[Bass of the week] 1977 Ibanez Silver Series “Lawsuit” Jazz Bass

The owner of this bass was not sure if in fact this ’77 Ibanez Silver Series bass was considered a “lawsuit” bass or not.

There is some debate on this. We’re saying it is – but just barely. The defining lawsuit of the era was Norlin (owner of Gibson at the time) vs. Elger/Hoshino U.S.A., filed in June 1977 that ultimately resulted in being settled out of court in February 1978. Now while this doesn’t cover Fender copy designs specifically, that was the lawsuit where very-close copies of the designs stopped after that, putting the ’77 Ibanez seen here just barely within “lawsuit era” territory…

…unless you have a better explanation. Please feel free to post a comment below if you have better information concerned the lawsuit-era guitars and basses of the ’70s from Ibanez.

Owner Tony Green writes (short but sweet):

Photos taken a few days ago – original condition 1977 (March) Ibanez Silver Series Jazz Bass – I don’t know if this is a “lawsuit” bass but it is that era.

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43 thoughts on “[Bass of the week] 1977 Ibanez Silver Series “Lawsuit” Jazz Bass

    • Thanks Grey Eagle – It has been a great guitar used constantly for over 30 years without any repairs required or malfunctions – amazing quality really., Regards Tony

  1. Wow! I remember that one. We had a guy in our high school jazz band that had the jazz bass but it was a sunburst finish. And I played in a band and our guitar player had a ibanez tele version and he love that one better than the fender tele. Didn’t know they were called ‘lawsuit’ instruments til’ after the fact. To me they were great instruments.

    • Hi Eric – as my only bass for many years I never realised the value of what I had other than it earned me a lot of money. The purchase was by accident – I thought I had an amp problem and was using this guitar in the shop to try out amps – I purchased a Roland SB100 which I still use – when I got it home I found it wasn’t the amp is was the Maton B250 guitar I owned which had a fault in the pickup – raced back to the shop and traded the Maton for the Ibanez – sorry I didn’t keep the Maton as there were only about 60 to 70 made and they are now worth heaps. Regards Tony

  2. From what I’ve gathered over the years, it was more of a Cease and Desist than an actual lawsuit. Whatever it was, it sent Ibanez, Aria, and others into overdrive to make some of the nicest instruments EVER. The following decade saw Gibson and Fender make some of the worst musical instruments in the two companies history, and some of THE BEST in Japanese guitar history.

  3. Although you’ll probably consider this following statement to be not at all relevant, perhaps someone might help me anyway. I own an Eros MK 11 sunburst Jazz Bass made in around 1973/1974 in Japan. At that time, it cost me £75-00 GBP (around $100). An excellent copy indeed made of mahogany with both pickup guards and finger rest below strings.

    Only recently have I thought that it might be a lawsuit bass…

    Folks, any ideas?

    Thank you.

    Den Finch (In the UK)

  4. this is indeed a great example of LAWSUIT VINTAGE instruments… IMHO It is my understanding that those Guitars and Basses coming out of both the MATSUMOKU and FUGIGEN factories in Matsumoto, Japan (which included Ibanez, Greco, Aria, Fernandez, Tokai, Canda, et al) whose shapes and dimensions were (for the most part) EXACT copies of FENDER, GIBSON, RICKENBACKER, (maybe more) are included in this Vintage.

    • Thanks Andrew – your knowledge is amazing – I had to dig just to work out how to tell the manufacture date from the serial number – I am so old I could not remember which year I bought it other than it was after I got back to Australia from the UK.

  5. Were the Carlo Robelli basses from the 70’s considered to be “lawsuit” instruments?
    In the early to mid 70’s (I’m guessing around 1974) my parents bought me a Carlo Robelli Jazz bass that was an exact copy of a 73/74 Fender Jazz bass. It was sunburst, had a bound and blocked rosewood fingerboard and it was left handed. It was actually my first REAL left handed bass. Prior to that I had Guild Modera bass (right handed) and a righty Princeton bass.

  6. Can someone lend insight as to the nature of the “2nd” serial number on that plate? It seems to have been engraved after the fact. The stamped serial number begins “C77…” which means it was made in March 1977, just before Ibanez was contacted by Gibson. I have one just like it, although the bridge and pickup covers are missing as well as the pickguard. It’s kind of “what Jaco would have done to a ’77 Ibanez Silver Jazz copy”. 🙂

    • Hi Michael – security number as part of an anti-theft program. I remove the middle cover for playing and both covers have had the foam dampers removed from underneath – these pressed down on the strings to dampen vibration – cannot remember what it sounded like with dampers but everyone I knew removed them pretty quickly .

  7. I have owned a lawsuit Ibanez Les Paul and an Ibanez SG, both lost in divorce. I currently own a Lawsuit debated mid-70s Ibanez P bass in Olympic white and a sunburst Strat. All my guitarist friends are in awe of the Strat. Love the feel and tone better than their Fenders!

  8. I own a 1977 Silver Series Fretless Precision SN F774242 Sunburst finish, maple neck, maple fingerboard that I had modified into a PJ. It looks, plays, and sounds great! The build quality is as good or better than any of the Fenders I own or have owned. My only regret is that I could have bought the Jazz Bass too with the money I saved when I decided I liked the Silver Series BETTER than the Fenders I compared it with. The 1977 Silver Series is one of my all time favorite basses. I bought it in 1977 when I was 17. 40 Years later, it has lasted a lifetime and looks, sounds and plays as great the day I bought it. I wish they still made them!!!

    • Thanks Craig – Ibanez do make modern versions of the Jazz bass, Precision bass and a combination of both types of pickups for between $300 and $400 AUD. the modern versions are primarily SR series and use much lighter wood. This one is very heavy compared to my other basses with the exception of the Steinberger Synapse 5 string.

  9. I picked up a joodee rick copy in a Japanese pawn shop in Sakai years ago. I saw them listed in a 1976 catalogue I came across online, though I can’t date the specific instrument it certainly resembles rics from the 70s, great growl in the bridge pickup and a stereo option that can run the pickups through separate amps. I assume it’s a lawsuit era instrument. It has a nice leather case and I may even still have the Japanese intro to bass book that came with it.

    • Engraved as part of anti-theft security program – silly thing to do – should have just recorded the serial number.

  10. I’d argue that, any bass made as a copy of another companies design, prior to the shift towards there own design is a “lawsuit” bass. I’m sure there is an exact date when these companies no longer sold them (who knows that date), but to me any bass made before that end date is “lawsuit” bass.

  11. I had a wonderful ESP ‘Navigator’ from this era which was one of the best Jazz basses I ever owned. Better than the Fenders of that era for sure. Sunburst, tortoise shell pickguard, and block inlays on the neck.

    • Hi Tom – I love ESP – I have an ESP LTD M-200FM 6 string electric which has virtually everything you can throw at a guitar – locks at the nut, fine tuners at the bridge, whammy bar et al. I would like to buy an ESP 5 string fan fretted bass but am not allowed (I spend too much on guitars)

  12. BEAUTIFUL grain on the body! My comment is a cross between the first few I read – compliment/observation; 3rd commenter intimated the (to me) coincidence that both Gibson & Fender’s quality control suffered greatly during the 1970s – while Japanese-made guitars seemed the opposite.
    In the early 1980s I bought a secondhand Ibanez Jazz Bass neck; after Silver Series/lawsuit era, as the headstock had (to me) an ugly contoured slot routed where a Fender logo would normally be, along with a ‘hook’ on the end of the sweeping curve from the nut & the ‘bulb’ at the end. The neck itself is beautiful Birds Eye Maple, but the f/board itself is bland maple (more like Balsa wood) – with weird markers. So I filled in the headstock slot with small shavings/sawdust (Oregon – another name for Douglas Fir) mixed with PVA glue – and when I put it on a Jazz body of unknown origin – everyone thought it was a Fender!
    Except 1 bass player – who immediately stated “That’s an Ibanez!”

  13. Hey guys – thanks for the comments – have been wondering whether to hang on to it or sell – given I only play 5 or 6 string now. Does anybody have an idea what the value might be? The second number on the neck-plate is a security number engraved as part of an anti-theft identification program sponsored by Police – silly really as all I should have done was record the actual serial number. If I sell the guitar I need to provide written certification of the transfer of ownership. There are no ‘dings’ at all and the only “repair” has been having the rear cover re-chromed. The front cover is removed when playing. Tony

  14. I don’t know much about the lawsuit guitars but that glassworm ash top on this bass is one of the most beautiful tops I’ve ever seen on a jazz bass! Just beautiful!!

  15. Thanks Brandon – I had a feeling it was Silver Ash but apart from that was unsure of the timber – what is “glassworm” ash ? Tony

  16. First off, that’s a great bass. Looks awesome and if it’s like it’s contemporaries it probably plays wonderfully. Nice find!

    Secondly, unless you can point to an actual “lawsuit” over a particular instrument it isn’t a “Lawsuit” instrument.

    AFAIK, that pretty much limits it to A few Ibanez Les Paul copies and possibly some Rickenbacker clones though if folks can point to other lawsuits I’d love to know about them.

    “Lawsuit” has virtually lost any real definition and become a term that sellers slap on any MIJ (sometimes other origins too) instrument with a possibly-copyright-infringing headstock. It’s usually a weak attempt to associate the instrument being sold with some of the really high quality copies that certain Japanese factories made in the 70’s.

    All this to say “Buyer beware!”
    Just because it’s old, made in Japan and has a famous headstock doesn’t make it a “Lawsuit” instrument or necessariliy better quality than other instruments. If there wasn’t a lawsuit, don’t pay more for “Lawsuit”.

    By the same token, if it’s a great vintage bass it shouldn’t matter if it was the subject of legal action.

    • Hi Karl, I’m not hung up on the “Lawsuit” bit – I just loved it to play and to look at when I bought it as posted above it was quite an accidental purchase and they were not giving it away by any means. We are talking 1970’s here and I paid about $300 AUD for the bass and $1000 AUD for the amp – these were big amounts back then and $1 USD was worth about 90c AUD . The guitar was very unique and stood out like dogs …… – so the shop had a markup – but it has played so well for so long – even now other bass players are using it for learning and recording and everyone who plays it just loves it – except me since I moved on to a 5 or 6 string – now my fingers get tangled when I try to go back to the 4 string – keep looking for the bottom ‘B’ or top ‘C’.

  17. No it does not make a “Law Suit bass in Law any more than it makes it s Fender because it’s cut like one! Only those companies names are held to be legaly a Lawsuit instrument! However if someone went shead and made a copy after the fact, and tje case was settled in law. There would be a precedent in law that this Ibanez had breached the ruling. The company would lose a case in court because the precedent existed in law. That would just make the Ibanez an illegal copy. Nut unless they fought a court case tjere would be no lawsuit specific to that instrument. No case no lawsuit
    Its a cheap copy given value if its real, by its age and condition only! I have a 69 Hohner Jazz made in West Germany. Its a close copy to the Fender Jazz but they cut the control panel and pick guard out of alignment so it looks different and avoided a lawsuit! I used it for 30 years and its in its original decal covered bass case. I toured all Europe with it and the case bares proof. The bass is in great condition. Hope my legal/ commefcial law experience helped?

    • Hey Ziggy – Hohner make great guitars and you are right about the differences in the control panels. The only difference I can see with the Ibanez compared to Fender Jazz is the name Ibanez Silver Series. There was nothing about “lawsuit” that I was aware of when I bought it or later for that matter – I just thought it was a great guitar (a) to play and (b) to look at. If you toured for thirty years you must be nearly as old as I am. I remember seeing ELO live in England and Captain Beefheart, FF and Z – who said nothing happened in the 70’s.

  18. Hi Tony,
    Very nice bass, both appearance and, I’m sure, sound.

    I also have a natural finish 1977 Silver Series jazz. It was my second bass and my first decent one. Acquired in 1983 and have never considered selling it. A couple years ago, I became the happy owner of 1978 Silver Series precision (sunburst).

    Regarding your question of value: Silver Series basses sell for $400-$700 in the U.S. (based on my watching for them coming up for sale, and actually selling). I think you would be doing well to get US$600 plus if selling. But find the right collector and you might get closer to $1000 given the mint condition.

    Despite being such great basses, they aren’t valued as deserved since it doesn’t say Fender on the headstock. Cheers

  19. Hi PJFlat,

    Thanks for the comments – good to know. On that basis I think I will hang on to it – when musos come round they tend to gravitate to the 4 string – its very rare they will try a 5 string.
    I have seen some of these basses in not great condition on the market for over $1500 but that does not mean they actually sold or for that amount.

  20. Hi Den,
    Have not come across these bass guitars so cannot help you there. From pictures on the internet they do seem to have different pickups to the Fender Jazz Bass. Tony

    • Thanks MrMan – by “back breaker” can I presume we are talking about the weight of the guitar ?. It is beautiful – all the years I have had it I have never tired of just looking at it – I also like looking at just about every other guitar I see. I have 5 bass guitars, The Silver Series, a Soundgear (Ibanez) SR 375M 5 string, a Soundgear SRFF806 Fan Fretted 6 string, a Steinberger Synapse 5 string and and an Artist Dreadnought acoustic with a Fishman pickup and electronic controls and EQ. I have a 5 string U-Bass being made by Kala – it is a California U-Bass and will be made of “Koa” wood – there are restrictions on rosewood exports from the USA to Australia so I had to go for a maple fretboard – sorry for running off at the keyboard – I would love to make a bass from scratch but may not have the skills – Tony

  21. I have an early 70’s El Degas copy of a Gibson EB-3. I also have the “original”, a ’69 Gibson EB-3. The El Degas is pound for pound just as good quality and sounds just as amazing, with just minor wiring differences. Not a lawsuit guitar, but a lawsuit era guitar.

    There was only one or two lawsuits in this era, which put Japan on notice that other lawsuits could be coming. The only true “lawsuit” guitars were those models involved, but the “lawsuit era” constitutes the time when all these copies were made. http://flypaper.soundfly.com/discover/truth-lawsuit-era-guitars/
    Fender more recently lost a case trying to trademark their iconic body design, but unfortunately waited too long. Their design had become so ingrained in the culture, that the design was basically “common use”. http://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/fender-loses-guitar-copyright-case-201886

    Tony, do not sell that guitar. I guarantee you will miss it, just like your Maton. But then I have GAS, so I’m sure I’m biased about letting go of gear!

    • Hi Martin – I think you are right – given the responses on the Best Bass Gear post and other comments I have received on Facebook I better hang on to it. If I sold it to make room I would be kicking myself I am sure. What you say about the Fender body design explains why companies are making guitars which are virtually exact specification but with their own twist – e.g. I have a Dean Zelinsky Private Label Tagliare which looks just like a ‘strat’ but it has his patented Z-Glide neck and extra ‘sidekick’ pickups with heaps of carving. I love Gibsons – I have an SG the same spec as Angus and it is my favourite “guitar”. Pity I can’t play it like him !! That 69 EB-3 must be worth a bucket ? The body shape is as per the SG. Tony

  22. Yes it is and it made the crap Fender were knocking out at that time look and sound very sick. I am very jealous my friend but keep it and enjoy your lovely bass.

    • Thanks Gordon – for years it was the only guitar I had apart from my 12 string acoustic. The bass put my kids through school and paid the mortgage but I never had the money to spend on gear that I would have liked and conversely now I am retired I have more guitars than I can poke a stick at. Funny old world. Luckily I had good gear which never gave me trouble through all those years – (the guitar and the Roland amp that is) – PA’s, desks, power amps, mics and leads are another story. Regards Tony

  23. My first bass was a Silver Series P, and I’ve been trying to reacquire one for years. The prices started rising about eight years ago. J’s go for more than P’s. There are collectors out there who will want this in this condition. And they’ll pay.

  24. HI Dwayne – I have never owned a Precision but many swear by them. At the time I was using it to try out amps in the shop I tried a number of other basses first but found the Silver Series was the one that just felt right as soon as you started playing. It also had very simple controls which would be helpful with my newer basses – I have to leave the perspex instructions on now so I can remember what each knob does ! I would be interested to find out what I could get for it but would end up kicking myself if I sold it – then again 40 years is a long time.

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