Did Gibson Use Endangered Rosewood in Their Guitar Necks?

SMG_Gibson_Rosewood

Yesterday news flew like wildfire around the online guitar world that Gibson’s Nashville manufaturing plant was raided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials looking for endangered rosewood from Madagascar. At issue is the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to–among other things–possess any plant material that was obtained in violation of any domestic or foreign laws. The Fish and Wildlife Service alleges that some of the rosewood being used by Gibson was illegally obtained Madagascar rosewood, an endangered species.

Gibson has released the following statement:

“Gibson is a chain of custody certified buyer who purchases wood from legal suppliers who are to follow all standards . . . Gibson Guitar Chairman and CEO sit on the board of the Rainforest Alliance and take the issue of certification very seriously.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office has not arrested anyone, but guitars and wood were seized from the property.

A military coup that began in Madagascar in January of this year has disrupted the financial stability of the country. Apparently the export of Madagascar rosewood is often linked with criminal activity, though exportation has been legalized by the new, self-proclaimed Madagascar President. Sources close to the NashvillePost.com are alleging that Gibson was involved in a scheme that imported the endangered rosewood through Germany.

It is not clear whether any of the allegedly illegal rosewood has already been made to guitar necks that have left the Gibson manufacturing plant, or whether any of those “escaped” guitars will be retrieved by U.S. Fish & Wildlife agents. If there are guitars that have already been sold with illegal rosewood necks, it will be interesting to watch what that does to the value of those guitars.

It’s also not clear why Gibson has been singled out, because a simple Google search reveals several other guitar manufacturers that also use Madagascar rosewood in their guitars:

And those are just a sampling of the first page of results. A quick scan of the first five pages reveals results that are almost exclusively about guitars made from the endangered wood. I’m sure the next five pages show a similar trend.

UPDATE: The Rain Forrest Alliance has issued a statement clarifying some of the issues involved in the Gibson/Madagascar Rosewood raid:

The wood under investigation is not FSC-certified.  The FSC Chain-of-Custody audit conducted in 2008 verified that Gibson has purchased hard maple, mahogany and muira piranga from FSC-certified forests. These woods are used in the manufacturing of the company’s Les Paul SmartWood and Raw Power guitars, which are sold as FSC-Pure with a certificate of authenticity from Gibson. Under the current scope of their certificate, they also have the ability to purchase swamp ash and poplar from FSC-certified suppliers.  No other species are authorized to be sold with a FSC-certified claim under Gibson’s Chain-of-Custody certificate. The certificate does not cover wood from Madagascar.

Until the investigation has been concluded, Henry E. Juszkiewicz, CEO and Chairman of Gibson Guitar Corporation, has taken a leave of absence as a board member of the Rainforest Alliance.

Read the whole statement for more information about what is going on.

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