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Should owners of wooden guitars worry?

28 Aug 11 - 06:01 PM (#3214172)
Subject: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: PHJim

Wood guitars

I own three guitars built before the mid 60s, all with Brazilian board and bridge and one with Brazilian back and sides. Should I be worried?

28 Aug 11 - 06:12 PM (#3214178)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Midchuck

From what I've read, if you try to cross any national boundaries with them, without having with you very good documentation showing they were built prior to CITES, yes you should. Otherwise, no.

But all I know is what I read on the internet. And I heard that somewhere on the internet, once, someone was wrong.

(Thanks to XKCD.)


28 Aug 11 - 06:26 PM (#3214190)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: MarkS

This just in - as usual, follow the money.
Sorry all, but in this case a cut and paste seems the best way - from an article in "American Thinker."

Fretful practices
Rosslyn Smith

Last week the Department of Justice raided the iconic Gibson Guitar Corporation, confiscating materials and records. The reason?   Gibson was allegedly violating the laws of the sovereign nation of India regarding certain imported hardwoods it uses on its acoustic guitars. The Indian government wants these woods to be processed by Indian labor while Gibson prefers to use its own craftsman.

If enforcing a foreign law to the determent of an American manufacturing business isn't enough, we now learn that Gibson's CEO is a Republican donor and that Feds seem to have given a pass to a rival operation following the same practice that is owned by a Democrat donor

One of Gibson's leading competitors is C.F. Martin & Company. The C.E.O., Chris Martin IV, is a long-time Democratic supporter, with $35,400 in contributions to Democratic candidates and the DNC over the past couple of election cycles. According to C.F. Martin's catalog, several of their guitars contain "East Indian Rosewood." In case you were wondering, that is the exact same wood in at least ten of Gibson's guitars.

So make sure you have receipts of your donations to the DNC and you should be hassle free!

28 Aug 11 - 06:47 PM (#3214202)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: skipy

Worry only if the strings are made of wood.

28 Aug 11 - 06:57 PM (#3214212)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Richard Bridge

East India and India are not the same place.

28 Aug 11 - 07:53 PM (#3214240)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Bee-dubya-ell

East Indian rosewood is a widely distributed species. Sure, it's harvested in India, but it's also harvested in most southeast Asian countries, as well as Madagascar and parts of South America.

The author of the above diatribe makes it sound like the Indian government wants American companies to set up manufacturing facilities using Indian craftsmen to build guitars. I would be astonished if that's what the law really says. It probably only requires that Indian workers do the basic sawmill work of converting the logs into boards, billets, and veneers before they're sold. Gibson probably bought a bunch of illegal logs with the intention of processing them at their own sawmill when they should have bought legal boards and billets instead. Or they should have bought legal logs from Cambodia or Thailand.

29 Aug 11 - 12:34 AM (#3214319)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Desert Dancer

Very recent thread on the same WSJ article

~ Becky in Tucson

29 Aug 11 - 09:07 AM (#3214455)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: stallion

MAX, was MarkS's post a tad political? Not essentially about music, almost trollish?

29 Aug 11 - 09:21 AM (#3214460)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: MarkS

Hey Stallion, only political in the sense that I thought it would illustrate my cynical approach to just about anything having to do with politics.
I'm unaffiliated.

29 Aug 11 - 09:22 AM (#3214462)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: DonMeixner

I didn't find Mark S's post offensively political. Opinions are opinions. And I suspect we should all be concerned about whether or not laws are being unfairly enforced.

And we should worry about good laws being enforced by idiots.

But this is about musical instruments in general and not just Gibson/Martin guitars. There was also a comment in the news about a piano importer who brought 10 antique pianos into the country and was busted for improperly filling out forms. A performer has had Steinway remove the ivory and ebony from his piano so it could be shipped over seas.

I would think that a check of the serial numbers should be date enough.


29 Aug 11 - 09:48 AM (#3214476)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker

.. good job I bought a few heavily discounted "Switch" Vibracell guitars before they went out of business...

30 Aug 11 - 08:20 AM (#3215083)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Musket

I knew my carbon fibre Rainsong would end up justifying my smug expression.....

30 Aug 11 - 07:13 PM (#3215525)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: gnu

Ahhh... why would the items be confiscated? Is it not up to those in the origin country to keep their "wood" from being exported? If once done, why would the subsequently manufactured items be confiscated? Surely, nobody can say these items were manufactured from "illegal" wood??? Or is that just fighting city hall?

31 Aug 11 - 03:11 PM (#3216071)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: JohnInKansas

I would think that a check of the serial numbers should be date enough ...

Same comment in the other thread.

Not all instruments have a serial number when made.

Many have only a paper "paste in" serial number (see any Stradivarius). Such labels often disappear and/or are easily forged.

Many manufacturers have "died" without leaving serial number/date of manufacture records.

Quite a few very nice instruments have no identifiable maker, even if there is a visible serial number.

Most wooden instruments require some maintenance, and parts like ebony fingerboards, tortoise shell or ivory nuts and bridges, ebony tuning pegs, and the like make the original compliance with all the laws inconsequential if controlled materials have crept in later.

Nearly all endangered or threatened living or "formerly living" things are subject to import/export controls. Especially for wood products nearly all wood types are available, albeit sometimes in extremely limited quantities, via legal import. The current law does in fact - so far as I can make any sense of it at all - make a "once illegally moved" material or articles made from it "forever illegal."

And, again what I understand of the mess, it is illegal to import anything that is not legally exported from the source country as determined by the export laws of the source country and/or as determined by the import/export laws of any intermediary country as determined by that country, or as prohibited by the import laws at the destination as determined by the laws of the destination country. Once "illegal" under any of these multiple sets of (sometimes conflicting?) laws the material itself and anything made from it is forever illegal.

But I'm not really sure what the portions of the most recent laws that I've been able to access actually do intend to say (and the enforcers may not understand them a lot better than we do).


31 Aug 11 - 04:05 PM (#3216096)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Bill D

I have been searching for why they would consider Ebony as a reason to bother someone about a guitar. It IS scarce and valuable, but not quite 'endandered' yet. I don't find info that CITES is prohibiting it.

There is also MUCH confusion about the differences and nomenclature between Ebony (often called African Blackwood(a Dalbergia) and "Gabon Ebony" (Diospyros spp.). African Blackwood is the usual wood for musical instruments, and this site confuses them. One of the confusions is that Diospyros dendo often called "Gaboon Ebony"...which itself is not quite correct, as "Gabon Ebony" is the actual standard trade name.

this page by a knife maker gets them backward
   African Blackwood is a less stable, harder to work wood...though it is used for expensive carvings in Kenya & Tanzania. (see 'Makonde')

this site, about Blackwood helps clarify things, as does this site to explain naming (Gabon is a country..Gaboon is a snake)

...........Now..with all that confusion, how can anyone expect a customs agent to tell what a guitar fingerboard or bridge is made of?

I sometimes use small pieces of Ebony for inlay and handles for turned box tops, and I would MUCH rather use really dense Blackwood, as Ebony can crack..even months later.

31 Aug 11 - 05:48 PM (#3216154)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: saulgoldie

Owing to the general aggravation of traveling when someone else is driving or flying, I don't usually bring an instrument. But I am now officially "worried." I don't know all the histories of my instruments, and I don't have much documentation--various ages and not always bought from dealers. I do support efforts to avoid materials of endangered or tortured beings and plants. But before I would take anything anywhere where I might be "stopped" I would have to know somehow that I would be "safe."


31 Aug 11 - 09:37 PM (#3216280)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Effsee

I presume this could even come down to fiddles and bows?

31 Aug 11 - 10:02 PM (#3216289)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Bill D

As a matter of fact, the 'best' wood for bows, Pernambuco (        Caesalpinia echinata) is listed by CITES in category II, 'might become endangered' and subject to scrutiny...meaning it will probably end international trade.
So far, Ebony is NOT on the list, and only Bolivian Rosewood is in category I. 2 other rosewoods (from Guatemala) are listed in category III, meaning that individual states may require permits to obtain specimens.

I am not sure what triggered the raids on Gibson and under what authority.

31 Aug 11 - 10:16 PM (#3216294)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Desert Dancer

As I posted to the Who will stand up: Feds Raid Gibson Guitar Factory thread --
by Craig Havighurst
National Public Radio
31 August 2011

Why Gibson Guitar Was Raided By The Justice Department

Last week federal marshals raided the Gibson Guitar Corporation in Tennessee. It wasn't the first time. The government appears to be preparing to charge the famous builder of instruments with trafficking in illegally obtained wood. It's a rare collision of music and environmental regulation.

In the hottest part of an August Tennessee day last Thursday, Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz stood out in the full sun for 30 minutes and vented to the press about the events of the day before.

"We had a raid," he said, "with federal marshals that were armed, that came in, evacuated our factory, shut down production, sent our employees home and confiscated wood."

The raids at two Nashville facilities and one in Memphis recalled a similar raid in Nashville in November 2009, when agents seized a shipment of ebony from Madagascar. They were enforcing the Lacey Act, a century-old endangered species law that was amended in 2008 to include plants as well as animals. But Juszkiewicz says the government won't tell him exactly how — or if — his company has violated that law.

"We're in this really incredible situation. We have been implicated in wrongdoing and we haven't been charged with anything," he says. "Our business has been injured to millions of dollars. And we don't even have a court we can go to and say, 'Look, here's our position.'"

The U.S. Justice Department won't comment about the case it's preparing, but a court motion filed in June asserts Gibson's Madagascar ebony was contraband. It quotes emails that seem to show Gibson taking steps to maintain a supply chain that's been connected to illegal timber harvests.

Andrea Johnson, director of forest programs for the Environmental Investigation Agency in Washington, says the Lacey Act requires end users of endangered wood to certify the legality of their supply chain all the way to the trees. EIA's independent investigations have concluded that Gibson knowingly imported tainted wood.

"Gibson clearly understood the risks involved," says Johnson. "Was on the ground in Madagascar getting a tour to understand whether they could possibly source illegally from that country. And made a decision in the end that they were going to source despite knowing that there was a ban on exports of ebony and rosewood."

Gibson vigorously denies these allegations, maintaining that all of its purchases from Madagascar have complied with U.S. and Malagasy law. A company attorney says Gibson has presented documents to support that claim and that the recent raid seized legally obtained wood from India. He adds that the company stopped importing wood from Madagascar in 2009.

Chris Martin, Chairman and CEO of the C.F. Martin Guitar Co. in Nazareth, Pa., says that when he first heard guitars built from Madagascar rosewood, he dreamed it might be the long-sought substitute for Brazilian rosewood, whose trade was banned in the 1990s due to over-harvest. Then the situation in Madagascar changed.

"There was a coup," Martin says. "What we heard was the international community has come to the conclusion that the coup created an illegitimate government. That's when we said, 'Okay, we can not buy any more of this wood.'"

And while some say the Lacey Act is burdensome, Martin supports it: "I think it's a wonderful thing. I think illegal logging is appalling. It should stop. And if this is what it takes unfortunately to stop unscrupulous operators, I'm all for it. It's tedious, but we're getting through it."

Others in the guitar world aren't so upbeat. Attorney Ronald Bienstock says the Gibson raids have aroused the guitar builders he represents because the Lacey Act is retroactive. He says they're worried they might be forced to prove the provenance of wood they acquired decades ago.

"There hasn't been that moment where people have quote tested the case. 'What is compliance? What is actual compliance? How have I complied?' We're lacking that."

He's even warned clients to be wary of traveling abroad with old guitars, because the law says owners can be asked to account for every wooden part of their guitars when re-entering the U.S. The law also covers the trade in vintage instruments.

Nashville's George Gruhn is one of the world's top dealers of old guitars, banjos and other rare stringed instruments. "It's a nightmare," he says. "I can't help it if they used Brazilian rosewood on almost every guitar made prior to 1970. I'm not contributing to cutting down Brazilian rosewood today."

Gruhn acknowledges that the government has tried to create exemptions to cover vintage instruments. But he says they are rife with delays and to play it safe he's nearly eliminated the 40% of his business that used to deal with overseas buyers. "This is a new normal," says the EIA's Andrea Johnson. "And it takes getting used to."

Johnson defends the Lacey Act and the government's efforts to enforce it. "Nobody here wants this law to founder on unintended consequences," she says. "Because ultimately everybody understands that the intent here is to reduce illegal logging and send a signal to the markets that you've got to be asking questions and sourcing wood in a responsible way."

What constitutes that responsible way may only become clear when the government finally charges Gibson and the company gets the day in court it says it wants so badly.

31 Aug 11 - 10:38 PM (#3216304)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Bill D

Someone needs to clarify exactly what they are referring to! There is no true **Ebony** in Madagascar. "Madagascar ebony" is a Diospyros, and it IS getting scarce, and it may well be that Gibson didn't have the proper permits/certification for importing it, but whether this was intentional or a bookkeeping error is not clear. Perhaps the company Gibson bought it from misrepresented where they got it...or perhaps Gibson misrepresented the actual source.

(There is no 'Rosewood' in Bolivia, matter what wood dealers try to sell you!)

01 Sep 11 - 08:53 PM (#3216790)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Bobert

Not to worry... I have 3 of them but I took 'um all out back in the woods and buried 'um...

You gonna get me ya' better get up early and pack a lunch...


02 Sep 11 - 12:00 PM (#3217125)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: GUEST,leeneia

I read the WSJ article and found it to be a masterwork of evasions, irrelevant allusions and fear-mongering.

Let us keep in mind that the WSJ is now owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Nonetheless, I won't be taking my guitar overseas. Would I let some ramp rat or crabby passenger smash it? I don't think so.

03 Sep 11 - 09:28 AM (#3217551)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: dick greenhaus

I still haven't found any cases of personally-owned instruments being confiscated, or even challenged. HAve any Mudcatters been hassled? I know of several who travel abroad with instruments.

03 Sep 11 - 10:28 AM (#3217574)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: Dan Schatz

Somebody once advised me that when taking an instrument across the border, I should first stop at the US side of Customs and get forms to certify that my instruments were purchased in the US, and date of purchase, manufacture, etc. I did that, though I haven't needed them for awhile. Once you have that form, keep it for that instrument, and you can then account for all of your instruments at the border should you ever be challenged.

I don't know if that helps with the wood issue, but it can't hurt.


13 Oct 11 - 04:05 PM (#3238532)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?

Im going to plug my 1974 Gibson SG into a 100 WATT MARSHALL and play the dam fretboard right off of it.

27 Oct 11 - 09:22 PM (#3245930)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: EBarnacle

A friend sent me this article from The Times.

: The Latest Endangered Species


Published: October 25, 2011 (The New York Times)

New Haven

WHEN federal authorities raided the headquarters of the Gibson Guitar Corporation in late August, seizing wood they said was illegally exported from India, conservative critics denounced the episode as an example of regulatory overreach. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and now Republican presidential hopeful, accused the Obama administration of having a "vendetta" against small businesses; the current speaker, John A. Boehner, invited Gibson's owner, Henry E. Juszkiewicz, to sit in the speaker's box during President Obama's jobs speech last month.

The law that investigators enforced in the August raid is indeed flawed — but not for the reasons critics cite. Large companies like Gibson, if they source their wood carefully, should be O.K. The people who are truly in jeopardy are some of the finest artisanal guitar makers in the United States and Canada. Unlike Gibson, these independent artisans — also called luthiers — have been charged with no crime, but their livelihoods and life savings are at risk nonetheless.

The root of guitar makers' trouble is the Lacey Act, a law originally enacted in 1900 to prohibit the interstate sale of poached game. In 2008, the act was amended to combat illegal logging around the world. Protections for endangered plants were extended to cover trees logged in violation of foreign law; and importers of wood were required to declare the species and country of harvest for all commercially traded timber, sawed lumber and finished wood products.

Acting on suspicions raised by inaccurate Lacey declarations, armed agents raided Gibson's factory in Nashville in November 2009 and again in August to determine whether Gibson had accepted ebony imports in violation of laws in Madagascar and India. Gibson has denied any wrongdoing.

The Lacey Act amendments were well intended — few people wish to encourage illegal logging overseas — but the act was aimed at bulk freight and industrial inventory, not the practices of luthiers, who hand-select small quantities of wood and season it for decades, often passing it from one generation to the next.

When importers make declarations under the Lacey Act, they are also claiming that they have complied with other laws, like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This international treaty, adopted in 1973, outlawed global trade in elephant ivory in 1975 and Brazilian rosewood in 1992. But well-established luthiers — particularly the 100 or so who have been handcrafting and restoring stringed instruments for over 40 years — have stockpiles of ivory and wood that were acquired before the bans were put in place.

While manufacturers have increasingly turned to sustainable alternatives to guitar makers' traditional tonewoods, this option is largely unavailable to artisans who build a small number of instruments each year. Their inability to document the source and age of their materials exposes them to bankrupting fines and confiscations.

As a result, North American luthiers now sit on valuable supplies of Brazilian rosewood they are afraid to use, since guitars made with it cannot legally cross American borders — a liability for traveling musicians and international collectors. For self-employed artisans who often have no health insurance or 401(k) plans, these stashes of rare wood are the only retirement savings they have.

House members have now put forward a proposal — the Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act, or the Relief Act — to limit the declaration requirements under the Lacey amendment to solid wood and commercially imported goods, and to lift declaration requirements for wood and wood products imported or manufactured before May 2008.

While the bill may help guitar stores and musicians, it fails to address the problem facing artisanal builders.

Easing the declaration requirements doesn't affect the underlying legality of the wildlife materials in a guitar. The international sale of Brazilian rosewood guitars or vintage instruments with ivory nuts and saddles would still be illegal (under the convention) and guitars with decorative inlay could still be detained by customs agents looking for certain species of abalone shell (restricted under the Endangered Species Act).

What artisanal makers urgently need is a way to certify the legality of instruments built with materials they acquired before the trade convention and endangered species laws. Any workable solution needs to acknowledge that an artisanal instrument is not a mass-produced object: it has a unique history and character. For example, it should be enough for luthiers to provide a sworn affidavit to show that their Brazilian rosewood was obtained before 1992. Judgments must be made on a case-by-case basis. That is why many luthiers favor the issuing of passport-like documents, with photographs and serial numbers, for vintage and handmade guitars.

The Gibson case has attracted attention far beyond the noisy agitations of the right — not because the actions of the federal government were wrong, but because the future of North American guitar making will be in peril if problematic aspects of environmental law are not resolved.

Those of us who care about the craft that made the American guitar one of the most desirable instruments in the world are watching the Obama administration closely. And we have reason to be hopeful. After all, this is the president who, with his wife, shortly after taking office, gave Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, France's first lady, a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar as a gift of friendship.

Kathryn Marie Dudley is a professor of anthropology and American studies

28 Oct 11 - 04:27 AM (#3246001)
Subject: RE: Should owners of wooden guitars worry?
From: GUEST,blogward

Now if only that law were applied to banjos. Anyway I have a Gibbo and a Martin and an 'O' level in woodwork so I am fully prepared to argue my case with any US Customs official.