Robin Henkel: “If we persecute musicians for owning these instruments, maybe we should just arrest the listeners as well.”
  • Robin Henkel: “If we persecute musicians for owning these instruments, maybe we should just arrest the listeners as well.”
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On Wednesday, August 24, federal agents and SWAT officers raided the Gibson factories in Memphis and Nashville. To an outsider, it might have looked like a drug bust. But in this case, the agents weren’t DEA or even FBI. They were Fish and Wildlife, and the contraband they were after wasn’t dope. It was wood.

This isn’t the first time that Gibson’s guitar shops have been raided. It happened last year, and it happened in 2009. That case, The United States of America vs. Ebony Wood in Various Forms, is still pending. At issue are allegations of purchases of black-market wood from protected forests, a charge that Gibson chairman Henry Juszkiewicz denies. Adding to the confusion is the Justice Department’s interpretation of an Indian statute stating if the same ebony wood had been finished by Indian (and not American) workers, that it would indeed be legal.

But the long arm of the law may reach downstream to musicians who play vintage axes carved from the fruits of the potentially illegal harvest. In the worst-case scenario, such owners may be required to provide provenance of exactly where certain woods were harvested and when they were made into guitar parts. We asked a handful of local Gibson and vintage guitar players if they wanted to make a statement. They did.

Joey Harris, Beat Farmers/Mentals:

“Sounds as if Gibson has been making enemies somewhere. My right-wing friends say attorney general Eric Holder and, therefore, Barack Obama, are personally responsible. I say, ‘Wha...?’”

Vinnie Cavarra, formerly of Assassin:

“I read about this a bit ago and was pretty shocked. I think any authority that has an issue with an instrument should have the burden of proof on their shoulders. At the very least, the law should be changed so that an owner of an instrument should not have to bear the responsibility of having to prove where every frickin’ piece of wood came from.”

Bob Ryan, California Rangers/Buffalo Brothers guitar salesman:

“All of the big companies have to follow all new, very rigid rules on shipping woods. We can’t send some guitars to Europe anymore, and it might be for reasons of just the exotic wood overlay on the peghead. But, I think Gibson has been dirty for a while, and the new management is not well liked.”

Lando Martinez plays a lefty SG:

“Are we mistreating the wood? Not to go off on a tangent, but, come on...we have bigger issues — unemployment and homelessness — than raiding guitar factories and shaking down musicians for their vintage gear. I bought my 1997 SG Custom used from a pawnshop, and I hope it’s made from illegal woods! Maybe that’s what gives me my bad-ass tone!”

Patrick Dennis, Wirepony/Truckee Brothers:

“Obviously, I want to keep the ’37 Gibson LC I’ve played for 25 years, and I hope to pass it on to some worthy grandkid someday. I like to think Woody Guthrie played it long ago in his efforts to kill some fascists. Not something I’ll lose sleep over yet, but I will definitely be watching developments as will my mates with many more high-ticket guitars on their walls.”

Barney Roach, Blitz Brothers:

“Gibson is nonunion. It could be the union looking for stuff like that to throw out and leverage them into becoming unionized. I don’t know that there’s any truth to that, but I heard it from a very credible source.”

Will Crain, writes “Of Note!and owner of four Gibsons:

“I should have known better, but I got caught up in the controversy in a small way. Gibson sent out an email asking people to sign their petition to help make the Lacey Act unfair. I pointed out the typo on their Facebook page and criticized them for using inflammatory rhetoric. An earlier Gibson USA Facebook post referred to the feds’ “Gestapo-like tactics,” and I thought that was way out of line. A couple of people I don’t know tried to argue with me in the comments. That page is filled with Tea Partiers saying it’s about freedom.”

Robin Henkel, vintage blues guitarist:

“If environmental laws are intended to protect certain substances and forests, I can accept and support that, but I also think it is a misinterpretation of the spirit of the law to go after owners of old instruments that were built before these laws existed. If it gets to the point where we persecute musicians for owning these instruments, maybe we should just arrest the listeners as well.” ■

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Guitarninja Oct. 5, 2011 @ 3:39 p.m.

Our government including the fish and game dept. should be paying more attention to our economic status along with our domestic problems such as immigration. But instead they choose to single out the most recognisible American Guitar Manufacturer, why not Martin Guitars? or are they next? This is just stupid politics. This law was put into effect in 1900 then modified in 2008. See below from foxnews:

"Gibson was raided for suspected violations of the Lacey Act, a 1900 law initially crafted to protect rare and exotic birds, whose feathers were prized for women's hats. It was amended in 2008 to include wood. The main driver was to protect the U.S. forest industry against cheap foreign competition that involved illegal logging. But it also helped protect sensitive forests and rare species of trees against poachers"

From India's deputy director-general of foreign trade after the most recent raid in September:

" A Fingerboard is a finished product and not wood in primary form," Vinod Srivastava, India's deputy director-general of foreign trade, stipulated in a letter dated Sept. 16. "The foreign trade policy of the government of India allows free export of such finished products of wood."

Read more:

Gibson is just a target, like each and everyone of us especially if you own a guitar made by Gibson, furniture with real wood, how about gunstocks or anything else that the government wants to modify using existing laws ? without our knowledge or have a voice of vote. But yet our government will allow imported guitars into USA, especially China; which are nothing but GARBAGE!. I think there is more than what meets the eye here. At least we still have the right to bear arms.


GuyFalkes Oct. 7, 2011 @ 7:39 a.m.

Perhaps the Feds need to be investigated as the obviously incompetent treasonous criminals they are.

"The feds" just another way of saying deranged criminals needing a long drop on a short rope.

Gibson Guitar is an American Company worth keeping.

"The Feds" are an enemy of the people of the USA time to dissolve them.


Psycholizard Oct. 7, 2011 @ 5:15 p.m.

The rain forests belong to the whole world. I endorse all efforts to protect them. Martin refused to buy the same Madagascar wood Gibson bought from poachers. Gibson should be ashamed.


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