Feds raid Gibson Guitar

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Federal agents raided Gibson Guitar last week and confiscated what the Fish and Wildlife Service claim may be illegally harvested Madagascar ebony and other woods from protected forests. This follows a 2009 raid resulting in an ongoing court case, "United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms." From the Wall Street Journal:
The question in the first raid seemed to be whether Gibson had been buying illegally harvested hardwoods from protected forests, such as the Madagascar ebony that makes for such lovely fretboards. And if Gibson did knowingly import illegally harvested ebony from Madagascar, that wouldn't be a negligible offense. Peter Lowry, ebony and rosewood expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, calls the Madagascar wood trade the "equivalent of Africa's blood diamonds." But with the new raid, the government seems to be questioning whether some wood sourced from India met every regulatory jot and tittle.
Gibson Guitar Corp CEO Henry Juszkiewicz responded in a public statement issued by the company:
The raids forced Gibson to cease manufacturing operations and send workers home for the day while armed agents executed the search warrants. “Agents seized wood that was Forest Stewardship Council controlled,” Juszkiewicz said. “Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC-certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.”

Juszkiewicz believes that the Justice Department is bullying Gibson without filing charges.

“The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.”

"Guitar Frets: Environmental Enforcement Leaves Musicians in Fear" (Thanks, Greg Long!)

"Gibson Guitar Corp. Responds to Federal Raid"

UPDATE: Fretboard Journal's Michael Simmons, points us to "an article we did a while ago about CITES and the Lacey Act, the two laws that triggered the Gibson raid, and it gives some good background on what the issues are." A Guitar Lover’s Guide to the CITES Conservation Treaty

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  1. Ohhhh, so THAT’S the reason no Wall Street financial corps. have been raided. The feds were too busy with Gibson Guitars, History’s Greatest Monster. It all makes sense now!

  2. That article had to be the worst example of yellow journalism I’ve read in the last few days. (However, that might be simply due to having no electricity at home…)

    The feds don’t care about guitars. And customs isn’t going to care about YOUR guitar unless they think you are smuggling something in it.

    They care about the fact that somebody may in fact have gotten wood by doing something illegal.

  3. You would think a company as big as Gibson would be more careful about sourcing their raw materials.
    I think the bigger story in this article is the bit about confiscating VINTAGE guitars if they are constructed from materials do not conform to modern environmental protection laws.
    Quote from the WSJ article:
    “If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be
    made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with
    an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have
    correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument.
    Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent—not to mention
    face fines and prosecution.”

    1. Every time you cross the border, there’s a chance of losing something to a zealous customs agent, and no paperwork you may or not have will make a whit of difference.

      Anyway, I can’t help feeling this story might provide a boost to Gibson’s sales as the rumour spreads that Gibson guitars are secretly made with illegal tonewoods.

  4. They’re lucky Gene Simmons of KISS wasn’t there.  He’d have clobbered them with his righteous axe! Why they were armed beyond that is anybodies guess.  Remember, before 9/11 when police seemed at least a bit more rational in the U.S.?  The Fed’s just have it in for Gibson.  If you follow the money my guess is someone somewhere within the Fed stands to benefit from some angle on this story.  They’re thugs and this is how they roll. 

    1. Remember, before 9/11 when police seemed at least a bit more rational in the U.S.?

      I’m not so sure about that. Rember, for example, Steve Jackson Games?

      Things are admitedly bad right now, but they’ve been pretty bad for a while as far as LEO being careful and rational when executing an order…

      1. Ambiguity: I had a friend that worked at Steve Jackson Games here in Austin but I don’t “remember what happened.” What happened?

  5. Not that there are more spectacular forms of intimidation occurring every day, everywhere, but come on. Were they worried that Henry Juszkiewicz was going to pull a tommy gun out of a guitar case, or does F&W Services have such low self-esteem that they need to show up armed to get anyone to even take them seriously?

    There’s an Invisible Man joke in here somewhere.

  6. I’m glad they had their guns out. You know how dangerous it was for the Feds to go in there and take their wood!

    Serious. I hope they didn’t come in with guns drawn. Just one person being killed accidently would be worse than if they did have illegally obtained wood.

    1. Gisbon may be fighting Justice, but Fender has the Emerald Ash Borer.  They’re screwed, too!

      1. And what of the all the other guitar makers including Gibson’s actual rival:  Fender. 

        Move along……………………

      2. To be fair, and if it’s true, Martin said they stopped using the Madagascar ebony when the coup took place and the legality of the harvesting became foggy. Gibson continued to buy that ebony–the feds say knowingly. Gibson stopped using that ebony after they were raided. And we don’t know exactly what is up the product from India yet.  So, I think it may have to more to do with the product that who they donated money to. 

  7. Does some obscure law in India really have *any* bearing here?  Is there any place for American police to be enforcing India’s laws upon Americans?  I seriously doubt it.  It seems unlikely that this would be what was happening, but if it was I will weep.

    1. In a sense, yes. The Lacy Act, as it was rewritten, requires American companies to abide by international laws regarding imported plants. And that includes lumber.

  8. The part that gets me is that the Feds say that this is in support of the Lacey Act; yet, the governments of India and Madagascar both say that Gibson isn’t doing anything wrong. It’s one thing accidentally running afoul of another country’s laws while you’re in that country. (It’s happened to me before, and luckily I could prove ignorance, it wasn’t a serious offence, and the polizia were understanding.) But running afoul of another country’s laws while you’re in your home country? What’s next? Legally married gay federal employees being forced into a divorce before dealing with Sharia-Law countries, even on US soil? Cargoes of controlled substances confiscated because the ship they were on made a stop in a port where they were illegal? And especially when it seems to be the Fed’s interpretation of the foreign gov’t’s law, and not the foreign gov’t?

  9. Someone at Justice hates guitar players.
    Was it his chronic lack of coolness or losing his babe to a guitar player?
    Passive aggressive tools !

  10. Confound your hipster friends by asking them if they’ve ever heard of a band called Jot & Tittle.

  11. So does this mean that Washington wants Gibson to move their production of guitars overseas? Because from this post it sounds like Gibson is under investigation for doing the work in the United States rather than India. 

    1. GregS: Oh, I get it! We should reduce all regulations to the level of the country with the least regulations to prevent companies from going abroad.

    2. Remember, this is what Henry from Gibson said. That is his speculation (or spin). The Feds have not really said anything yet about his newest raid. Henry is controlling the story right now because the Feds are quiet on the subject. If Henry is right, it will certainly seem like they got shut down on a technicality. And it will be more than sad that a classic American company was targeted for such a technicality. But let’s see how it plays out. 

  12. Ambiguity: I had a friend that worked at Steve Jackson Games here in Austin but I don’t “remember what happened.” What happened?

  13. Well, what was the Justice Department looking for?  I’d like a source that’s not the CEO of Gibson.

  14. I thought the raid two years ago confiscated the contested Madagascar wood, and that the recent raid confiscated wood shipped from India. Gibson has not yet been charged with anything related to the raid that took place two years ago, according to Gibson. I don’t mind the Feds enforcing a decent (if not anxiety-inducing) law, but I do mind when the Feds do an awful job at it. Stuff is poached to extinction, support local governments to help maintain their local ecosystems, I get that, but geez.

  15. They charged the wood instead of the company, that way they don’t have to prove guilt, Gibson has to prove innocence.  Nice.  [as in, not nice.]

  16. the real concern is that musicians are afraid to travel for yet another reason.  I’m thinking of getting a carbon fiber mandolin and fiddle to go across the border now.

    1. The Wall Street Journal has published an article entitled “Environmental Enforcement Leaves Musicians in Fear”.

      Ponder that sentence. 

      The writer tells you about a seizure of raw materials at Gibson, then tells guitarists that their existing instruments will be seized at the border.  The examples of such seizures?  Pianos!

      Mr. Murdoch’s papers are known for sensationalism…

  17. (1) There needs to be a source other than Gibson before any real analysis of this particular case can be made.

    (2) Trade in threatened species — and the attendant destruction of ecosystems — is serious, serious stuff.  Compared with how serious it is, government regulation and enforcement is pitifully inadequate.  

    (3) The really interesting story here is the relationships between musicians, their instruments, and the companies who make them, and these articles haven’t even tried to explore it.  Why these particular woods?  Why are they still being used if they are so problematic?  Why can’t musicians and the industry simply move away from problematic woods?  Leave the government aside: What’s going on here?

    1. Well, there’s quite a bit of mythology built up in the musical community about special properties of endangered woods.  Brazilian rosewood commands a premium, because it’s nearly impossible to obtain now, and naturally it is rumored to have amazing tone qualities.  Same for almost any endangered wood — it’s got the magic, and the other stuff doesn’t, so what supply can be had goes for many dollars, and that just fuels the mythical status of various tonewoods.

      1. Rosewood and ebony are not really considered to sound amazing because they’re endangered, it’s because they were very commonly used in older guitars, many of which became benchmarks in various areas. So they get associated with greatness.

        This whole situation is kind of problematic, but honestly: if you’re taking a guitar across borders on a vacation, you should be taking something cheap anyway. If you’re a touring musician, you should be able to line your permits up. Pianos and old wind have ivory in them all the time, and they can be moved. The process is not nearly as cumbersome as the articles make it sound, it just moves at a glacial pace. But having a certificate of age for the instrument is about all you need.

  18. (3)
    The really interesting story here is the relationships between
    musicians, their instruments, and the companies who make them, and these
    articles haven’t even tried to explore it.  

    >Why these particular woods? 

    They look or sound pretty , musicians are suckers for aesthetics – go figure

    >Why are they still being used if they are so problematic? 

    They aren’t for the most part, the article was about antique instruments.

    >Why can’t musicians and the industry simply move away from problematic woods?
      I give up , read the article , it’s about vintage or antique instruments.

    Wait till someone finds out that old cameras are lubricated with whale oil.

    This edit widgit sucks wet bricks

    And why do I have to post as three different people on BB depending on what
    server at Disqus or Facebook or Google or god forbid Yahoo has a case
    of the farts?

  19. Also,
    “United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms.” sounds like a porn film.

    and this  DISQUS edit box is vile

    1. “Almost inapplicable”? “Mostly about actual importers and exporters”? That’s cold comfort for someone taking an instrument across a border, because laws about smuggling and transporting endangered species don’t really have exemptions for small quantities for personal use, do they?

      1. Don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, they don’t apply to a person’s personal/private guitar.  If you’re obviously trying to commercially import something that’s illegal than yes.  Spare us the phony hysteria.  Bands with vintage instruments come and go every single day.

        Let us know when regular joes get their old guitars confiscated [citation needed]
        More obnoxious libertarian propaganda.

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