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Body Design - Inspiration, Imagination and Imitation

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Marlat, May 4, 2004.

  1. Marlat


    Sep 17, 2002
    London UK
    Okay, the JP "tribute" bass got me thinking a little bit about body designs, schools of building etc.

    It seems to me that everyone widely accepts that certain body shapes are "up for grabs" as far as building basses goes. This has led to a lot of "j-bass" inspired basses (ie Elrick NJS, Sadowsky "dinky" bodies, GB basses etc) and noone really seems to have a beef with this.

    Less clear, however, is when basses seem to be inspired by smaller lutheirs. I think we are all fairly familier with a number of luthiers who have Fodera "inspired" (some may say copied) body designs and they seem to cop flack over the inspiration for their designs.

    Others seem to think that its okay if, for example, a luthier offers similar looking product to a Fodera Emporer II for less money.

    Carl Thompson seems to have plenty of "imitators" who build basses that are easily recognisable as CT "inspired" if not "copied" and yet people don't seem to be too offended by these basses.

    However, some body designs don't appear to be copied at all - ie MTD's, Smiths, Zons. Warwicks.

    So what gives? Why are we so upset when someone copies a Fodera but not a Jbass?

    Why do we accept CT copies as being okay?

    I'm probably just rambling, but I am interested. Personally, I agree with JP that you should at least ask a luthier if you are going to borrow their design for a one off, and I agree that people mass producing obvious "copies" of well know body shapes should be made to pay a licensing fee.
  2. JP Basses

    JP Basses

    Mar 22, 2002
    Paris FRANCE
    Inspiration and copy are two different things.

    Everybody is inspired to a different level from what we see all day. This can be to some extend unconscious too because we do act with our culture and beliefs which are also built with our living environnement.

    Direct copy is something else. Body shapes can't be protected easily and that's the way it is. I will also say that nothing can really be protected totally as one would have to patent his design in everycountry of this planet!! :eek:

    The "JP tribute" as you named it is something particular because it's an individual who built a bass for himself, copying the body style of a micro builder. I have no problem at all with this and as I said, I just think that as I would have doen, it would have been nicer to contact me before. End of story.

    J Bass copies....hmmm. Tough subject. There was a thread somewhere about fender wanting to trademark the stratocaster shape. Now that it's being built by numerous companies in the world....I can't imagine how to get this done. If someone can update us on this story status?

    Anyway, in this thread many people agreed that fender shapes were of the public domain! A bit hard for me to understand how something a guy created can be part of the public domain. Being copied 10 thousand times doesn't mean that the strat body shape isn't Leo's original creation. Now I agree that fender should have protected the creations right away (if possible) and trying to get people pay from now is not cool.

    I'm sure that I have a lot more to say on this subject :D Lemme think about it better and I'll be back ! lol

  3. Marlat


    Sep 17, 2002
    London UK
    I agree that inspiration and copy are completely separate, however there are certainly cases where the line can be blurred.

    For example, I see some "thumb" in the Plume shape, but to the extent that I do, I would only ever say that it was part of the inspiration behind the design. OTOH i'm not so sure that some of the single cut designs out there were "inspired" by Fodera's as much as they were "copied" from them. I guess the same goes for JB copies vs inspired designs.

    Another example is that my Kennedy Custom 6 was "inspired" by Ken Smiths basses. Looking at it, you probably would never guess this, but the neck through design and body wings are very Smith in their construction. That said, many people who see it say it looks a lot like a copy of Jerzy Drozd bass (I agree), however I know that Neil Kennedy had never laid eyes on a JD bass when he designed the body shape and was very surprised when I told him about them. Everyone seems to see the "copied" part without an understanding of where the inspiration came from.

    Argh rambling again!
  4. rusty


    Mar 29, 2004
    To take a different (and radical) view on this...

    IMO, imitation is a fact of life. In fact, there isn't anyone who isn't guilty of it - it just happens that it manifests itself in different areas and ways. When I pay for a bass, I believe that 80% of what I'm paying for is the workmanship, skills and knowledge of the luthier that has gone into the bass. This combination is unique to him and no other. If someone copies the bass, it's only worth the other 20%, and that's why they can charge that amount for it - but most of the time, that's also how "good" the bass is; 20%.

    Of course there's the scenario where someone is able to copy the bass and make it as good or even better than the former, and charge less for it. In that case, that's where you'd find me spending my money :D

    That being said, many manufacturers start off by imitating some really good product and then make their own improvements on it in later stages. Over time, an identity is formed based on the value that they add to their product.

    So, copying really isn't the issue here - it's about how you have to continue to keep up the value (actual or percieved) of your product. If someone's copying your product and doing it as well as you do or even better, then you had better come up with a way to differentiate/increase the value of your product, whatever it may be.

  5. Marlat


    Sep 17, 2002
    London UK
    But what if, in copying your design, it devalues it in some way? Then you really are losing something as your reputation and your income can be affected by (presumably) cheaper copies.

    I think there is a difference between copying the spirit of a design vs a copy of the design itself.
  6. Fliptrique


    Jul 22, 2002
    Szczecin, Poland
    Endorsing Artist: Mayones Guitars&Basses, Taurus Amplification
    BTW - great tune, i really like it, the man can play. all of the guitar sounds in it are played on bass?
  7. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Imitation is indeed a fact of life. That is what humans do, when "inventing" something: imitate nature.
    If you go through the patenets from the last centuries, you will find this out: the ideas that are not patented before are either imitations of nature, or somebody elses idea - stolen...
    Nowadays, US Pat even recognises patents on natural DNA, which is indeed theft.

    Yes, Fender bodies, Fodera, CT and all the rest are imitations of nature or earlier shapes. Not necessarily guitar shapes, though!

    So, what if an imitation devalues my work?
    Well, as the decal on the car in "Forest Gump" said...
    I will have to show to the world that what I do is good, no matter what.

    But of course. Inspration is much more fun than imitation.
  8. rusty


    Mar 29, 2004
    Well, I guess that really depends on which camp you're in.
    If you believe that the essence of a bass can be copied - then you are absolutely right in saying that the influx of basses will cause value to fall. It's simple economics there.
    However, if you believe that essence of a bass comes from its luthier - then it really depends on whether the person can discern between the 2. If he can't, he might as well go for the cheaper one... and therein lies the issue. How many people out there are really able to discern true quality and value from flashy brand names and imitation goods?

    That being said, taking a design from a fellow member in a community without prior permission = not cool in my books.
  9. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    I've sketched out at least a hundred body designs. I've attended too many boring meetings, I guess, but mostly because I enjoy it.
    In my own experience (soneone else's experiences will be different!), I've found:
    - Sometimes I end up taking a direction that looks like another existing design.
    - - These I try to alter into something unique, or I trash them. For me anyway, this is a creative exercise. I want something that comes from inside.
    - Usually they are unique.
    - - Or, I work to make them unique.
    - - But I have found that they usually take one of a several similar directions. But this is in some way appropriate, because it means that they are expressing something internal. The fact that I keep coming back to one of several similar designs means not only that I have found similar solutions to functional problems of ergonomics and such, but also aesthetically that there is some part of me in there.
    - Personally, I've found that singlecuts are the hardest to be original with. I find them to be more constraining, and I'm more likely to end up with something that resembles a Fodera - which basically resembles a standard spanish guitar with a cutaway. So when I draw one, I really make an effort to go off.
    - I never come up with something Carl Thompson-ish. Even my designs with a large curved horn are IMO far different. Different person, different designs.
    - Luckily for me, I don't have to worry about the is-the-Jazz-shape-public-domain issue, because don't particularly like them, so those get tossed.
    - Since my designs express something of me, and since I would never have come up with JP's design, that tells me that his design expresses something of him.
    - - And that makes me feel that, legally or not, he should have some rights to it.
    - - It also makes me feel that, by not even being asked, JP has been disrespected.
  10. rusty


    Mar 29, 2004
    I agree with you on all counts PJ - I don't mean to discredit anyone or any of their creations with my posting. And for the record, I do feel that there was a lack of respect to JP, no questions about that.

    The main thing that I'm trying to say is that "that's-my-design-you-can't-copy-it" shouldn't be the end-all of the intellectual progression.
    We need to step past that and ask ourselves what is it that gives a product its value? If we're all up in arms about imitations and copycat products, that means one thing - that the copy = original. Doesn't that raise a more important question about what is it that we're really paying for? Is it really worth that extra bit? If so, can it really be copied? If not, then aren't we being fleeced?
    Anyways, just some fodder for thought. Don't mean to stir up a hornet's nest here :p

  11. lyle

    lyle Guest

    Jan 10, 2004
    Vernon, B.C. Canada
    on the carl thompson forum, we had a big discusion about people so called "copying" carls designs. but in the end what you going to do, and if you see some one copying your stuff well that means it has to be good. copying is the highest form of respect, or envy.

    the key to creativity is how well you hide your resources.
    -albert einstein
  12. rubo


    Aug 25, 2003
    "Good composers borrow, great composers steal" Igor Stravinsky.

    I think it's in our nature to imitate those who we look up to.

    Now a different approach here. What if something inspired you to make a unique design, and somewhere on the other half of the world someone else came up with the exact same design. Who has the upper hand. Without going into a debate who was the first one, could be simple luck or coincidence.

  13. weeeugene


    Oct 19, 2003
    seeing that i'm personally responsible for starting this controversy, i thought i might chime in.

    about not seeking JP's permission before i went ahead, it was definitely not cool for those who missed the other thread, i did send an email to JP asking for permission, but for some reason it didnt get through. and since a) it was my first time building the bass (or anything wood related for that matter), b) i didnt expect it to come out anywhere near the standard that i would share the result or use it in public c) i didnt plan on making any money on the final result by selling it or anything....i didnt proceed to resend the email to get permission from JP.

    all in all, not cool of me at all. once again, apologies to JP.

    now my 2 cents on the topic. as i think everyone agrees, anything artistically created has an emotional attachment with the creator. sure, there are some original designs that are frankensteins from other established models but the frankensteining process is also a creative process in itself. so it is right that if you would like to "borrow" some design aspects of another design, you should ask. and if u do, i think it can almost be 100 per cent that the creator will say yes. but u shouldnt take that for granted. always ask.

    the problem becomes bigger, imho, if the borrow gets some sort of financial gain from it. lets take the example of a song by, say Aerosmith. If your band practises covers of Aerosmith songs for your own entertainment or to practise your chops, it's one thing. but if you start to play venues for money, even tho its a small venue and u earn say 100 bucks or free drinks for the performance, you're earning that cos of someone elses songs. same with basses. if you decide to borrow designs to make cheap knockoffs so that you can sell them on ebay, then that's major major wrong.

    i agree with lyle that copying can be seen as a mark of respect/flattery etc. but if you're going to be making a quick buck out of it while hiding behind that, it doesn't matter how much u're respecting the guy. u're basically ripping him off.
  14. Erick Warner

    Erick Warner

    Jun 26, 2002
    I actually had a chance to talk to Carl about this. He's a very good friend of mine and when I started seeing, not only the Huff copies (the R series), but Ed Roman giving credit to Ron Blake for the Rainbow Bass it really got to me. I was on the phone in minutes. Carl is one wise man. It was like talking to Kane from Kung Fu. He said people are going to do what they are going to do. He knew in his mind what he had accomplished and what others had done - and he was comfortable with that. It was an incredible lesson of self confidence and self control. I get the feeling that he doesnt like the fact that people have piggy-backed off him or taken credit when they shouldnt have, but he's not going to worry about it. He knows.
  15. sheepdog


    Feb 20, 2003
    Birmingham, AL
    But I do like the comment that JP Basses don't use bolt-on washburn necks. I found that enlightening and more than a little bit humorous. Don't worry about it, weeg... You sent the email and didn't get a response. You can't be held responsible for either emails not being returned or not delivered properly by problems in between computers. You did a kick ass job on that body. Last time I checked, wasn't it Fender that used the double cutaway horn electric bass first? And those horns remind me of a Warwick, also. If you can come up with an original design, you might have people here interested in the work...

  16. JP Basses

    JP Basses

    Mar 22, 2002
    Paris FRANCE
    Very funny. you don't get my point at all. Maybe my poor english :meh:

    the horns remind you of a warwick? cool! Can you put the body outline over a thumb, a corvette or a dolphin and have it match exactly? nope.

    Eugens body is a Plume shape body I supposed he took from pics. No law or businnes problem with that. Just feelings and emotions about a personal creation. I would have loved he asked before, I would have even sent blueprints maybe!! get it?

  17. sheepdog


    Feb 20, 2003
    Birmingham, AL
    actually, I understand both points.

    He was doing this for himself, sent an email, didn't get a response (why no response is up for question...probably computer error), built it anyway (even gave credit to you for the inspiration)

    you didn't get the email, saw this "copy" someone built, and was bothered that nobody asked.

    chalk it up to miscommunication somewhere between his plans and your computer/shop. I just think that others are blowing this WAY out of proportion.

    (plus, I have a rule to piss of no more than 1 Luthier per year. Didn't mean any harm, plus I would have had to wait until 2005 if I did mean any insult)