Rickenbacker body shape? Log Out | Topics | Search
Moderators | Register | Edit Profile

Alembic Club » Dreaming... for now » Archive through January 13, 2009 » Rickenbacker body shape? « Previous Next »

Author Message
Intermediate Member
Username: eligilam

Post Number: 140
Registered: 2-2006
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - 6:55 am:   Edit Post

After seeing Graeme's Rick with Alembic pickups, I've become curious:

I've heard that the Rickenbacker bass body shape is copyrighted or patented or otherwise somehow legally guarded from copying....does anyone know if that's true? I've heard the same about the "wave" headstock...


Would it be possible to order a custom Alembic with the Rickenbacker 4001 body shape? If not the identical shape, could a similar "form" be worked out/designed? If so, I want one in "all maple" with Signature electronics.

Senior Member
Username: fc_spoiler

Post Number: 773
Registered: 5-2006
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - 8:01 am:   Edit Post

The did an EB/SG style once:

But I think you're right about the "legally guarded from copying" part for Ricks though...

(Message edited by fc_spoiler on December 16, 2008)
Senior Member
Username: adriaan

Post Number: 2032
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - 8:06 am:   Edit Post

I was under the impression that they can't stop people making a one-off custom.
Senior Member
Username: jacko

Post Number: 2034
Registered: 10-2002
Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - 4:25 am:   Edit Post

They've also made A thunderbird copy and the Tribute guitar is a 'tribute' to garcia's irwin so I don't see why a rick should be out of the question.

Senior Member
Username: white_cloud

Post Number: 553
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Friday, December 19, 2008 - 6:11 am:   Edit Post

FC Spoiler...congrats!! That is a really nice EB style bass - very nice and well executed indeed!!

I was under the impression that the majority of companies only became annoyed when their headstock designs were ripped off??? Why is it that Rickenbacker copies always seemed to be hunted down and slain by the company themselves yet Fender have been unceremoniously copied to death (and improved upon!?!?!?!)

Senior Member
Username: adriaan

Post Number: 2039
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Friday, December 19, 2008 - 8:47 am:   Edit Post

John ... Fender copyrighted the design of the headstock, but nothing much else - or at least not in time, before people started copying the body shapes. So in a perversion of common sense, that's the main reason for the different headstocks on those copies.
Advanced Member
Username: dfung60

Post Number: 369
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2008 - 11:30 pm:   Edit Post

All this intellectual property law is complicated and somewhat arcane, but of course, it matters a lot to the companies that designed this stuff.

There are different ways that patent, trademark, and copyright law allow you to protect designs. Patents are granted to inventors by the government to give the inventor legal protection so they can profit from their invention for a period of time in exchange for disclosing the specifics of their invention for the good of all. There are patents that cover how new things function, called utility patents, which last for 20 years. The design of a Strat trem is like this. During the patent lifespan, everybody can see how it works, but you can't duplicate the unique parts of the invention without paying licensing fees to the patent holder. After the patent has lapsed, you can copy the functionality without paying licensing fees to anybody.

There's a similar patent called a design patent which covers how a physical thing looks. You could get a design patent on a guitar body shape or headstock shape, but it's not the best protection, as design patents only last for 14 years. If the lifetime of your design is less than 14 years, that's fine, but if the lifetime is longer than 14 years (like that Rick bass design), then this is poor protection.

So, the way that you protect a unique design for a long time is via trademark. A trademark covers the appearance of an object that uniquely associates that object with it's manufacturer and they last a long time - at least 50 years, and probably can be stretched out to enormous lengths.

In the case of guitars, there was strong trademark protection on headstock shapes from the start. There were also protections on elements of the body shapes too (I would guess this would include stuff like the offset waist on a Jazz Bass and perhaps some of the tummy cut on the back), but the general body shape must have been too generic at the time to receive protection. I suspect that the body and headstock of the 4001 are trademarked. I would think things like the Alembic body silhouettes and headstocks are too. Of course, one of the really famous recent cases was the lawsuit between Gibson and PRS regarding the PRS Singlecut guitar. To me, there's not much similarity between those two (sorry Paul, the Singlecut is pretty homely!), which was affirmed by a court years later.

Nothing stops you from building your own Rick-shaped bass, but a manufacturer who duplicates one has some legal exposure and a manufacturer who makes a lot of them is definitely looking at trouble. If Alembic makes you a Rick-shaped bass and you end up playing it once a month at church, it's no biggie, but if it's your trademark bass and featured on the cover of your platinum selling CD, it's a big deal.

I'm sure EXACTLY this discussion came up when Mr. Entwistle wanted to have an Explorer-shaped bass, and we all know how that turned out.

Certain distinctive shapes like Jerry's Rosebud probably lack meaninful legal protection, so they're effectively fair game (plus or minus karma points).

At the end of the day, I think the real reason why you don't see Alembics that look like everything else in the world is more philosophical. They have the unique ability to make a custom instrument look like anything - why make it look like somebody else's signature, instead of making something unique on your own. When Alembic first burst upon the world back in the 70's, they tore everybody's head off with laminated necks, laminated bodies, exotic woods, unique body shapes and esoteric electronics, only to see everybody else in the world slavishly copying all that stuff for the next five years... It's kind of odd for the leader to chase somebody else's tail when they're the guys that broke the mold in the first place.

David Fung
Username: davehouck

Post Number: 7277
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Tuesday, December 23, 2008 - 1:04 pm:   Edit Post

Thanks David! Nice summary of the issue as always!
Intermediate Member
Username: eligilam

Post Number: 143
Registered: 2-2006
Posted on Wednesday, December 24, 2008 - 6:34 pm:   Edit Post

Thanks to all for their input on this thread! As a life-long fan of the Ric's (well, since the late '80's, during my formative Cliff Burton Master of Puppets/Anesthesia and Geddy Lee Hemispheres/Fly By Night/A Farewell to Kings/2112 years), I've come to almost deify that well-known 4001/4003 body style...however, in 2006, the "scales fell from my eyes" in the tonal realm after the purchase of my SCSD.

Any custom that I would inquire about would have the general Ric body characteristics, but would ultimately exude the Alembic vibe aesthetically (Multilam neck with crown headstock and bird tailpeice, perhaps?). In other words, it would almost seem like a tribute to the spirit and form of the Ric's...while maintaining the more superior Alembic sounds, materials, and craftsmanship.

Thanks again!

Topics | Last Day | Last Week | Tree View | Search | Help/Instructions | Program Credits Administration