with the domestic product.
    Solid Cedar Top with Jacaranda(center mahogany) for Three pieces back.
    But one Kizan GF240 looks like plywood Top to me.
    These guitars do a good sound of the balance very much.
    I want to collect more Kizan GF240.
    Please refer to it.
    from Japan

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