Wood Wars (This Is Totally Whacked) | Warehouse Guitar Speakers

Wood Wars (This Is Totally Whacked)

Wood Wars (This Is Totally Whacked)

The big story in this week’s Tennessean Sunday Paper (Sept 4, 2011) was on Nashville Based Gibson Guitars.  The story wasn’t about how wonderful it was to have one of the world’s premier guitar builders in Nashville.  In fact, it wasn’t about the guitars at all; it was about the wood they are made from.  It seems the Fish and Game department has just raided the Gibson plant for the second time, once again confiscating guitars, files, computers, and yes, wood.  When it comes to guitars and the wood they are made from, Big Brother is indeed watching.  What do I think about this, well ... read on dear reader!

First a little history (and I do mean little):  In the late 1800’s, as the world began to shrink, some weird rich folks began to think it was cool to own animals such as Panda Bears and Tigers as pets.  It got so out of hand that an international law was enacted to keep protected species from being transported from their country of origin ... the "Lacey Act" as it’s usually referred to.  Fast forward by a hundred years or so to 2008 when, here in the US, the interpretation of this law was extended to include plant as well as animal species.  In the world of high-end guitar manufacturing ... this is akin to "all hell breaking out".  If an anal-retentive Fed (yes, a fish and game agent) wants to press the measure, they can force anyone who owns a guitar made of ... say Brazilian Rosewood or Indian Ebony to produce provenance proving that every bit of wood, bone, etc on said guitar is of legal origin.  They can confiscate instruments and hand out fines on top.  This is a case where you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent.  This is some scary stuff.  Really scary.

Back in 2008 the Fish & Game folks raided the Gibson plant for the first time, taking around $100,000 worth of stuff.  They never came up with anything to charge Gibson with, and they never returned the confiscated inventory either.  It’s like the IRS meets the mob meets southern good-old-boy politics meets the Chicago political machine.  Evidentially they didn’t feel as though they inflicted enough damage to Gibson back in 2008, this time they are going for the jugular. 

This issue is discussed in length in the current (Aug 2011) issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.  They suggest that because of this mess, the values of the worlds greatest instruments might well be on the verge of falling apart.  If guitars can not be sold and shipped to America without the threat of an over-zealous agent seizing it upon arrival, what real value does it have?  The article even warns that performers traveling outside the states might think twice before bringing their prized guitars with them, for fear it might be seized when they come home for having a non-documented end-pin or the like.

How big of an issue is this? Read this article from the Wall Street Journal: Aug 26, 2011 Guitar Frets: Environmental Enforcement Leaves Musicians In Fear.

So, you all know about the (other) love in my life, my ’67 Martin D-28.  She’s made of woods that are today "illegal" (mainly the Brazilian Rosewood), but it was, of course totally proper to produce such a guitar in 1967.  But, how would I try to explain those subtleties to a gung-ho federal agent who wouldn’t know a ’67 Martin from a 2011 (graphite) Rainsong?  I think the rule of thumb here is that once the government has taken something, they never give it back.  If it’s you or me vs. the Federal government, we will loose.

So, what’s the answer?  Should the fine guitar makers of the world simply start making all of their instruments out of inferior, lowly regarded wood that no governments give a flying rip about?  Should we all then resign ourselves to playing these crappy sounding instruments, while hiding our good instruments in a dark closet living in fear that the Feds will find them? 

Don’t get me wrong, I love this here lil ol planet, and I’m quite a little "greenie" myself, but to me, this issue is a moot point anyway (and by that, I mean it’s all a bunch of crap).  Guitar manufacturing wasn’t what cleared the Brazilian rainforest of its Rosewood, nor is it taxing India’s supply of Ebony.  Guitar makers, both currently as well as historically, use a tiny fraction of the wood harvested worldwide.  It’s just a case of the big bully zeroing in on the small weak kid.  A company like Gibson may be big to us guitar players, but on a world-wide manufacturing scale, they are a pip-squeak company.  Here is another sad truth: we guitar players don’t exactly have a lot of political clout in Washington; I think the exact amount would be zero.  Ever heard of the big guitar lobby?  I didn’t think so.

Maybe it’s time we change that.

email vaughn     About Vaughn Skow

09/07/2011 7:26pm

I don't wanna start a political debate here, but this wood crisis has some political bearing. The CEO of Gibson went on Your World with Neil Cavuto on Fox News, I believe it was yesterday. Both he and Fox news note how ONLY Gibson has been raided, yet all major guitar companies buy many of the same woods from the same distributors and use it in their guitars.  The difference? The CEO of Gibson is a repulican and has made donations to various republican candidates in the last few years. Contrast him with the CEO of any other guitar maker (who tend to be of a liberal leaning) and you get a totally  different story. Now neither will say they think that's what's happening, but no one can deny this coincidence. 


Do I believe its a conspiracy to put conservatives out of business? No, not necessarily, but it does bring this story into an interesting light that deserves a mention and possibly a closer look.

09/09/2011 5:37pm

yes they will show up someday, owned by some people who worked in the gubment, and they will be worth thousands. this is part of Obama's retirement plan i'm sure. or we'll just see 'em on ebay soon! unfinished brazilian rosewood les paul!! government raid guitar!! $50,000 cheap!!!

09/09/2011 3:13pm

That seems like a stretch to me.. Just because Henry Juszkiewicz and Fox News says it's so doesn't mean it is. I love my Gibson Les Paul as much as the next guy, but there might be more to this story than the Feds or Gibson is letting on. Hope they get it straightened out soon. This finger-pointing has got to stop.


09/09/2011 3:21pm

In all fairness this issue should wreak havok on all use of items using materials known to be non-indigenois or claimed to be protected. Will it be furnature makers, or the decking on your new boat, maybe the flooring you just installed? Gun manufacturers, fishing rods, it just goes on and on. I suppose it is easier than combating gang violence and scamers.

The whole thing hits me as absurd and counter productive governmental self-empowerment. I smell another lawyer or two getting a pocket full before this is over. I better take up the clarinet.

09/09/2011 11:04pm

That clarinet better be of plasic or of some resin, because the wood varieties may be next.

09/09/2011 3:38pm

I won't get into much of a rant, mainly because I have ranted about this a lot this past week. My hope is this will be an eye opening experience for many. As a conservative leaning guitar player, getting most my other musician friends to understand what's going on with this present administration & Washington falls on deaf ears. Once a person realizes that it might just be "YOU" being targeted and not some faceless "evil" corporation, it tends to make a person sit up and take notice.

This is about politcal retribution, attack on private sector non-union business, global world order and just plain corrupt govermental departments. It's even about more than that, what it isn't about is protecting threatened wood species.

09/09/2011 3:40pm

I'm inclined to believe this has something to do with politics. My opinion? If Gibson is intentionally, knowingly using illegally imported wood they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Privately owned instruments that were produced legally should be perfectly legal to own. My politics? I'm so liberal I scare liberals.

09/09/2011 4:06pm

According to Gibson's president, Henry Juszkiewicz, the feds told him that their problems would go away if they would make guitars in Madagascar instead of America. He said this during an interview with the host Chris Daniel on the radio station KMJ 105.9 in Fresno, California. The podcast containing the interview is still available on the station's website. Mr. Juszkiewicz has also said this while being interviewed by other hosts. He has stressed the point that Gibson is an American company, and wanted to make their products here. It makes you wonder just what is really going on.

09/09/2011 11:11pm

I think I have to agree that there is plenty of political shenanigans that is being kept secret from us. Our Prez has tried to use the courts before to silence those who disagree with him. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if it was some scam like that, or even of the bigger fish variety of a NWO type.


That said. I have to applaud Gibson for wanting to be an American Company that MAKES stuff in the USA instead of employing Chinese, or others to do the work while slitting the economical throat of this country.


09/11/2011 9:54am

I am not a huge Gibson fan, as I beleive the company doesn't act in the best interest of musicians - charging inflated prices for the given quality of their instruments {being in a production based company, I know they can get thieir cost structure way down and pass the savings to the average musician - without sacrificing attributes of the instrument}.  Accordingly, when I read this story I was neutral & unaffected.

Reading your persepctive made me think.  And I thank you for that.

The underlying and repulsive thing, hinted in your write up, is "why doesn't the Government return confiscated items?"  Its because of the cost and complexity of storage and record keeping, these items are usually misplaced and eventually distroyed.   Ethenization is a common result when an protected anamal cannot be placed in a santuary.  The same has to be true of the confiscated wood.  Its not cost effective to keep it forever and you cannot allow someone to make something out of it.  It is unlikely you can return it to its natural habitat.

So, say they found a protected species of wood at Gibson.  The agency would eventually destroy it.  Kind of contrary to the cause and a bit of 'dying in vain' mixed together.  Pointless.

PRS had the answer years ago:  managed forests in the locals indigious to the protected species.  Take the species off the endangered list.  This is a very long term approach, but waiting to act doesn''t get you closer.

09/11/2011 10:17am

Politically, I'm like the guy who said "I'm so liberal I scare Liberals".  I imagine it's my kind who have left the offensive comments.  On behalf of all my fellow liberals, I apologize.  I'm "old school" liberal, all for peace, love and tolerance.  Some of these new kids who call themselves liberals are so mean-spirited they scare the heck out of us old hippies. 

This issue has been used by the far right as a battle cry for more "conservative" politics.  Thank you for keeping politics out of the debate and focusing on the impact to the guitar community.  I don't care who enacted, enforces, or interprets this law; it's in bad need of repair.  Oh, and please throw my name in the hat for a free t-shirt again.  Thanks.

09/11/2011 12:43pm


We live in a time when there is a lot of yelling back and forth across the Democrat/Republican Mason/Dixon Line. 

I remember back in the 1990s when Snapple had Rush Limbaugh endorsing it. The company lost as many customers as it gained. The marketing lesson here? When you embrace partisan politics and partisan political figures, you run the risk of losing approximately half of your customer base. When we're trying to run a company for profit, Democrat dollars are just as good as Republican ones. 

I can tell you this. If I owned a guitar company (or a company that makes speakers), I would be doing my best to stay out of partisan politics regardless of whatever legal issues I was having. It's a war that doesn't need to be fought and can only impact your bottomline in the long run. I wouldn't advocate candidates for public office and I wouldn't take political positions. Why? Because at least half of all guitar players probably do not share my political beliefs. I don't see the point of alienating potential customers in order to make partisan political points. When the CEO of Gibson went on Fox and other notoriously right-wing media outlets to argue his case, he made a choice. It was a bad choice. And it is going to come back to bite him and the Gibson Company. You watch. Over the next few years Gibson's sales will begin to drop. Endorsement artists will let their endorsements lapse. Sure, they will pick up others but the point is they will have lost in areas where they didn't need to lose. The more public attention is focused on this case, the more Gibson products will become increasingly associated with Tea Party politics. The CEO, by his actions, have guaranteed that. That's not smart business. 


09/12/2011 1:35pm

While it's good to spread the word about the Gibson/Lacey Act situation so we can keep aware , it doesn't seem necessary to describe agents who are doing their jobs as "gung ho", "anal-retentive" and "over-zealous" . We don't know that . These agents do an important , even vital job which is more than most of us can say . I have done some "Googling" to find out more which I would hope is the intent of this blog's subject today .  I'm not going to say that I've found the truth, but I will say that the linked article in the WSJ isn't the whole story . The guy pled guilty and he was found to have stashed a bunch of ivory that he did not declare . The fact that he intentionally hid it would imply that he knew he was breaking the law . I'm not ready to jump to Gibson's defense simply because I love guitars either .  One thing I read about Gibson's situation was that Gibson MAY have been complicit in using false documentation .  I have no idea if that source is credible but it does point out that there are 2 sides to this ordeal and I wouldn't conclude that we have to stash our bridge pins just yet .  I'm not good with using negative terms to describe  Federal agents . Sure, it injects a bit of humor into the story , but it feeds the fear-mongering types who have bomb shelters in the backyard and worship at the feet of some guy who has a TV or radio show who tells us the world is ending---"Buy gold, canned goods  and seeds !"  Let's just remember not to condemn or exonerate based on a couple of articles that might have a political agenda and let's not represent Federal agents as idiots . Some of those guys would lay down their life for any one of us .       

11/01/2017 11:55pm

I would be doing my best to stay out of partisan politics regardless of whatever legal issues I was having!!! Yes. www.hotmail.com