A much debated topic concerns the opinion of some that an Ibanez guitar is determined to be an actual Ibanez soley by that name appearing on the guitar, usually on the headstock via a logo.
I have a theory for this, it's at the bottom of this page.
This debate only applies to the guitars produced up to 1975. Ibanez change the headstock on their 'Gibson' copies in 1976 to avert a lawsuit filed by Gibson. The 1975 Gibson copies are the only 'lawsuit' guitars', when people call other early MIJ guitars 'lawsuit' they are mistaken. The 1976 Ibanez catalog shows that new headstock design and the guitars clearly display the 'Ibanez' logo on that headstock.
Back to the opinion of some that the headstock logo is the identifying factor for these early Ibanez guitars: There are two reasons why I disagree with this argument, the first being the actual 1970's Ibanez catalogs, which clearly show Ibanez guitars with no logos whatsoever. No one has yet to provide a real documented reason for this fact, only conjecture and opinions. See catalog examples below. Catalogs can be found at: https://www.vintagejapanguitars.com.br/catalogos-ibanez-guitars/
This is just a sample of many more official Ibanez product catalogs featuring pictures of guitars with no Ibanez logo on the headstock. That leaves two choices:
Ibanez guitars were not always manufactured with an Ibanez logo on the headstock OR these guitars in the Ibanez catalogs are not Ibanez guitars, which means Ibanez was actually selling no-name guitars manufactured at the same factory as Ibanez branded guitars, Fujigen Gakki. These would rightly be called Ibanez guitars lacking the Ibanez logo on the headstock, Ibanez no-name guitars.
Is this consistent with other MIJ brands of the same period? Based upon the following information I believe it is, and is my second reason for believing the possibility that non-branded Ibanez guitars actually exist.
To prove if the brand of a guitar is always determined on the sole basis of having that brand name somewhere on the guitar, let's look at some other MIJ brands to see if there are examples of documented brands that do not have a brand name or logo anywhere on their guitars. I'm going to start with one of my own, a well known Greco model that is undisputedly a Greco, yet does not have the Greco brand anywhere on the guitar. It is a 1973 Greco FB900. It is well known that a person could special order a Greco with a custom truss rod cover, my example [left] has 'YS' engraved where it typically says 'Greco' [right]. No where on this guitar does it say Greco, yet no one who knows Greco guitars would question the brand of this guitar. In other words, a logo does not determine the brand, a brand does not always have branding.
Below is another Greco, no headstock logo. Clearly a Greco as paper labeled in the cavity. This is a fact: there is no consistant or definitive pattern of branding with the pre-1975 MIJ guitars. The Ibanez catalogs clearly show consistant headstock branding only from 1976 onward.
These Greco examples are not unique, there are well documented vintage MIJ guitar brands that do not have any visible brand markings on their guitars, including any type of brand logo on the headstock.
The following examples were taken from History of Japanese Electric Guitars by Frank Meyers. These are brand name guitars that as far as I can see by the pictures do not have any brand or headstock logo that would make it immediately apparent exactly what brand they are:
pg 23: Spiegel Model 2747
pg 32: various Greco
pg 52: Guyatone EB1 Bass
pg 60: Ibanez Model 994, 2 examples
From Reverb: 1965 Ibanez Model 994, no headsatock logo
pg 67: Kawai models S80, S160, S180
pg 70: 1966 Mayfair
pg 73: Silvertone 1455
pg 85: ELK Cobra
pg 89: Decca DMI203
pg 110-11: A few TEISCO
pg 114: TEISCO Spectrum 5
There are more, but the point here being there are many examples of early MIJ guitars of known brands that do not have their branding anywhere on their product, including two Ibanez examples shown in this book. That lack of branding does not make these no-name guitars, it makes them known brands that do not have branding on them.
The clip below was taken from the Ibanez Collector's World forum at:
Just to clarify that statement: it is not just one catalog, it is every catalog before 1976. I don't see that evidence of masking the negatives, and it makes no logical sense. And if that was the case how can the Ibanez headstocks below be explained? If the negatives were blacked out you would see that masking here, instead we see the complete unaltered headstock, and there is no logo anywhere. No one can explain this.
Taken from the 1971 Ibanez catalog:
Why would Ibanez intentionally hide the logos on their guitars? This has yet to be explained away by anyone other than by an 'opinion', which is another term for 'guess'. As shown by the picture above some guesses can be quickly dismissed using the best evidence available, and that is the actual and official Ibanez catalogs.
One person suggested that these catalogs were sales catalogs, and they were used to sell other brands: "It was done because the catalogs were dealer/salesman catalogs, and Hoshino had other brands other than Ibanez, so they might tell a large customer with multiple stores that they could buy blank headstocks and put their own name on them, or they could buy another Hoshino house brand, say Starfield."
If this were true, the catalogs should say Hoshino Gakki instead of Ibanez. And to explain to the customer they could put their own name on the blank headstocks would not require blank headstocks on every guitar in the catalog. I would also think there would be a written explanation of that reason for the blank headstocks so when left with a customer they would understand that to be the case. The above explanation does not make business or marketing sense at all and is not backed by any documented proof, it is just a guess. There is nothing wrong with guessing, sometimes that is all you can do, there are some things that there is just no documented information on.
The one fact that is irrefutable is the no-name guitars shown in the official Ibanez catalogs up to 1976. My question is: where are those actual catalog guitars at? Did they sell them off? Destroy them? Add a logo at a later time?
In conclusion: As for the Ibanez no-name guitar debate, there are arguments that would seem to support their existence, some of those arguments have been published here. little Ibanez historical data has been published by the Ibanez company, which is a problem I have with my Greco guitars as well.
The one irrefutable line of evidence available is the Ibanez catalogs, which clearly show Ibanez guitars without any Ibanez branding.
Based upon the historical evidence that other MIJ brands sold guitars without their branding on them and the Ibanez catalogs clearly show unbranded guitars as Ibanez guitars, why would anyone claim with 100% certainty [show me the proof] that Ibanez did not make no-name guitars.
Finally, consider this logical line of reasoning: to support the claim of no-name Ibanez guitars would require zero evidence of their existence, but to the contrary, there is that evidence as detailed in this article.
So here is my theory for the no name guitars in the Ibanez catalogs, and it is just my 'opinion' and 'guess' based upon the following:
Based on the Ibanez website , beginning in 1971 Ibanez was mostly selling essentially counterfeit Gibsons and Fenders and doing so all over the world. Greco was also producing copy guitars, but their target audience was mostly the Japanese market, so they essentially 'flew under the radar' as there was little financial incentive to take expensive legal action against them.
Greco actually continued building counterfeit/copy guitars well into the late 1980's and produced some of the highest quality guitars to come out of Japan as displayed on this website. Greco and Ibanez were completely separate brands owned by different companies and they targeted a completely different audience.
Getting back to the Ibanez guitars: There is a real financial risk with selling counterfeit/copy guitars in the same markets as the product they are copying, that risk being that the company being undermined by a counterfiet product will take legal action at some point, which Gibson eventually did.
Knowing this risk, it is reasonable to conclude the no name guitars in the Ibanez catalogs were purposely not branded because they thought doing so would provide some kind of legal defense if sued, as the Ibanez name was not displayed on those guitars. There would of course be absolutely zero documentation supporting this, as that would have been evidence of that strategy and if discovered could have been used against them.
I have several reasons for this theory:
As far as I can tell, Ibanez/Cimar was the only MIJ brand that featured no name guitars in their official catalogs. There may be others, I have not found any myself. Ibanez is certainly the largest brand that did this if there are others.
From a marketing perspective the no name catalogs make zero sense. My professional background [The Hyperion Agency] includes extensive product marketing for some of the largest companies on the planet, and never have I seen any on-product branding intentionally or even unintentionally deleted from any form of product marketing. To do so would be totally counter productive to the purpose of that unique product branding.
There seems to be no official Ibanez explanation for those catalog guitars, which would be expected if it was on purpose with the idea it might prevent retaliation from Gibson or Fender. A document explaining this strategy if discovered would totally negate the intent of that strategy. Zero documentation expected.
Beginning in 1976, when Ibanez had changed the headstock design to avoid that lawsuit, they also had their Ibanez logo prominently displayed on all their headstocks, this actually being the first Ibanez catalogs to do so. There was no longer any threat of a lawsuit, no reason to continue to hide their product branding in their catalog.
That's my theory!