Gibson Guitar Corp. Investigated Again On Legality Of Rainforest Wood Imports


Gibson Guitars at Opryland Image credit:Flickr, shawnzrossi

A Gibson guitar operation in Nashville was recently raided by Federal agents - this being the second time in 3 years. According to a WSJ article (see Guitar Frets) , they were looking for potential Lacy Act violations (the law dealing with importation of endangered plant and animal species, incorporating other national laws by reference). This is what makes the situation interesting: involvement of the legendary Gibson brand, the fact that Gibson states they buy only FSC certified woods - potentially putting FSC's otherwise excellent reputation on the line - and the related difficulty of establishing provenance of old guitars which have changed hands multiple times, leading to the terrifying prospect of a US Customs inspector confiscating a treasured instrument from a road weary player because it lacks papers. (Even Kafka sang the blues, I believe, though not Country.)

Corporate raids like this tend to focus on documentation and whatever evidence exists regarding how well management systems were being followed. No one knows exactly what was noted or taken in this raid, so speculation about intent is mostly pointless. But, there is one possible evidence wild card worth noting.Supply chains for acoustic instruments are complex and amazing, as described below.

Still, if Federal agents run DNA tests on wood samples, they should be able to pin down where the wood came from. DNA samples should theoretically enable them to check samples taken from the Gibson operation against samples of rosewood from legal (FSC certified) plantations that reportedly supplied Gibson.

Let's hope the Feds make short work of their investigation and that the FSC is shown to have done their honest, best certification work. Otherwise, the radical right here in the USA will accuse 'liberal environmentalists' of taking away a bunch of rocking green jobs.

The day the music cried.
From Wikipedia we have the political dimension summarized.

It is believed by numerous Republican-leaning bloggers and pundits that there may be aspects of partisanship and politicalization in the raids. Henry Juszkiewicz, the corporate CEO, continues to state that he is complicit with Lacey Act laws and is innocent of all charges.[23] Henery goes further to call the raids an "arrogant [act of] federal power" that "is impacting me [referring to himself], the company, and its employees". He claims that Gibson Guitars was singled out in the charges of the Lacey Act and continues to assert innocence.[24][25] Henry further criticizes the raid by noting that Michelle Obama gave a Gibson Guitar fashioned from similar wood to the contraband to French First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.[26][27]

Supporters of the theory of bias in the raid point out that Henry has made several donations to pro-Republican institutions in his career. He was a donor to the Consumer Electronics Association, which has, in the past, made donations to Republican causes and candidates.[28]

Henry and pro-Gibson bloggers further feel that the targeting is discriminate on the fact that C. F. Martin & Company, a rival guitar corporation, uses similar woods to the ones seized in the raid, but they are not under any investigation.[29][30] The CEO of CF Martin, Chris Martin IV, has made assorted donations to Democratic or leftist institutions over the years, notably to the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania. These donations, over the course of three years, have exceeded twelve thousand dollars.[31][32] Gibson Guitars has so far fully cooperated with the raids.


Fair disclosure and so on.
Each guitar brand and model has a tonal personality that suits some more than others. Tonal "personality" of a wooden instrument results from design and methods of manufacture as much as it does from materials of construction: e.g. rain forest rosewood.

Some of the brand loyalty you get from a guitfiddle player is based on a romantic consideration of the musical traditions he grew up with. There is a semi-objective aspect though - 'it sounds better to me, damn it.'

Others, however, buy the best American-made guitars as investments, often without being able to play well themselves. No different than playing a futures market for oil. For example, there is a market in Asia for genuine traditional bluegrass instruments made by the famous American makers - typically with a lot of rosewood!

Look at the numbers. Here's a GIBSON, J-45, c.1944. listed by Philadelphia-based Vintage Instruments for $US12,000.(Their #28555 if you are interested.) In contrast, a brand new Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar with Indian rosewood finger board lists for about $US3,000.

The iconic old electrics go for huge money, too. Here's a 1957 Gibson Les Paul, listed on Ebay for US$98,000. The finger board will be made of rosewood, most likely. A somewhat comparable modern unit will be listed for around $US2,000.

I prefer Martin guitars over Gibson, one reason being that I live in Penns Woods and they make their best models right here in my home state. FSC certification is icing on the cake for me. Same deal with the numbers. Mine cost a few grand, Vintage lists a MARTIN, 000-28, 1940, Brazilian rosewood body, for $US20,000. Some are more. The more old rosewood, the more it costs. Extinction is a price driver.

It is an astounding thing that American pop, enjoyed and mimicked the world over for a half century, owes so much to the trees of Brazil and Madagascar and India, without which our guitars would have been been sucking more quarts than a rose colored iPod full of disco.

I really hope this issue gets resolved in a way that lets the wild rosewood trees and acoustic guitar music flourish together. Let's leave the politics out, please. DNA play's a sharp lead and I really hope I hear that riff .

Update: please follow the link to original Wall Street Journal story and look at the photo of USFWS agents in the factory. No helmets or body armor seen.

Everyone everywhere benefits if the rain forest tone woods are prevented from being made extinct. Without some serious preventive action, they soon will be extinct. You can't tell China what to do or ask them to sign a treaty unless you show effort to put your own house in order.

Evidence has been sought but no charges have been officially made. Again, lets see what happens without making political charges and analysis based on parallels to totally unrelated political events.

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