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Guitar Makers Singing the Blues
September 4, 2011 6:54 AM   Subscribe

During a raid on the Gibson Guitar factory, a million dollars worth of Madagascar ebony and rosewood were seized under the 100-year-old Lacey Act which protects endangered species. But the Lacey Act is retroactive and also covers the trade in vintage instruments, which means owners can be asked to account for every wooden part of their guitars when re-entering the U.S.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy (124 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought this was too good to let go, so thanks to the original poster and everyone who contributed links in the now deleted post.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:56 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of all the companies / industries to play hard-ball with, they pick Gibson.

Whoever is behind this, I have an imagine in my mind of a grown Eric Cartman bitching about "those stupid hippies".
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:00 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another perspective ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 7:07 AM on September 4, 2011


Yeah, I've been hearing about this here and there over the past couple of days. This shit is nuts.

But I had missed the deleted post you referred to above. Must've been too axe-grindy?

Get it? "Axe"? Like, "whoa, dude, that Gibson you've got is one nice axe!" AAAAH-hahahaha!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:08 AM on September 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


I hope they also start going after furniture makers, who account for most of the rosewood imports.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:08 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]



I have learned from Facebook that Gibson's difficulties stem from the fact that they gave, primarily, to republicans and republican causes. Others haven't faced prosecution and they give to democrats.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:13 AM on September 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Previous deleted post, with surprisingly good discussion.
posted by hippybear at 7:14 AM on September 4, 2011


I have learned from Facebook that Gibson's difficulties stem...

Do you have actual sources to back this claim up, or are you just passing along rumors disguised as fact?
posted by hippybear at 7:15 AM on September 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


hippybear, I think that was part of the joke... "facebook" being the source hence, yes, rumors. At least I hope that's what Pogo meant.
posted by symbioid at 7:17 AM on September 4, 2011


Some more background from the other post. Little bit of detail of the search warrant affidavits in there.

Seems to confirm the idea that this is Justice using the Lacey Act to enforce an Indian law aimed at conserving old growth forests. That law apparently restricts the export of sawn timber, instead reserving it for small scale local production, thereby encouraging local development and enhancing local peasant's perceived value of old growth forests.
posted by Ahab at 7:19 AM on September 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well if you can't trust Facebook for balanced political reporting, you'll have to go to something more trustworthy - like Fox News.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:20 AM on September 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't really doubt it. This administration seems as least as petty and even more political than most. On the other hand, "I have learned from Facebook..." verges on oxymoronicism.
posted by umberto at 7:21 AM on September 4, 2011


I have learned from Facebook...

Well, then, it's gotta be true.

This seems like it might have been a boneheaded move. At the very least, it's become quite a rallying cry on the right.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:23 AM on September 4, 2011


This administration seems as least as petty and even more political than most.
Cite?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:23 AM on September 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Instapundit has been covering this for a while. Apparently, there is some political motivation behind the raids.
posted by pentagoet at 7:24 AM on September 4, 2011


If only they'd been raided for the willful demolition of Oberheim, Opcode, and the Echoplex Digital Pro, but life's not fair in that regard.

Rotten company, rotten from the head (Henry Juszkiewicz) on down, and surviving solely on cheesy nostalgia of aging baby boomers in exactly the same cynical mode as the soon-to-be-moribund Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

If you play, there are far better axes out there with which to shred.
posted by sonascope at 7:25 AM on September 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


I would just like to know more about this "retroactive" part of the Lacey Act because this house is jammed with old furniture and old guitars. I'm not alone in that, however. Is this going to be the new "You paid your Nanny under the table??!!" that trips up wannabe politicians?

"Senator, can you show me the paperwork on your.....HEADBOARD?"
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:26 AM on September 4, 2011


WARNING: Do not enter this thread if your sarcasm detector is broken. Levels are dangerous.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:27 AM on September 4, 2011 [19 favorites]


Affidavit in support of search warrant (pdf)
posted by mikelieman at 7:30 AM on September 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


There is an enormous problems with America's legal system not penalizing prejudiced or malicious prosecution, especially once you consider how bail works here. You know, we should ideally disbar the DAs who prosicuted people for recording police too.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:34 AM on September 4, 2011 [8 favorites]



Do you have actual sources to back this claim up, or are you just passing along rumors disguised as fact?

I'm saying that right has gotten way out in front of this story. It's been percolating for a bit, and my rightwing friends have posted various rants and articles about it to facebook. I haven't paid much attention - been busy with the new Deus Ex and all - but, I have noticed it.

Here's one from Michelle Malkin It doesn't focus on the payments thing, but many others have. I'm not going to dig up page views for them, but any trivial search will demonstrate what I've said is true.

Here's the last FB post from my uncle "Gibson Guitars is being prosecuted by Obunghole for giving money to Republicans. Unreal. This is America, they have free speech!"
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:37 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Long story short: this wood was smuggled, and documents were falsified.
[...] the federal agent's search warrant affidavit contends that 1,250 pieces of Indian ebony wood that arrived by air in Dallas on June 22 were imported illegally, sparking the federal investigation under the Lacey Act policing international trade in plants as well as federal smuggling law.

India does not allow wood to be exported if it is sawn or chipped lengthwise, sliced, peeled or more than 6 millimeters thick, the government contends in the court filing. The sawn ebony wood intercepted by U.S. customs agents in Dallas was 10 millimeters thick.

Initial customs documents for the shipment falsely described the wood as veneer, less than 6 millimeters thick and finished parts of musical instruments, according to the court document.

In addition, rather than listing Gibson as its ultimate consignee as required, California-based Luthier Mercantile International initially was declared to be the final destination for the wood, agents reported.
SOMEone knew they were doing something wrong or else the documents wouldn't have been falsified. This isn't a case of "aw, shucks, we got caught on some obscure law, how were we to know?"

If you're importing or exporting anything, you are painfully aware of laws and restrictions. And again, the falsified documents show that they weren't unaware.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:46 AM on September 4, 2011 [45 favorites]


G-men Get Greenwashed Gibson?
posted by humanfont at 7:47 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is considerable variability among nation in how flexibility their legal system and bureaucracy operate. Gibson's supliers have probably obtained export permissions through connections or outright bribery. Isn't that what the Lacey Act should cover?
posted by jeffburdges at 7:48 AM on September 4, 2011


I'm saying that right has gotten way out in front of this story.

Like that birth certificate scandal?

...but any trivial search will demonstrate what I've said is true.
All you've said, really, is that the right is creating a lot churn over the raid. You're not providing any information that might legitimize their claims. Rather, you're hanging those claims out there as if they were self-legitimizing.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:49 AM on September 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's one from Michelle Malkin

Heehee! You're a card, Pogo!
posted by SPrintF at 7:49 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's one from Michelle Malkin It doesn't focus on the payments thing, but many others have. I'm not going to dig up page views for them, but any trivial search will demonstrate what I've said is true.

So... you won't actually provide context for your accusation in the name of "not digging up page views", but you encourage others to do the research which you're unwilling to provide?

Sorry, if you're wanting me to believe what you claim to be true, you're going to have to provide verifiable sources which underscore your claims. Otherwise, you're still just dealing in innuendo and rumor and I don't have the time to research unbased bullshit.
posted by hippybear at 7:53 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


All you've said, really, is that the right is creating a lot churn over the raid.

And that is what I am saying. I have no idea if they are legitimate. I highly suspect not.

I think it's impressive that the right wing noise machine was so far ahead of this story.

It's sort of alarming how well they are at manipulating the zeitgeist.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:55 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have learned from Facebook...
Here's one from Michelle Malkin...
Instapundit has been covering this for a while...


Three excellent and reliable sources. Clearly, the raids are the work of out of control Government forces, likely directed by Obama himself from a circling Black Helicopter.
posted by FfejL at 7:57 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


And that is what I am saying. I have no idea if they are legitimate. I highly suspect not.

Wait what? Why would you dump something into a MetaFilter thread which you "highly suspect" is not legitimate?

You're just stirring the pot like an amateur troll, aren't you?
posted by hippybear at 7:57 AM on September 4, 2011


Yeah, seems to me in this case Pogo simply passed along what he'd been hearing without making a judgement about it. I appreciate knowing that this is being turned into another victim mentality bonanza for the right. It'd be interesting to see if there really are other companies that falsified documents on illegal shipments to deliberately misleading destinations (which seems to be the allegation here). Like Pogo, I doubt that's true, and suspect the right's "oh we're so victimized by the black man president!" parade is what's driving this latest outrage.
posted by mediareport at 8:01 AM on September 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


What's the distinction between a retroactive law and an ex post facto law?
posted by kimota at 8:02 AM on September 4, 2011


Three excellent and reliable sources.

No, this is "outrage in the blogosphere" that can be used as an excuse for the 24 hour cable news outlets to repeat whatever controversy there is, real or otherwise.
posted by indubitable at 8:02 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Graphite guitars for everyone!
posted by mintcake! at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2011


Why am I supposed to feel sorry for Gibson again? Because they're being singled out? Quit working with illegal materials. It's not that hard.
posted by graventy at 8:06 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's not really an ex post factor law, though, is it? It's not like the feds are going to bust your door down for owning a piece of furniture that was imported before the law was passed. But, if you try to import old furniture after the law was passed, you have to follow current laws for imports. That seems sensible to me.
posted by muddgirl at 8:10 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I own a Gibson J-165, Rosewood model. This affects me directly.

But I understand these regulations and support them. Conservation cannot be about conserving species when it doesn't inconvience us. To stop clear cutting of this wood in foreign countries means i need a permit and documentation overseas. im ok with that.

More details here:http://www.fretboardjournal.com/features/magazine/guitar-lover’s-guide-cites-conservation-treaty
posted by Ironmouth at 8:10 AM on September 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I have a pair of rosewood nunchucks, but I also have skills, so no one better come try to take them!
posted by cjorgensen at 8:15 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


graventy : Quit working with illegal materials. It's not that hard.

Why? Not talking about giant marine mammals here, but plants. You want to save the genetics of Rosewood? Grow one. Hell, grow 50. Or better yet, grow something actually endangered, instead of the cultural hegemony issue-of-the-week.

I don't feel bad for Gibson for lying and getting caught (though I also don't particularly care how they declared the import - Pretty much everything I've ever bought from abroad had a declared purpose and value of "for promotional use, value under one dollar"). I do, however, feel bad for them for needing to lie. You have poor people who have trees, and rich people who want expensive exotic wood. The poor people will still cut down the wood, they'll just use if for heating and cooking instead of selling to foreigners with more dollars than sense.
posted by pla at 8:19 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]



Wait what? Why would you dump something into a MetaFilter thread which you "highly suspect" is not legitimate?


That my FB feed has contained a lot of rants based on this is a legitimate claim. That is what I was sharing. That is my experience as it relates to this story.

I am not claiming that those rants are based on facts. I doubt they are. I said before that I don't know know enough about the subject.

I do know that this story has been churning for a while. I was sort of wondering if it was going to quietly die down, or become The Next Big Thing. I think it's impressive and troubling! how stories get their legs on right wing blogs.

Its like how angels get their wings, except in reverse.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:20 AM on September 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Now I'm confused by the facts: the affidavit appears to say that any and all Indian Rosewood and Ebony is illegal to import or possess if it is more than 6mm thick (veneer.) See para 12 - 17 on pgs 5 through 8. No exceptions.

So does that mean these Indian Rosewood fingerboards are illegal? They come to mimd because they dealt in large quantities of rough lumber in a variety of exotic woods and they do most of their business with India.

Declaring something contraband is not ex post facto. It happens all the time and is one of the long-standing sore points about gun control laws. One day you have a valuable possession, the next day you possess contraband and face prosecution if caught trying to liquidate it to recover your investment.
posted by warbaby at 8:22 AM on September 4, 2011


I expect this Gibson story will get bigger and more play regardless of the merits or the truth (which I don't claim to know at this point). It's a tea partier's bonanza, with several of the favorite themes that are being shaped and honed as we speak: crippling government regulations enforced by thuggish government operatives; the ridiculous lengths liberals go to protect the environment; and a mean-spirited, vengeful job-killing Obama.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:24 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


6mm is ~1/4" thick. Way thicker than veneer and plenty thick for a fingerboard.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:26 AM on September 4, 2011


Hey Ironmouth's 2008 link is very informative. graventy, you really ought to read it; it captures the insane Catch-22 nature of the regulations as they apply to vintage guitars very nicely. I should throw in the word Kafka-esque here too, because it fits. The sections starting with "Permits, Ports and Seizures" should convince you that "it's not that hard" doesn't begin to cover it, for guitar owners, anyway.
posted by mediareport at 8:30 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm just quoting from the affidavit. The fingerboards I'm referring to are 5/16" = 7.9mm

I'm asking what people think about the details of what constitutes contraband as laid out in the affidavit.
posted by warbaby at 8:33 AM on September 4, 2011


I don't feel bad for Gibson for lying and getting caught (though I also don't particularly care how they declared the import

Law only works when everyone respects it, from multi-million dollar corporations to poor black people under arrest. Neither is permitted to lie. You are engaging in what is known as "special pleading." Otherwise it would be wrong also to go after drug-smuggling Mexican cartels too.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:48 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree that the restrictions on vintage instruments are insane. Or on any instruments owned by individuals, for that matter. These laws should only apply to bulk imports of raw materials or finished instruments and instrument parts.

But you'll notice the wingnuts only started ranting once that divine entity, A Corporation, was hassled by Obama's New World Order Illuminazi stormtroopers. I've been hearing for years about musicians getting hassled over this. Where was Michelle Malkin then?
posted by fleetmouse at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


pla writes "I don't feel bad for Gibson for lying and getting caught (though I also don't particularly care how they declared the import"

I'm amazed you'd be so non plussed about corporations lying in labelling in such a public way. After all I'd like to think that when a corporation tells me what is in a box they are being truthful so that my decafe is actually decaffeinated and my peanut free snack doesn't cause me to go into anaphylactic shock.
posted by Mitheral at 8:56 AM on September 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


A tea party issue, ah, just when everyone was getting cozy with there whammy bars and shame on lies and bad wood cutting people, bad compnay for buying. Hell in business, if they dont seize those axes and burn them, they will just go up in price.
its a win-win don't you see.
posted by clavdivs at 8:59 AM on September 4, 2011


If I was an editor on any of the stories about the potential for vintage instruments being seized, I'd like to see some actual cases. As a reader, I'd like to see some actual cases.

If, as the affidavit states, the class of woods that are contraband are so large, why no cases? If the answer is prosecutorial discretion, then we've got a bad law and an enforcement problem.

The problem with overbroad laws is that if you make everything illegal and enforce what you want, then the law is no longer a guide to conduct and only a way of sorting out who's connected and who's not. It literally creates a criminal class in society.
posted by warbaby at 9:00 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why? Not talking about giant marine mammals here, but plants. You want to save the genetics of Rosewood? Grow one. Hell, grow 50. Or better yet, grow something actually endangered, instead of the cultural hegemony issue-of-the-week.

Also in issue 11 of Fretboard Journal--(the magazine which had my first link), but not online, a thoughtful discussion on how these rosewoods are endangered and how the clear cutting of them is fueled primarily by US guitar sales.

Also stripping a forest of a large number of trees does more ecological damage than killing off a few large mammals.

There are solutions being worked out for rosewood. But the new rosewood is more expensive. I think it an ok trade off so we can have more rosewood in the future to make more guitars.

I agree that the restrictions on vintage instruments are insane. Or on any instruments owned by individuals, for that matter. These laws should only apply to bulk imports of raw materials or finished instruments and instrument parts.

They are far from insane. They are designed to prevent trade in illegal woods and ivory. There is no test for whether or not an instrument is vintage. Requiring an owner to go to the FWS for a permit is smart. Otherwise a lot of instruments would not get stopped.

Finally, as laid out in my link, the CITES treaty applies only to woods imported after 1993. Ivory has been banned since 1947 in this country.

So far I appear to be the only one affected by this. I'm ok with it.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:01 AM on September 4, 2011 [15 favorites]


You have poor people who have trees, and rich people who want expensive exotic wood.

my 1403 AD gibson 335 with easter island rosewood ROCKS OUT, dude!

pity about those guys having no wood to get off the island, though
posted by pyramid termite at 9:06 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem with overbroad laws is that if you make everything illegal and enforce what you want, then the law is no longer a guide to conduct and only a way of sorting out who's connected and who's not.

This is not "everything." This are a few very-high end guitars. My rosewood Gibson acoustic retails north of 2k. This is a small bunch of rich folks getting mad their toys are being messed with.

Either we are for conservation or not. The number of high-end vintage guitars with rosewood in them travelling inside and outside of the US has got to be less than 5,000. Most people don't even travel with them by air, as they get smashed a lot. So, far from making "everyone" a "criminal," the law only affects a very small proportion of people and it goes a long way in protecting a very valuable resource.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:07 AM on September 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


There is considerable variability among nation in how flexibility their legal system and bureaucracy operate.

This is really the issue for me. You have this quite inflexible "not corrupt" US system of law, and many of these laws are really pretty stringent and even crazy. And once you get caught in the maw, you are ground up, totally fucked.

And there are SO MANY fucking laws, that really almost everybody is probably doing something illegal. Like the other guy said upthread, have you checked all of your antiques / old bits of woodwork?

So the "not corrupt" machine gets turned on specific people for specific, often partisan, reasons. That's why rich white profs don't get busted for smoking doobies, but why black kids do.

Maybe these guys were really dirty and intentional in their dealings here. But somebody made a political decision to point the spotlight and direct the limited resources of the law on them.

Burn the whole fucking thing down, too many laws.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:08 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I always thought of Gibsons as republican guitars anyway.

/fenderist
posted by spitbull at 9:10 AM on September 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


That the Lacey Act is 100 years old is a little bit misleading. It's true, but it has only been a few years since it was revised to include these types of wood products, and declarations began being required in the import process. The import side of it is actually being overseen by USDA/APHIS, not FWS, although I'm sure there is plenty of overlap in jurisdiction. As fleetmouse said, Gibson was undoubtedly aware of the law; it's not obscure at all to the people involved with importing wood products.

It's been less than two years since full implementation was achieved, and it's no surprise to me that patterns of violation are being identified and prosecuted now.

Here's USDA's Lacey Act Primer (PDF), and the full text of the revisions are in the 9/2/2009 Federal Register here (PDF). More Lacey Act info from USDA is here.
posted by Balonious Assault at 9:11 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ironmouth: If that's true, then what does it help to extend this law to privately owned finished instruments? You've got 5,000-ish people who can't bring their instruments with them when they fly unless they use one of a dozen approved airports....why, exactly? How does that help anything?

Just because a problem affects only a small number of people doesn't mean it's not a problem.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:13 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


but seriously, this has been an ongoing issue for many years and luthiers and musicians have long been aware of it - i don't feel sorry for gibson at all

they willfully skirted the law to get an edge on their competition and did it stupidly - and of course, it's going to be a right-wing rallying point - the stupid have to organize for their "rights" too

but maybe instead of cheating like this, gibson might ask themselves why, for example, their cheap epiphones are cheap crappy instruments while fender's squiers are surprisingly decent and can be playable - or why the market for humbucker type guitars is being taken over by dean, ibanez, jackson, b c rich, etc etc when they're the ones who came up with that idea in the first place

you don't see fender getting out marketed anywhere near as much, because they're still trying hard to make good guitars
posted by pyramid termite at 9:15 AM on September 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Story from The Tennessean, which isn't a right-leaning blog.

NPR story.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:17 AM on September 4, 2011


Just because a problem affects only a small number of people doesn't mean it's not a problem.

But it does provide a guide for us to figure out how important it is for us top fix this problem relative to others and how many resources to spend on it.

Am I as an owner of a Rosewood guitar, entitled to the expense of a FWS agent at every possible place I may enter the US? What would be the cost of that regime. Who would pay for it?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:19 AM on September 4, 2011


And remember when Michelle Obama gave a Gibson to Carla Bruni?

I still don't understand why Martin didn't get the same treatment.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:19 AM on September 4, 2011


I own several guitars, and follow politics a lot, and I can’t figure out why this story is supposed to be interesting. I’ve seen it several times this week, and can’t believe people are actually talking about it.

I guess it’s because I don’t listen to right wing nutjob radio or watch Fox news. They truly own the minds of their fans.
posted by bongo_x at 9:42 AM on September 4, 2011


Finally, as laid out in my link, the CITES treaty applies only to woods imported after 1993.

Actually, your link points out that CITES also applies to when a particular piece of wood was *fashioned* into a guitar part:

Yet, the crucial date isn’t the manufacture date of the guitar or the harvest date of the CITES-protected stuff on the guitar. The controlling date is actually the date when the protected stuff was fashioned into its current form. If that fossilized ivory nut fell off a mastodon, say, 6 million years ago, was dug up 200 years ago and used for a piano key in 1820, but your luthier fashioned that old piano key into a nut and placed it on you guitar last month, that ivory is a month old for CITES purposes--and subject to Appendix I restrictions. The same goes for that 200 year-old tortoiseshell hairbrush handle that you fashioned into a pick in the ‘80s.

This can be tough for folks who've bought vintage guitars on, say, eBay sometime in the last 18 years to figure out. I'm not sure why you seem to be minimizing the somewhat arbitrary, and extraordinarily, unnecessarily confusing series of hoops CITES creates for guitar owners, Ironmouth. I think the writer of the article you linked captures very well the absurdity of some of the regulatory mess:

“I can’t figure this one out,” I tell Ms. Cleva of the USFWS. “I can’t bring the Brazilian rosewood in through the Cleveland airport, but I can’t get it back out, either. So, what happens? Is my guitar seized forever? Do I get special permission to go back to Toronto to fly in through JFK? Or does USFWS seize it and transport it for me to JFK, where I can get it after paying the transport and storage fees?”

“Hmmm,” she replies, “I’ve never thought about this or heard about this. I just don’t know.”

She doesn’t know?! If the USFWS law-enforcement spokesperson doesn’t know, how can they expect us to know? You’ve stumbled into the legal shadows between the Convention, ESA and USFWS regulations. Maybe your lawyer can help you find your way out--at $250 an hour.

posted by mediareport at 9:42 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can have my Gibson when you pry it out of my dead cold hands.

(Actually I have an Epiphone and it's probably made out of pine plywood.)
posted by bukvich at 9:54 AM on September 4, 2011


Yeah, this part is worth pulling out, too:

What happens if your guitar doesn’t contain any CITES substances, but the government seizes it anyway? You have to prove that the government was wrong. That’s right: As long as the USFWS can show that it had “reasonable grounds” to believe that your guitar’s headstock overlay, for example, was Brazilian rosewood, you’ll have the burden--not the USFWS--of proving that it’s really ebony or Madagascar rosewood.

You’ll have to hire an expert to testify at a hearing in the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. And even then, just how are you going to prove exactly when your guitar’s ivory saddle--the one you scored off of eBay--was actually fashioned into a saddle? You simply can’t.


The article then goes on to discuss a clear case of a mistaken FWS claim/siezure, also worth pulling out:

“Another story to add to this nightmare,” Fry continues. “Our music-store shipping department shipped a customer’s Martin D-42 back to the Martin factory for warranty work last month. Today, we got a letter in the mail from the Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with a fine for $225 for ‘knowingly shipping abalone shell’ across the border without proper U.S. Fish and Wildlife paperwork. The poor guy in our shipping department has his name on this fine. If he wants to contest it, he has to show up in federal court in the U.S. to do so.” (Fry has since told me that the shop paid the fine, but USFWS has not released the guitar.)

Let’s consider the USFWS claim. The only abalone species listed in CITES is South African abalone, which is in Appendix III. The only limitation is that it can’t be exported from South Africa without a permit, so that can’t be the problem with these two guitars. What about white abalone, which is listed on the ESA? Remember, the USFWS has performed “tests” and concluded, apparently, that the guitars have white abalone on them.

As we know, the burden of disproving USFWS’ tests and judgments lies with the guitar owners. In search of this rebuttal evidence, I worked the telephone. Mike Tobin of Taylor Guitars confirms that the Taylor did not contain white abalone: “No. We use green and red abalone. In the early 2000s, we also used agoya shell on our koa and walnut series, but we’ve never used white abalone or the South African stuff.”

According to Martin’s Dick Boak, the D-42 didn’t have white abalone on it either. “No, we don’t use white abalone,” he explains. “We use mother-of-pearl and red and green abalone for our inlays. But don’t take my word for it. Call Pearlworks; they do our inlay work.”

A few moments later, I’m chatting with Doug Aulson of Pearlworks, in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. “Oh,” says Aulson, “we don’t use any white abalone. We use green and red and we’ve got good documentation on everything that we use. I’ll bet that what Fish and Wildlife saw that looked white was mother-of-pearl.” I’ll take that bet.

To avoid such nightmares, George Gruhn has simply stopped shipping internationally. “It’s not too hard to figure out a better way to deal with this,” he says. “You get a ‘passport’ for your instrument, which you carry with you. It gets stamped when you cross international borders. Customs authorities everywhere can track your instrument, and you don’t run the risk of mistaken or overzealous customs authorities seizing it."

What a great idea! Will the CITES countries consider this? “No,” says the secretariat’s spokesperson. “We feel that CITES is working well as it is.” Really?

posted by mediareport at 9:59 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Grow one. Hell, grow 50. Or better yet, grow something actually endangered, instead of the cultural hegemony issue-of-the-week.

Uh, not the same kind of rosewood species that are threatened/endangered. The species you linked has stable populations and grows in many more places than the endangered Dalbergia ssp. Furthermore, it's not the genetic information that's important, it is the ecosystems than are being decimated by harvesting these trees and other tropical hardwoods. They're hardwoods, which means they are relatively slow growing. It's not possible to replace these forests at the rate they are disappearing. When tropical forests are cut down the soil underneath becomes infertile in 2-4 years. You lose the thousands of other species that live in that forest. You lose carbon sequestration, disrupt rainfall patterns, increase surface water flow which causes floods and landslides, lose water that might replenish groundwater stores, increase temperature fluctuations at various scales, destroy resources for indiginous peoples. It's ludicrously ignorant to pretend that planting seeds in your backyard is going to make any sort of difference to the issues that the importation rules are trying to address.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:12 AM on September 4, 2011 [21 favorites]



Just because a problem affects only a small number of people doesn't mean it's not a problem.


I always figure they go after fairly small producers because the big criminals are good pals with the government. Seriously, which is worse for the environment, palm production or Gibson's potentially sorta-kinda dubious wood-buying? Who is a bigger offender, the mining companies dumping chemicals and slurry into rivers, clearcutting the in the Smokies and ducking responsibility for the cancer clusters they're causing, not to mention their horrible and murderous behavior on indigenous land in South America, or Gibson? This kind of action just makes the law seem like a big ol' hypocrite, which it is, and undermines the whole process. Over-regulating the small and vulnerable (vulnerable being anyone who owns a vintage instrument) so that you can pretend you're doing something "for the environment" while the big criminals slide on by....
posted by Frowner at 10:21 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ahhh, gimme a rock maple fingerboard any day.

I've been a guitarist for 30+ years. I play Fenders, mostly, but have played my share of Gibsons -- (including Gibson solid bodies, semi-hollows, archtops, dreadnoughts, mandolins, and a banjo). There are indeed minute differences between the feel of an instrument that are attributable to the specific densities and elasticities of various hardwoods, but any guitarist knows *most* of the fetishization of materials is visual-aesthetic and discursive, and not focused on either the sound or the feel of the instrument to the player. (There are issues of durability as well; real ebony lasts forever under heavy abuse as a fingerboard, as Stradivarius knew in the Renaissance; however, almost any of these issues is rendered moot by new materials like resin composites, the durability of which is unmatched by anything made of wood; then again, many players like the way materials wear out too, and the organic changes in a guitar's voicing that can cause, such as the canonical well worn maple fingerboard on many a Fender solid body from the classic era.)

Fact of the matter is that we are nearly there for composite instruments that are superior in tone and durability, and approach comparability, at least, on feel and looks. Music people, and guitarists above all, get sentimental about old guitars and technology. You would literally have to pry my Telecaster from my cold dead hands, pal, so I get it.

But musicians have a stake in the ecological catastrophe just like everyone else, maybe more so as those of us who care about what material our fingerboards are made of have probably also spent a ton of carbon-burning time on the road practicing our craft with tools that could be innovated, and are already. Set me up a decent $300 solid body with good action and a composite fingerboard, maybe even a composite body, and give me the $300 DSP du jour and I will show you an instrument that can do almost anything you need from an electric guitar to within a closer approximation than your (or my) chops probably deserve.

We can move on to new guitar designs. This slavish devotion to tradition (reflected in the music being made with many of these guitars) is not what brought us electric guitars in the first place. Ask Bob Dunn and Walter Kolomoku. Or Les Paul.
posted by spitbull at 10:31 AM on September 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


The issue is that these people aren't "producers" at all. By definition, the owner of a legal rosewood instrument bought it before the import ban and isn't making or buying new ones.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2011


I frequent the UMGF (Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum) where a lot of guys very serious about exotic woods hang out. There are several issues at play as far as CITES. In my observation, other than this one incident, the high-volume shops like Martin are the ones driving the sustainability of their wood acquisitions. Their business depends on sourcing sustainable woods. They've stopped making guitars with Brazilian rosewood and instead have been using Madagascar for a while now - and even then Madagascar is on its way to becoming a CITES-controlled wood. The smaller shops like Collings, Santa Cruz, Henderson etc. can get you Brazilian if you want it. There are known CITES-legal and unproven stashes all over the country. How you prove that the guitar is CITES-legal after it's built and delivered isn't clear if you don't get the certificate from the builder. Some milled Braz has been sitting around for decades in a shop, obtained well before the CITES ban - are we supposed to let that wood go to waste just because the invoice isn't available?

As a standard D28 owner this worries me, because if this issue comes on the radar for the average meathead TSA employee my entirely legal Indian rosewood/black ebony guitar could be confiscated in the absence of my proof that regular old D28s don't have any Brazilian rosewood in them - anyone familiar with woods can take one look at a back or a headstock and tell you if it's Braz, EIR or Madi. Said TSA idiot likely can't. It should be pretty obvious that a running-line Martin should be OK to ship anywhere - they have never been in the practice of making guitars with illegal materials. That you can't do it with a vintage brazilian guitar is goddamned moronic.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:34 AM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


(My points are moot for acoustic instruments; there, the quality of the wood directly and substantially affects the tone in ways that have not yet been modeled, let alone duplicated.)
posted by spitbull at 10:35 AM on September 4, 2011


sonascope, I'd love to hear more about this Rotten company, rotten from the head (Henry Juszkiewicz) on down, and surviving solely on cheesy nostalgia of aging baby boomers in exactly the same cynical mode as the soon-to-be-moribund Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

Gibson has managed to mangle several great brands - Oberheim, Opcode, Echoplex, Zeta (electric violins), Baldwin pianos, and the list goes on. I know a few people who have worked with Henry Juszkiewicz; I would not want to have to suffer through what I heard them report back to me; pretty upsetting.

From a bearby perch I watched Juszkiewicz ruin the Oberheim name, and almost let Zeta die. The original owner of Zeta bought his company back from Gibson before it was totally ruined.

I remember going to a NAMM show in LA, going to the Gibson exhibit, and seeing Baldwin pianos tattooed with the most outrageous graphics - on a grand piano, for sale to the general public?!! Gibson destroyed the brand.

Do a search on "Gibson sues". Juszkiewicz is lawyer-happy, always suing someone for infringement. Gibson put a huge group of small independent luthiers to the legal test some years ago, claiming that they were stealing Gibson design; they (Gibson) caused a lot of very small luthiers a lot of unnecessary grief.

Gibson is also not very popular among most owners of musical instrument shops, especially the independents.

All in all, Juszkiewicz has taken a great brand and probably managed to make money with it, but he killed the spirit of a once-great company.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:36 AM on September 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


I should add that I think the sacrifice of using a CITES-legal wood like East Indian rosewood isn't exactly a hardship. There are makers and players that turn their noses up at EIR, but if it means the production of a guitar with a sustainable supply of materials, there really should be no question that it's good enough to produce a fabulous guitar.

Just wait until mahogany becomes CITES-controlled. It's almost unimaginable, but there are strange days ahead. Buy your solid wood guitars now, folks.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:38 AM on September 4, 2011


I wonder if anyone has written about the effects of importation limits on the instruments carried by many non-Western musicians when they tour the West, or the US specifically. Heck of a lot of banned material goes into many of the world's canonical tribal instruments.
posted by spitbull at 10:38 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish writes "The issue is that these people aren't 'producers' at all. By definition, the owner of a legal rosewood instrument bought it before the import ban and isn't making or buying new ones."

But the law has to account for people who would use an owner loop hole for commercial purposes. If we allow anyone to import at will guitars they claimed were owned pre ban then the material essentially isn't being protected at all. Especially considering a pre-ban ownership exemption would include furniture. You can get a lot of wood into a heavy duty footlocker or pedestal desk that could be dismantled and repurposed.

The concept of a guitar passport is a good one. They used to have a similar thing when exporting strong cryptography from the US was illegal but business travellers needed it while travelling. You'd declare your software on export, get some paperwork, and then declare it with the paperwork on re-entry to prove you hadn't exported the software.
posted by Mitheral at 10:48 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's the distinction between a retroactive law and an ex post facto law?
Essentially, an ex post facto law is a retroactive law which is also punitive in nature.

This distinction was made explicit in US law in Calder v. Bull, a Supreme Court case from 1798, although apparently it was understood (by law types) to be implicit long before that.
posted by Flunkie at 10:57 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying to just let them sail through unscrutinized, but there has to be a middle ground between a total lack of scrutiny and a situation where owners are afraid to take their guitars out of the country for fear that they'll be confiscated forever upon return. If you're going to put a grandfather clause in the law, you need to make it reasonable for the people who deserve to use it to actually do so.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:58 AM on September 4, 2011


The Lacey Act is a good law with some fixable flaws. Wouldn't it be nice if politicians could spend a day or two debating it, get rid of some of the problems/loopholes, and then move on to more important things facing this country?
posted by one_bean at 11:31 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I still don't get it. The Lacey Act has nothing to do with guitars, it's about exotic hardwoods. The warehouses full of exotic hardwoods, luthier's shops, antique furniture restorers, etc. have no problems ahead as long as ... what?

It seems like the investigation started with forging import docs but the investigation is being done by FWS, not customs. Furthermore, the law says: "..import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce..." That seems pretty clear that this can apply anywhere in the US without customs initiating the investigation.

My point is guitars are secondary to the issue. This thread sounds like only guitar owners are getting their ox gored, but it looks much broader to me: like anything from raw lumber to finished products.
posted by warbaby at 11:36 AM on September 4, 2011


If they come for mine they best come strapped.
posted by aiq at 11:37 AM on September 4, 2011


I love music. But I love this planet continuing to have biodiverse forests more.
posted by imperium at 12:04 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vibrissae - My particular experience with Gibson came with Opcode Systems and how they single-handedly crashed one of the most innovative, ingenious makers of MIDI and recording software in the universe. I was a devotee of the Vision MIDI sequencing platform, taking the Eno principle of the studio as instrument seriously, and was a near-virtuoso of the thing as instrument, arranger, inspirational tool, and so on. Just beautiful, amazing software for its time, and still, as no one's yet touched some of the very best things it could do. Vision, for me, was natural, as raw and visceral as the strings on a guitar, and I made a lot of strange, complicated music with that software until Gibson came along.

They essentially plundered the company for a few technologies they wanted, fired anyone at Opcode who knew or gave a shit about their software, put on a show of carrying on, blathered a lot of bravado-laden bullshit into the music press, and finally hung the user base out to dry without so much as a "fuck you very much." The thing with music software, and with those of us who use it as our primary instruments, is that once development stops, we're screwed. A few points up the OS upgrade trail and these things quit working. I've got an old Pismo that I keep around to do some basic Vision composition work on, but when it dies, Vision's gone for me.

This will sound ridiculous, but eleven years later, I've still not fully recovered. Where my music was composition-based until then, I've shifted over to being mostly improvisational, using loops and generative programs on modular instruments. I've gone through a few sequencers since, trying to get that magic touch back, but it's been very, very hard, not least because I still feel a bit of heartbreak over it. Again, that probably sounds silly, but I just did things with Vision, without having to be cerebral about it. It was just an extension of my imagination, where most of the others have been nowhere near as natural. Eleven years later, I'm sort of finally regaining that sense with Reason/Record, even though I still fear hearing a news item in which Propellerhead gets acquired, because that's where good stuff ends.

I'm also slowing teaching myself Pd, so I won't be under the thumb of a company in the future.

Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 12:24 PM on September 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


The right-wing whining over this is really disgusting. I don't think this is a great law as-is, but it's hard not to notice that these same people have no problem with other, clearly politically-motivated arrests -- they're simply crying because they thought they could have their cake and eat it, too.
posted by vorfeed at 12:27 PM on September 4, 2011


Gibson being a bunch of poopy heads is pretty irrelevant here. The right wing whining over this issue is about as relevant as Gibson's tattood Baldwins. It looks fairly clear that there are some discrepancies regarding the import of the materials that fall within the purview of the law. At the same time, the reasons and laws behind the raid are fraught with difficulty and potential for abuse which could do well to be addressed.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:58 PM on September 4, 2011


It seems like the investigation started with forging import docs but the investigation is being done by FWS, not customs.

Yes, I believe that's true, and it's not as fishy as it may seem, just the way different government agencies work together. Import entries are made through Customs and Border Protection. Lacey Act declarations are collected and reviewed by USDA/APHIS ("APHIS has been designated the lead regulatory agency for these new requirements and CBP is assisting APHIS with the electronic collection of data to fulfill the import declaration requirement.") and Fish & Wildlife handles enforcement (PDF).

Guitars are secondary to the issue. This is just the first major enforcement act since the revisions for wood products were made to the Lacey Act. There will surely be more. Gibson was already under scrutiny because of their undeclared shipment or rosewood from Madagascar in 2009. If they did indeed falsify import documents after that it wasn't going to go unnoticed.

I'm not aware of any ongoing enforcement efforts outside the import/export arena, but that's not to say that armed agents won't show up at any time to confiscate someone's 50-year-old hardwood kitchen floor. Never underestimate the power of a bureaucracy to take a good idea to its most illogical extreme.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:00 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


well at least the keytar is probably safe.
posted by philip-random at 1:01 PM on September 4, 2011


These are the times at which, I wish President Obama would intervene and veto.

Since the wood mostly has already been harvested, (for the sake of artistry,)why disrupt at this stage (...)?

Is halting the production of the instrument makers really going to keep the government trading policies in check?
posted by Meatafoecure at 1:39 PM on September 4, 2011


I work in import/export (but not of wood or musical instruments) and falsifying import documents is something You Must Not Do, Ever. There are some aspects of importing that are a judgement call, so sometimes US Customs has a different opinion than you do. Worst thing that happens is you pay the duties that would have been assessed if classified as Customs says. But when it comes down to facts, like country of origin, there's no wiggle room. Those cases can result in civil and criminal penalties if there's even a hint of willful disregard.

I'm glad I don't work for Gibson right now.
posted by tommasz at 1:57 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


These are the times at which, I wish President Obama would intervene and veto.

Since the wood mostly has already been harvested, (for the sake of artistry,)why disrupt at this stage (...)?


But when does the special pleading stop "for the sake of artistry?"

If the allegations are true, Gibson lied to evade enforcement. Are they to be "excused" and make a profit "for the sake of artistry."

Laws work because we don't make exceptions. Everyone thinks their pet cause deserves and exception. Enough "exceptions" and the forests are gone.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:08 PM on September 4, 2011


I'm not aware of any ongoing enforcement efforts outside the import/export arena, but that's not to say that armed agents won't show up at any time to confiscate someone's 50-year-old hardwood kitchen floor. Never underestimate the power of a bureaucracy to take a good idea to its most illogical extreme.

The only thing being taken to that extreme is the hypo you present.

There's this common attitude, sown by right-wingers who want us to return to the 1890's, that government "bureaucrats" are going to pull up your hardwood floors etc.

The answer is no they won't. CITES is a treaty we signed. The Lacey Act enforces treaties in the US. It and its later amendments were passed by a Congress voted in by the people and signed by a President elected by the people. They can't come after your floor without first passing a law making possession of such a floor illegal and then having it signed by the President. The law would then be tested in an early case before the courts.

There are very few people affected by this issue. I think I might be the only one on this thread that is. These are $2,000 guitars. Gibson makes a few thousand of these per year.

It is important to get the facts right. There are a lot of people who want to get you mad about this regulation so they can get a repeal of "propeller must stay attached to plane" rule. First they get you mad about a little rule like this and then use the principle of equivalence to get things passed that aren't good for you.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:20 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think I might be the only one on this thread that is.

i have a 1968 gibson es-335 with, i understand, an indian rosewood fretboard - so, yeah, leaving the country with it just might be problematic, although i have no plans to do so
posted by pyramid termite at 2:49 PM on September 4, 2011


According to Martin’s Dick Boak, the D-42 didn’t have white abalone on it either. “No, we don’t use white abalone,” he explains. “We use mother-of-pearl and red and green abalone for our inlays. But don’t take my word for it. Call Pearlworks; they do our inlay work.”

A few moments later, I’m chatting with Doug Aulson of Pearlworks, in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. “Oh,” says Aulson, “we don’t use any white abalone. We use green and red and we’ve got good documentation on everything that we use. I’ll bet that what Fish and Wildlife saw that looked white was mother-of-pearl.” I’ll take that bet.


Uh... Is there a legal definition of "mother of pearl" that excludes abalone? Everywhere I look online says it can be sourced from abalone, among other molluscs.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:13 PM on September 4, 2011


The only thing being taken to that extreme is the hypo you present.

Granted. That was a bit of hyperbolic levity, counselor. I work in international trade, and I could provide plenty of examples (PDF, PDF & PDF) of the government taking a dubious position on matters of import law, so it doesn't seem to be completely out of the question that someone in the bureaucracy might try to stretch their legs on this one too.

What's your take on the interstate commerce aspect of all this? If one of those few existing guitars, or some undocumented hardwood flooring from someone's warehouse, were to be sold between states do you think it's conceivable that the merchandise could be seized and the buyer and/or seller prosecuted? I haven't seen any examples of enforcement at that level, but I also haven't seen anything indicating it won't be. But again, that's not my area of expertise.
posted by Balonious Assault at 3:15 PM on September 4, 2011


Ironmouth, I can't help noticing you still haven't addressed the very clear statements of the ways the law leads to nonsensical results - statements that came from the link you yourself posted. I understand you're trying to keep a specific larger point in mind about the current political climate and federal regulations, but it would help your position if you at least addressed the issues raised in the article you directed our attention to.
posted by mediareport at 3:24 PM on September 4, 2011


They're just plants. This is even worse than the animals rights extremists. How many great works of Mankind will be destroyed and devalued because of environmental groups?

Over in Aus I think I'm supposed to boycott OfficeWorks because they use the wrong kind of paper? This keeps getting more and more farcical. I'm pretty left-wing, but this sort of overreaction is making me reconsider...
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:42 PM on September 4, 2011


I love music. But I love this planet continuing to have biodiverse forests more.
posted by imperium at 12:04 PM on 9


What have biodiverse forests done for me that music hasn't?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:52 PM on September 4, 2011


Let me guess, you're not from Madagascar.
posted by Balonious Assault at 3:55 PM on September 4, 2011


I'm pretty left-wing, but this sort of overreaction is making me reconsider...

Don't worry, LIB. As long as you stay the course as a strict anti-GMO person, you'll still be with the good guys. ;-)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:58 PM on September 4, 2011


What have biodiverse forests done for me that music hasn't?

Yeah, I hear you. Oxygen is overrated. And that cure for cancer that might have been discovered in that now-extinct plant? Pfffft. Monsanto will come up with something soon enough.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:00 PM on September 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


"I'm pretty leftwing" vs. "They're just trees."

Nope, not working for me.
posted by mediareport at 4:26 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


this is what i do as a guitarist - i pick up the guitar in my hands and hold it

WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT PERSECUTING TREE-HUGGERS???
posted by pyramid termite at 4:30 PM on September 4, 2011


LIB: you've made repeated statements here on MetaFilter about wanting to see the end of Nature and finding chainsaws more lovely than trees and such like that.

Nobody is surprised that you would prefer to cut down all the trees and turn them into guitars or other manmade works.

What everyone is surprised about is that you think this is somehow a quality approach. Ever seen the difference between Haiti and the Dominican Republic? Same island. Haiti has no trees, Dominican Republic has lots. Which one has routine problems with flooding and erosion?

Thinking that Man as a species somehow can override the natural systems of the planet and do better with the resources than millions of years of natural selection... that is not a left-wing stance.
posted by hippybear at 4:49 PM on September 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


Natural systems are inherently unstable with 99%+ of all species being extinct and almost all known organisms experiencing mortality and aging. The very idea of balance of nature is a myth which is not demonstrated in nature. This whole notion of a natural balance empowers all manner of libertarian, communist and other fanciful ideologies which lead to the ruin of nations. I see the earth as a garden which must be tended. Each region is uniquely beautiful and diverse, excepting certain pathogens and the cursed mosquito drive those into extinction, especially those Asian tiger bastards.
posted by humanfont at 5:04 PM on September 4, 2011


Related: How illegal logging of Rosewood in Madagascar is an unfolding environmental and human catastrophe.
posted by smoke at 5:15 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seriously. Hey, you know that entire diverse class of primates called lemurs? They only live in the forests of Madagascar, and most species are endangered.

Importing wood from Madagascar makes lemurs go extinct.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:48 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't get the schadenfreude from some Fender lovers. I think at least half of the Fender guitars and basses in the world have rosewood fretboards rather than maple. They're not getting my rosewood and sunburst 1970s Mustang Bass without a fight.
posted by w0mbat at 6:12 PM on September 4, 2011


What have biodiverse forests done for me that music hasn't?

You mean the music that is created with instruments made from wood from those biodiverse forests? Because if the music doesn't need need these products from nature, there there's no problem — don't use these products. If it does need these products — then I guess these biodiverse forests have helped bring you music.

I guess your attitude is sounding to me like "Nature is useless, so we might as well use it all up.".
posted by benito.strauss at 7:08 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm, this post is giving me pause. Eighteen years ago I had a friend who is a violin maker ask to store some wood blanks at my place, since he was "out of room" at his apartment. That was probably six moves ago and every time I move I dutifully email/call him asking him if this extra 200 lbs of wood could be picked up so I didn't have to tote it again. It's never been convenient for him and now he's several states away.

It's some type of fir I think, smells piney when you scratch it with a fingernail. I've never known of any fir that was endangered and my cursory search on Google confirms that the only one is some scrawny looking thing that couldn't produce this dimension of lumber. It's very straight grained stuff, and rings like a bell if you hold a piece by the very end and bonk it with a knuckle. Two of the pieces have that German ß scrawled on them in chalk. Umm, so does it seem likely I'm helping someone evade CITES?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 7:27 PM on September 4, 2011


WHY DOES OBAMA NOT WANT ME TO ROCK OUT WITH MY COCK OUT?
posted by bardic at 8:18 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


You mean the music that is created with instruments made from wood from those biodiverse forests? Because if the music doesn't need need these products from nature, there there's no problem — don't use these products. If it does need these products — then I guess these biodiverse forests have helped bring you music.
Yeah that's a good point. If it wasn't for bio-diversity you wouldn't have these supposedly great sounding woods to begin with. And if all the trees are killed there will be no more in the future. It's not like the guitars will last forever.

And anyway, it doesn't even sound like the these guitars really sound any better then cheaper stuff to begin with.
posted by delmoi at 8:59 PM on September 4, 2011


And anyway, it doesn't even sound like the these guitars really sound any better then cheaper stuff to begin with.

Don'tchoo blaspheme in here! Don'tchoo BLASPHEME in here!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:07 PM on September 4, 2011


It's some type of fir I think, smells piney when you scratch it with a fingernail

German or Alpine spruce is my best guess. Nice stuff.
posted by Wolof at 9:41 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Endangered lemurs could be connected to Gibson raid

Saving the Silky Sifaka
posted by homunculus at 11:17 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


sonascope I hear, and empathize with you - having gone through much the same thing. When Gibson bought Opcode they even started a new company with Opcode's then-Principal, Chris Hallaby. It was a poorly run operation that was for all intents and purposes "gone" before you could blink an eye. With Zeta, Gibson's marketing was pathetic, screwing over the finest electronic violins on the planet. With Oberheim, Gibson brought Don Buchla in, and messed with Buchla's genius by so poorly marketing and supporting the OBM-X (which Buchla had pretty much brilliantly re-designed, from scratch) instrument that it died a pretty fast death. Watching those projects die was like watching a complete amateur with serious issues try to fly an airplane.

btw, I agree with you about Opcode's Vision - a true thing of beauty. I regretted that Apple didn't buy Opcode, but they had other fish to fry at the time. Here's more about Opcode

That said, some rare woods are really, really precious. Martin has a wood aging/preservation room for its most valuable woods. 10 years ago it was costing them $80K per month in electricity to temperature control that room. A Martin higher-up told me that one of the Beatles had asked to have a guitar made from one of the more rare blocks of wood, and Martin turned him down, because they want the wood to become a LOT more valuable before they cut it loose into limited production. Funny thing, that experience, because that same Martin employee said that once you get above $8-10K, assuming good luthier craft, the main differentiators are brand name and design - not sound. Of course that's subjective, but it was really something to hear him say that.

There is a dirty underbelly beneath most "cool" products - including musical instruments. Just looking at what Guitar Center has managed to make music instrument retail is a good example.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:11 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is a dirty underbelly beneath most "cool" products

Behind every great fortune there is a great crime.

-Balzac
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:08 AM on September 5, 2011


> Behind every great fortune there is a great crime. -Balzac

Not exactly.

"Behind every great fortune there is a great crime," has appeared as a quotation of Balzac; but it may have originated in a paraphrase in The Oil Barons: Men of Greed and Grandeur (1971) by Richard O'Connor, p. 47: "Balzac maintained that behind every great fortune there is a great crime."


That is more of a paraphrase than a quotation.
posted by bukvich at 5:56 AM on September 5, 2011


That is more of a paraphrase than a quotation.

Yeah, I saw that in the Wiki, too, when I Googled the quote (wasn't sure if there wasn't some funny line you know, over one of the vowels in Balzac). It's one of those now-time-honored things, though, so that I feel comfortable enough just presenting it as a quote. It may not be 100% accurate, but so much of history isn't.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:04 AM on September 5, 2011


I was sure I knew this one — it's from Le Père Goriot (1835), and the quote is «Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu'il a été proprement fait.»

The secret of great fortunes with no apparent cause is a forgotten crime — forgotten because it was done properly.
posted by Wolof at 6:41 AM on September 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


The more I look at the Gibson situation, the more I realize that it's nowhere near as cut-and-dried as it seemed at first. In fact, after examining the affidavit I don't see any evidence that Gibson falsified anything at all. FWS is looking for that evidence, and they clearly believe that they will find it, but at this point I don't think they really have anything.

How can that be? Well, first let's look at a couple of claims that Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz has made.

First, that the Obama administration wants more of [Gibson's] woodwork done overseas. The grain of truth in that, and what this whole thing might come down to, is that there is a difference between what the US Government and what the government of India consider to be "finished parts of musical instruments" classifiable under heading 9209. Gibson is claiming that their fretboards are properly classified for export from India under heading 9209, according to Indian law. They import the wood into the US under heading 4407 because US law doesn't consider unfinished fretboards to be "finished parts of musical instruments." (CBP Ruling NY 881630) It is illegal under Indian law to export wood classified 4407, but Gibson is claiming that Indian law allows for these fretboards to be classified 9209 for export, and that they have the proper documentation from the Indian government to support that claim. The product is fretboards, but the fretboards haven't been finished with actual frets, inlays, etc. That's what Gibson does in the US, and that's the American craftsmanship that they pride themselves on. So what they were undoubtedly told by US authorities was that if the fretboards had been finished in India to US standards of "finished parts of musical instruments" then they could have been imported under heading 9209 and there would have been no problems. Obvious spin by FOX News is obvious.

Another claim Juszkiewicz has made it that a broker probably made a mistake in labeling the goods but that the sale was legal and approved by Indian authorities. That could very well be true too. The recent air import shipment that was examined and found to have a lot of discrepancies, which threw up all the red flags, was not a Gibson import at all. Luthier Mercantile International was the Importer of Record for that shipment, and LMI was responsible for presenting accurate information on the customs entry.

The discrepancies that were found, after a routine examination, were:
1. The wood was misclassified under heading 4408. The exam revealed that the wood was actually too thick to be classified 4408, and was not veneer at all. It should have been classified under heading 4407.
2. The invoice description indicated that the wood was of a type that would be classified 4408, when in fact it was not.
3. None of the import documents named Gibson as the Ultimate Consignee of the shipment, but when the Importer of Record, LMI, was contacted by the investigator they indicated that Gibson was in fact the Ultimate Consignee.
4. A Lacey Act Declaration was not presented until after the shipment had been detained, and when it was presented it indicated a 4407 classification (accurate) and it also indicated that Gibson was the Ultimate Consignee.

Any one of these things would have raised suspicion, and taken all together they do appear to show deliberately deceptive practices, or at the very least an egregious failure to exercise reasonable care (PDF). The question is whether Gibson had anything to do with it. This shipment appears to have been purchased domestically from LMI by Gibson, so while Gibson could have, and probably should have, tried to make sure LMI didn't do anything as stupid as what they appear to have done on this shipment, it was really out of Gibson's hands.

On this shipment, it could well be that LMI's vendor (or a broker) provided an invoice with an inaccurate description of the product. It happens all the time. LMI's customs broker could have classified the goods under heading 4408, based on the invoice description. They would have no reason to question that; classifications are made based on invoice descriptions. It's the importer's responsibility to make sure the documentation is accurate. LMI's customs broker could have named LMI as the Ultimate Consignee on the customs entry based on information provided by LMI. No customs broker would jeopardize their license by misrepresenting any known party to a shipment. Maybe the person at LMI responsible for providing documents to the broker had no idea where the shipment was going. They should have, but it's certainly not unusual for for the import and sales departments of a company to have no idea what the other one is doing. LMI may be in the practice of mailing their Lacey Act Declarations to USDA instead of having their customs broker file them electronically with the customs entry. Also not unusual at all. That the Lacey Act declaration gave a 4407 classification and named Gibson as the Ultimate Consignee actually could lend credence to the idea that those might have been mistakes on the customs entry. On the other hand, it could be evidence of deliberate falsification. FWS obviously believes that it's the latter. But whatever happened on this shipment happened because of LMI, not Gibson, at least according to what we know so far.

After FWS discovered that Gibson was the Ultimate Consignee for this shipment—misrepresented by LMI—they went back through CBP's records of Gibson's previous entries and found eleven other shipments that had exported from India under heading 9209 and entered the US under heading 4407 (not 4408, which was the false classification on the shipment that started the whole chain of events). That 9209 export/4407 import situation is where this is likely to be decided, if FWS doesn't find any other dirt on Gibson in their investigation. If the US government does decide that it's improper then Gibson's competitors might be found to have done the exact same thing. Or maybe they all have their fretboards finished overseas. I don't know that that information is available, or that any of them have been investigated at all at this point. It's more than likely that Gibson is being investigated now because they were already under scrutiny after the 2009 incident. FWS appears to believe that they will find evidence that Gibson continued to be involved with deceptive practices after that, so they got the search warrant, raided Gibson, and seized all the wood and all their computers & records. They're going to go through everything—e-mails, purchase orders, invoices, packing lists, Certificates of Origin, Certificates of Export, bills of lading, etc.—to try to determine exactly what was ordered, from whom it was ordered, whether it had all the proper certifications, when it was sold, to whom it was sold, the actual terms of sale, how it was exported, how it was imported, etc. They're going to try to prove that Gibson continues to engage in improper import practices, and while they might find evidence of that it's entirely possible that they're going to come up with nothing that implicates Gibson in any wrongdoing.

Were they justified in raiding Gibson and seizing their wood and their records? Probably. After the first raid in 2009 one would think that Gibson would have shored up their import practices and made sure they were squeaky clean and 100% compliant. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. I'd bet that they did. But the mistakes (or deliberate falsifications) that LMI made on this recent shipment are why Gibson is in the situation they're in now.

Is Juszkiewicz doing himself or Gibson any favors by feeding the outrage machine the way he is? Hell no. Is his outrage justified? It very well may be. I'm going to be really interested to see how it all shakes out. But it's a big undertaking and it's going to be a long time before the facts come out.
posted by Balonious Assault at 8:22 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Boehner Invites Gibson Guitar Company CEO To President Obama's Jobs Speech To Highlight 'Job-Killing Regulations'
posted by homunculus at 4:30 PM on September 8, 2011


> What have biodiverse forests done for me that music hasn't?

Can we stop feeding this junior troll already?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:26 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Gibson CEO was scheduled to meet with the Department of Justice today to discuss the raid, but apparently that meeting was postponed. I was looking forward to his next round of bombastic press releases. Guess I'm going to have to wait.

One thing that did come out today was a letter (pdf) from the U.S. Justice Department and the Interior Department, written to U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn, saying:
...people who unknowingly possess a musical instrument or other object containing wood that was illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of law and who, in the exercise of due care, would not have known that it was illegal, do not have criminal exposure. The Federal Government focuses its enforcement efforts on those who are removing protected species from the wild and making a profit by trafficking in them.
So... apparently the feds aren't going to go after the traveling musician who brings his high-end guitar across the border, but there are a few caveats in that statement that I suppose could leave the door open for them to change their mind. Seems unlikely, though.
posted by Balonious Assault at 7:19 PM on September 21, 2011


They might seize their instrument though.
posted by Mitheral at 8:08 PM on September 21, 2011


Splitting hairs a bit... there is a difference between detaining an item and seizing it. A CBP officer at the border could presumably detain a traveling musician's guitar if he felt there was a reason to, but he'd have to run it up the chain of command before it was actually seized. I've been looking for examples of guitars being seized when musicians tried to bring them across the border, but I can't find any. Can't find anything about detentions either, but I imagine that's not completely unheard of. I really doubt that we're going to start seeing seizures now. Having said that, it would still suck to have your guitar detained, because then you're dealing with the bureaucracy and it can take a long time to get a resolution.

I could certainly be mistaken but this really sounds to me like a whole lot of angst over a hypothetical letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law situation, when the evidence shows that enforcement has been strictly in the spirit of the law. In any case, at least one congressmen (Jim Cooper, D-Tenn) has said that he plans to introduce legislation that would amend the Lacey Act to specifically grandfather in musical instruments made prior to 2008. That's seems like a good idea to me.
posted by Balonious Assault at 9:59 PM on September 21, 2011


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