You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Sues You

Due to some recent claims by some that I am too negative towards the large mass production guitar corporations, I have decided that in the future I will try to take a more “positive” temperament when it comes to addressing the failures of today’s guitar conglomerates.

But that day is not today. Today I am just down right sickened by the “big money lawyers” and “corporate bullying” of these companies. In particular, I am pointing my rage at Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. FMIC as it is known has been one of the 2 Big Boys on the Block for decades.

These Big Boys have made a career out of driving other competitive companies into the ground. They do this by using dirt cheap pricing on crap guitars that they sell to the unwitting public who buy them because they think they are getting a “great deal” on a “name brand” guitar. In reality they are overpaying for a piece of crap! How do I know? Because people bring me this crap all the time to fix when they won’t stay in tune and I tell them to burn it because the wood is so cheap and the construction is so bad that it isn’t worth fixing.

Since the Big Boys move such high volume they can sell their crap for low prices and still make a profit while their competitors are often forced to go out of business or sell off their companies. These companies in turn are bought up by the Big Boys who buy the brand name, close down the factory and mass produce their “new” line of guitars in the same crappy job shop where they mass produce their original pieces of crap. If you don’t believe me do a Wikipedia search on Fender Guitars (FMIC) and see how many “subsidiaries” they have. At one point every one of those subsidiaries was a competitor.

The other Big Boy on the block is Gibson Guitar Corporation and they are indeed worthy of their own verbal bitch slap but they will have to wait for another day. Right now I must release my rage on these scumbags at Fender.

Recently I was looking at my good friend and mentor Mike Lipe’s website,
And I noticed that all the headstocks in the pictures were blackened out. I called Mike to ask him what was going on and he told me that he had been served a “cease and desist” from Fender Guitars because his headstock was “similar to theirs at a distance”. They requested a forensic accounting of his books and sales receipts to determine the amount of compensation he would have to pay them on past sales of his Signature Lipe Guitars because he violated a trademark of their headstock.

Now you may want to take Fenders side and say that they deserve money because it’s their trademark. If that’s the case then I will try to use small words so you can understand the rest of this blog because comprehension is clearly not your strong suit.

Mike just wrapped up the NAMM Show in January of 2013. It was his best year yet. His brand is taking off and Lipe Guitars now has overseas distribution and he has been getting rave review in Total Guitar and Vintage Guitar magazines as well as countless other accolades. His guitars are in high demand and they sell for $2500-$4000.

Mike has been building his brand and reputation for decades and now is finally beginning to come into his own as a high demand Signature Builder. He has a huge buzz in the industry among the blues guitar elite and just began his best year ever. In other words he is becoming a threat…That’s when the sharks come cruising. Fender sees Lipe Guitars as a threat to their claim as the “blues guitar company” so now it’s time to call in the lawyers…

This is where I get enraged because if you looked at Mikes headstock pattern you would conclude that it was NOT like the classic Fender trademark headstock in any sense other that they both have tuners and hold the strings on. Much like the way every car looks different but at the end of the day they all have round wheels because that’s what is necessary to make them move. Imagine if Ford sued every car company because they all used round wheels while Ford held the trademark on round wheels. It’s downright asinine.

But nonetheless our society loves a good lawsuit and lawyers have trust funds to fatten so every dog will get his day in court. Thanks to some clever wording, terms like “Similar at a Distance” have entered into the corporate vernacular. These terms are so subjective and vague that you can never fully determine their meaning so we leave it up to lawyers to interpret lawyers.

When it comes down to it no matter how much you try to protect yourself with patents and trademarks at the end of the day the party with the most money wins. So what chance does a small independent craftsman have against a multi-level, heavily subsidized global conglomeration? Not much.

It seems that the only winning move is not to play. At the end of the day Mike conceded. He removed the “similar” headstock images from his website and is redesigning his headstock to comply with the request and all other information regarding the issue is confidential.

Mike is such a gentleman and a professional that he will not even address the issue. I on the other hand have no qualms about exposing the greed of these leaches that unleash their plague of inferior products on the guitar market and then attempt to squash anyone who brings integrity to the industry.

However, while I view FMIC as a plague on our society and their products as fodder, I am nonetheless grateful for their existence. They mass produce poor products with shiny paint jobs and then buy up failing companies in order to mass produce more inferior products with shiny paint jobs. . They spread this plague throughout the industry and the cycle goes on and on. If they did not mass produce complete pieces of crap in such large volumes there would be no need for builders like Mike Lipe and myself to meet the needs of demanding players who can actually recognize craftsmanship and skill.

They say that you are nobody until somebody sues you. Congratulations Mike, you have finally arrived!

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