UPDATE: Read the partially redacted court filing here.
If you’re not instantly familiar with the name, Heritage Guitars is the Kalamazoo-based company that took over the original Gibson factory in 1984. Made up of ex-Gibson employees, the company uses the old Gibson machinery to build its guitars. Today, the company issued a statement on Instagram explaining that it had taken defensive legal action against Gibson, citing what it calls an “ongoing and excessive campaign of harassment”.
Heritage Guitars sues Gibson
The Heritage factory at 225 Parsons St in Kalamazoo, Michigan was founded by former Gibson employees in 1985 and is known worldwide for making high-quality instruments. Heritage has produced many single-cut and hollowbody models.
Heritage, it turns out, has had a secret legal settlement with Gibson for almost three decades that governed the relationship between the two companies. In a recent legal filing obtained by Guitar.com, Heritage says that Gibson has “demanded that Heritage essentially cease its business as the only solution that Gibson would accept.” The central issue, presumably, is trademarks on the single-cut designs sold by Heritage Guitars.
Heritage is now fighting back, it seems. The company says it is seeking legal redress against Gibson for a “campaign of harassment”. It also maintains that it’s been sticking to the terms of the agreement reached in 1991.
Since James ‘JC’ Curleigh became CEO of Gibson under the ownership of hedge fund Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Gibson has pursued several legal actions against other companies. These include confrontations with Dean Guitars, a Cease and Desist order against Kiesel as well as disputes with Warwick. And don’t forget the infamous “Play Authentic” video in which the company threatened smaller guitar makers over copyrights.
And now this. I suppose Gibson thinks it is trying to protect a heritage left in tatters by the former CEO and ownership. But in my personal opinion, it makes Gibson look pretty foolish. Everyone knows that Heritage Guitars has had the blessing of Gibson and that the company is full of ex-Gibson employees. This will leave a bad taste in the mouth for many guitar fans around the world. Surely Gibson should be concentrating on building great guitars and get their own business in order.
But it appears that legal threats form a key part of Gibson’s business strategy. The optics here are bad for Gibson: Goliath engaged in a “campaign of harassment” against David. I’m sure that many Gibson fans will be disappointed to hear of the legal pressure it’s putting on Heritage Guitars, seeing as the two companies worked in harmony together for so long.
You can also read the official statement from Heritage Guitars on their Instagram post below.