I've been researching guitar manufacturers from overseas trying to find decent factories that build affordable electric and acoustic guitars, as I teach guitar and bass and wish to have my own small line of guitars/basses to rent and sell to my students at a discounted price.

Only problem is - nearly all of these manufacturers lack their own design and as a result only sell direct copies of existing popular guitar designs like Les Pauls, Strats, and Gibson acoustics (J200 etc)... they default to directly copying the brand names as well (see: Chibson and Chender from China) which as I am aware is completely illegal to re-sell but not necessarily illegal to own.

My question is: If I got a bunch of Les Paul copies (made more or less to the same dimensions and everything as a Gibson Les Paul) with my own brand logo on them, with nothing anywhere on the product to suggest it is affiliated or related to Gibson or Les Paul trademarks, is that legal to re-sell? Or could Gibson come at me and sue for using their guitar design or likeness, even without their logos or names anywhere on it?

Some brands like ESP/LTD make obvious Les Paul shaped guitars but they're usually slightly different size/shape dimensions... SX and Samick and all of them do Strats as well but again, slightly different body shapes usually although this is hard to tell. At the end of the day, I will be doing VERY limited runs of these guitars (no more than 5-10 guitars at a time)

P.S. I live in Australia - no idea what the laws are here compared to USA
it's not going to be worth it. you wouldn't make any money at that low of production numbers. also it would be junk, or just too expensive.
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Gibson absolutely can and will come after you for using certain aspects of their design. The open-book headstock for sure, and depending on how close the body shape is, that too. At one point they were going after anyone with volume/tone knob and pickup switch layouts identical to their LP, but I'm not sure if that's ongoing. Look to the other large manufacturers for hints and clues as to what you can and can't include.

If the design itself is far enough from the original, you can slap your own logo on it and sell it however you want. Badging no-name imports is pretty common and as far as I know has not gotten anyone in legal trouble in and of itself.

I've done some numbers and looked at a few different models and it can be done, my main thing will be rental rather than selling anyway... the ones I have been looking at cost between $200 USD and $400 USD depending, with no extra cost to add own logos etc and come with hard cases (also no extra cost to add logo).

I did a test order of a Rickenbacker 4003 style bass guitar and it turned out to be rather good quality for the price I paid for it (about $280 USD), a few minor things like the neck needed to be set properly but you get that with any guitar.

But yeah my main concern is the legality of putting my brand name on a guitar that is the same shape and dimensions as a Les Paul or whatever.... or is it only illegal if you actually claim it is a "Gibson" or use the name "Les Paul" or either name on the guitar

Yeah I've heard their headstock design is part of their registered trademarks, and the little symbols they use on the headstocks. I am considering designing my own headstock shape to go with my logo. I guess as long as I don't say "LP" or "Gibson" or anything anywhere, they probably would never even find it as this is more or less purely for my students so not publicly advertised or in stores etc... I tried to find some info on the Rickenbackers but it seems their body design might be registered, that was very unclear
Id be cautious, it might be worth to change a bit more, make the body thinner (a good idea anyway if the students are young), maybe change up the controls... I imagine it wouldn't be as bad doing a Fender knockoff, literally everybody has a Strat-a-like
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Gibson's "trademark" of their headstock shape exists in some countries and not in others. They haven't actually been tested on it in court that I know of, and I don't know that they want to be. Outside of court, they usually use "cease and desist" letters from lawyers (full defense of a trademark in court would cost several hundred thousand dollars, and most IP actions never get that far). Japanese guitars have used the headstock shape with impunity (Tokai, others).

The single-cut body shape should be fine. The attack point with this has always been "confusion in the market place." Gibson will claim that a customer can easily be confused into thinking that he's buying a Gibson when he's not.

I think a bit of research into the intellectual property filings by Gibson in Australia will give you most of the information you need.
Last edited by dspellman at Jul 7, 2016,
Having looked into it a bit myself, some of the Chinese manufacturers will accommodate changes and it could be doable. Ultimately, I passed because there is too much risk involved.
Even where there isn't a registered patent, trademark or design, some companies will still pursue you via a legal spending war. As I understand it, Rickenbacker have done this with horseshoe pickups, for example.

My mate is having his own importer brand made in China, just for sale through his shop. The factory he is using seem able to accommodate fairly small numbers.

Small but distinctive changes to the headstock shape and logo should suffice.For example, my mate has gone for a Maton style acoustic headstock, but the proportions are obviously different.
Thanks heaps for the info guys! Really helpful

The manufacturers I've been using have said it's all good to change headstock shape etc and add own logos, usually for no extra cost. And yeah the closest I'll get to public advertising is putting these on my teaching website for sale/rent... it's likely that it'll never come up in searches or anything because firstly I won;t be using the terms "Gibson" or "Les Paul" or "LP" or anything like that, and also I'm not paying for my website to come up in Google searches etc (it's a free wix site)