Are the reports accurate, or is it really hyped up, or is it a hoax.


My wife found some reports of the feds raiding Gibson factories, seizing wood, and stopping production recently.


If anyone knows FACTS, I'd be interested in reading.





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That doesn't really seem to have any bearing on the case, Mac. According to the affidavit that was sworn by the officer in charge of the case, the issue is that India has a law against shipping the material unless it is an actual part. It looks like Gibson would have been OK if the material had actually been prepared as fingerboard and bridges before it was shipped. As raw stock, India's law was broken which is an infraction of the Lacy law. 



As I am reading it, the Lacey Act violation was only a sneaky way the Feds used to get a warrant to raid the plant.  What it appears they are actually after are e-mails that show Gibson with some e-mail correspondence with individuals in Madagascar in attempt to procure Madagascar ebony.  It's why the issue is so confusing to the media (especially that one simple minded media outlet which shall remain nameless).  So of course Gibson has to take measures to procure Madagascar ebony from legal sources.  But I have also read that the current "government" of Madagascar has banned all exports of Madagascar ebony, hence the question....



Apparently there is some federal level gang tactics being played here. Martin gives money to the Democrats and Gibson gives money to the Republicans, so why wouldn't the gang in power use the tools at their disposal to eliminate the competition? 


There usually isn't too much politicking on this site, and I am tempted to go off, but suffice to say a duck is a duck. 

So, have the paranoids taken over the world?  "Sneaky attempts to raid" - "Martin give money ... Gibson gives money."  What is this poop?  First off, no matter what anyone thinks the majority of folks working in the government are decent people, work hard for a living, and have no hidden agenda - and believe it or not this is the most evident at the Federal Level concerning smaller companies like Martin and Gibson.  It's the companies making billions in profits/quarter that affect the Federal level.  Smaller companies have more effect at the state and local level.  I've worked most of my life for either non-profits, state government, regional governmental agencies (land use planning) or local government (Town Manager) when I wasn't working for myself and all I can say is since Ronnie "death valley days" Rodentf__ker stole the 1980 presidential election it's been "fashionable" to hate government and blame it for our troubles (although RWR doubled the size of the US govt. under his administration - while "fire sale-ing off lots of first growth Sitka spruce logs whole to Japan that returned as disposable chop sticks).

But, what does this have to do with being good stewards of the planet and preventing wood resource from not only becoming scarce but almost extinct (Madagasscar in particular has lost almost all it's forests over the last century - one of the most unique environments on earth, maybe "was")?  Believe it or not Gibson, or whoever, doesn't depend on this, or any other ebony, to create good instruments.  There are many substitutes so the issue is really one of "tradition" - ebony was one of the first suitable woods for fretboards, etc., that Europeans had available so it was widely used.  But other woods work perfectly well even if they're not "traditional" (try working with native USA Osage Orange if you want a hard, durable, fretboard).  Hell, the majority of instruments that the Gibson corporation (I'm including Epiphone and other brands) produces don't use ebony -it's a small, specialty, species for them and a truly poor lever for any company to choose to try to put another out of business.  Anyway, I don't believe that Martin is Gibson's major overall competitor - perhaps only on flat tops (and how big is Taylor these day?)- and if any corporation wanted to put them out of business it would probably be whoever/whatever Fender is these days (who owns them, space aliens?  do they donate to the Martian republocrates?).

There's an old saying in investigations "follow the money!"  The Federal Govt. has no vested interest in putting Gibson out of business and losing tax revenue and there "ain't no money" in it for regulators (and I don't think Martin has the resources to "buy" enough of congress to affect this) - look at how much we've sunk into keeping Chrysler afloat and GMC!  But Gibson has much financial interest in smearing and confusing the issue and not being branded a "bad environmental citizen."  As always, I may be full of beans but but I tend put the least trust with those who stand to make the most money. 

I think the luthiery community is cheating itself if it doesn't try utilize available woods to the greatest extent - walls aren't plaster and lathe anymore, flat head engines have long been out of automobiles, and world forests are under enough stress without harvesting threatened species for "boutique" items!



PS: I may be thinking of other legislation but I believe the "Lacy" amendment was created to prevent the wholesale destruction of native bird population for feathers used in women's hats of the day.  Entire roosts of herons, cranes, and egrets were wiped out just to pluck the the remaining good feathers from the bird carcasses which were left to rot.  The was just as the last few passenger pigeons were dying in zoos.

Rob -


The point that "There are many substitutes so the issue is really one of "tradition"" is salient to the discussion, but unfortunately the marketplace dictates what Gibson can actually sell for a reasonable (whatever that means) profit.


Or, does it? I'll pose the question to everyone in this completely unscientific survey - do you find certain woods preferable for guitars, mandolins, etc,  and have you objectively come to this conclusion, or have you let your wallet and other people's prejudices drive you to this conclusion? Or do we all have such a limited repertoire of woods that we know that we cannot be objective? (For instance, I've worked on a 100 year old banjo with an AMAZING rosewood and ebony neck, the best of that wood that must have been available at the time. I've also worked on a 70's harmony banjo with wood so bad that it's barely tunable. Should my limited experience be my starting point for judging the superiority of ebony?)


I suppose that, if I'm going to practice ethical ukulele building, I should be working with walnut, fruitless pear, mulberry, modesto ash, and other local woods. I wonder if it's even possible to build a decent instrument with that stuff. And if I built a decent instrument, would anybody consider it decent even though it doesn't have koa or mahogany wood?


nfortunately my memory is shot due to illness so I'm sure but I believe the guitar brand was "Breedlove" - when I was senior electronic tech at BRM during my breaks I'd come out of my "cave" (electronics and stringed instrument's repairshop had no windows) and test guitars on the music store floor - and the back and side wood was a native western coastal one that I'll try to recall (perhaps something referred to as a "cypress" but not in the true genus?).  Anyhoo, this guitar was one of the most amazing new factory instrument's I'd tried and truly sounded wonderful.  Also an older "Gallagher" came into the guitar shop - sort of a D/Jumbo cross in size - with black walnut sides and back and I'd have almost given one of my testicles for it (too bad that company was pretty much a single person and is long gone).  Then there was the very simple Epiphone - a "real" Epi - archtop acoustic (no pickup) with sugar ("hard" or "rock") maple sides and back that the guitar repair man took in trade that I almost bought (I actually thought I was buying it but there was a miscommunication and he sold it elsewhere while I was getting my cash together).  And of course the big funky "curlique" round soundhole archtop guitars that got the Gibson company started were made  of black walnut.

Walnut sounds much like mahogany (Swietenia genus) and prior to WWII many instruments were made from it.  War tends to standardize production practices (as well as remove the remaining red spruces and many of the more southern sitkas).  And that's a good example - prior to the war the Picea Rubra was the "standard" top wood but somehow builder's survived the general loss of this wood.  And the only reason that Koa is available is a 50 moratorium was placed on export from the Hawaiin during the 20s - I believe 1978 was the first year that large amounts were again available.

As often stated I come to instrument repair "sideways" - I'm good technically, have over 40 years of electronic experience (especially music/audio) and there were no competent people doing local repair.  I worked on my instruments and found I could make money doing set ups for a local music store importing Yamahas.  I mention this 'cuz if you think that wood substitution is an issue you should see what audiophiles debate, argue, and fued abou concerning vacuum tubes that are no longer made and the literally thousands of dollars they are willing to pay for little glass bottles I could purchase for less than $10 thirty years ago.

I think the real issue is over affluence - every culture on earth has managed to make instruments from available materials and if they survive long enough they become a cultural artifact.  Look at two of the largest markets for guitars in the USA, rock and roll and bluegrass.  Both of these are very recent, both are post WWII styles based on other earlier styles, and both have created demand for certain instrument type (and now with mass media they've become in many ways artifacts frozen in time).  Prior to, during, and shortly after WWII was Gibson's "glory days" with Martin lagging since jazz/swing/big band demanded archtop guitars (with almost no rosewood used in these).  Now electric guitars are the largest segment and it's the influence of bluegrass that pretty much standardized the rosewood Martin (and since I'm from the BG area the style wasn't even that popular around here until the mid to late 1960s - most folk listened to Country and Western with it's electric guitars). 

It wasn't the lack of ivory that killed piano sales but guitars and cheaper electronic keyboards.  We've done quite nicely without killing off whales (sperm whale oil was a key ingredient in automatic transmission fluids until the late 1960s).  Fashions change, styles change, luthiery will no matter what as more and more land is cleared - the real question is will today's builders make it harder on tomorrow's by using up whatever resources they can get legal or not or help ensure that there's at least some sustainable supply for the future. 


The characterization that the raid was "sneaky" is based on the fact that the affidavit indicates the recent search warrant was for Indian Rosewood and Indian Ebony mislabeled as veneer vs. fretboard wood, which is where many have questioned the interpretation of the Lacey Act (technically a violation but then again, did not violate the spirit of the law, as the wood was still processed in India).  What many people are speculating is that the Feds' were actually after e-mail evidence related to Madagascar Ebony, which goes back to the original raid in 2009.  So I would characterize it as such, have you read the affidavit?
So, does anyone know, is there currently a ban on exports of Madagascar ebony from the current government of Madagascar?

Last time I read much about this was a couple of years ago. At that time Madagascar was still exporting ebony (if I remember correctly) but the problem was poaching. The economic situation there is , to say the least, a disaster and the "government" is almost non-existent. To add to the confusion it seems that the government there has a habit of opening up exports of their timber when they need money.  Many of the lumbermen that are cutting legitimate trees for export are also poaching just to stay alive. The job is extremely dangerous and the pay is almost nothing. What I read then indicated that the vast majority of it goes to China but that companies in India and other far eastern nations also prosper from the trees. In spite of the press coverage that Gibson's raid is getting now, only a very small percentage of the material ends up in North America.  


The irony of the situation I mentioned earlier is that India's position seems to be that they are perfectly willing to export this material as long as someone in their country is making money on the manufacturing the parts.


I remember thinking when I read this stuff that what Madagascar needs isn't a world that won't buy their timber, what they need is a decent government.  I agree that these forest need to be protected but I don't know how that is supposed to happen when the people doing the cutting will starve without the income and their corrupt government seem to be more interested in money than preservation of the trees anyway. As long as they keep cutting someone will keep buying and the Lacy Law doesn't keep China from  consuming these trees.  

The official protection of resources flipflopped with different heads of state over the last ten years or so. But the real fact is that Madagascar is one of the poorest of the 3rd world nations, and any official position doesn't count for much. Some wood dealers fly into small airports, pay off officials there to look the other way while contraband lumber is loaded and flown out. A bribe is income—otherwise they have none. National Geographic ran an article last year showing one of the lumber camps in a park where rosewood was being harvested for illegal sale. The paperwork is meaningless: the documents can be forged, or simply purchased just like the cooperation of impoverished customs officials.


Ned's right: what Madagascar needs is a decent government, but the cards are stacked heavily against that ever happening.


I agree the Lacey Act, as it's being used lately, is questionable. But be careful of buying Gibson's version of what's happening.

yep it is a sad Day so this retro active thingy what about my student guitar I built in school in regards to entering the US again once I finish touring the world with it ? back and sides are ERI purchased by the school I attended back in the Day
I have perused the actual Lacey Act myself and my cursory findings are matching what I understand from points by a law professor quoted in a Wall Street Journal article regarding this Gibson search and seizure issue.  I was a bit alarmed.  I think the makers of this amendment to Lacey are honestly trying to make a bad situation better, but as Paul points out above, anyone can pay off someone and falsify records, so how successful is this law at doing the good it's intended to do?  I'm not suggestion having no legislature regarding the protection of precious plants and animals, certainly not, but only that the laws should be smarter.  I didn't find from my readings, that the current law is sensitive to the reality that many, well meaning US citizens face in small business trade of antiques or hand crafted items etc.   

On this note, I have a question. I noticed last night that certain woods and pearl/abalone etc. cannot be sold by StewMac to anyone outside of the US. So, what happens to me if I buy said mother of pearl, and Indian Rosewood, put it into a guitar I'm making and sell it to a man in Sweden?  Would I be braking the law too?  What about a woman crafting MOP jewelry in Montana sells a necklace through to someone in Mexico?  Are there special permits one has to obtain in order to legally sell crafted items like these to other nations, or do you just do what you do and hope you don't get caught in the legal crossfire regardless of having bought what you believe to be legal MOP and Rosewood?   I appreciate your thoughts.


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