"These materials were purchased by C.F. Martin guitar company in Nazareth,PA. As their website states "committed to corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship, and to support this commitment, Martin maintains FSC chain of custody certification.""
At the time, I assumed that was assurance enough that the guitars were legal. Now I'm not so sure.
Last week, facilities of the Gibson Guitar Company were closed down by government officials for alleged violations of the Lacey Act. Since the action involves legalities and actions I'm not familiar with, I won't comment on this story other than to say that global regulatory processes seem to be getting more teeth in them, and that companies can find themselves in hot water even while trying to comply with them. Many are concerned that regulations and actions such as these will be targeting an even broader restriction of wood use in the near future. Let's hope that isn't the intent.
The following local news video was posted on YouTube from, of all sources, the news program "Russia Today". Perhaps the Russians can't believe the extent to which large government can intrude into industrial operations.
From The Wall Street Journal...
Federal agents swooped in on Gibson Guitar Wednesday, raiding factories and offices in Memphis and Nashville, seizing several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. The Feds are keeping mum, but in a statement yesterday Gibson's chairman and CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, defended his company's manufacturing policies, accusing the Justice Department of bullying the company. "The wood the government seized Wednesday is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier," he said, suggesting the Feds are using the aggressive enforcement of overly broad laws to make the company cry uncle.
It isn't the first time that agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service have come knocking at the storied maker of such iconic instruments as the Les Paul electric guitar, the J-160E acoustic-electric John Lennon played, and essential jazz-boxes such as Charlie Christian's ES-150. In 2009 the Feds seized several guitars and pallets of wood from a Gibson factory, and both sides have been wrangling over the goods in a case with the delightful name "United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms."
The question in the first raid seemed to be whether Gibson had been buying illegally harvested hardwoods from protected forests, such as the Madagascar ebony that makes for such lovely fretboards. And if Gibson did knowingly import illegally harvested ebony from Madagascar, that wouldn't be a negligible offense. Peter Lowry, ebony and rosewood expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, calls the Madagascar wood trade the "equivalent of Africa's blood diamonds." But with the new raid, the government seems to be questioning whether some wood sourced from India met every regulatory jot and tittle.
John Thomas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University and a blues and ragtime guitarist, says "there's a lot of anxiety, and it's well justified." Once upon a time, he would have taken one of his vintage guitars on his travels. Now, "I don't go out of the country with a wooden guitar."
The tangled intersection of international laws is enforced through a thicket of paperwork. Recent revisions to 1900's Lacey Act require that anyone crossing the U.S. border declare every bit of flora or fauna being brought into the country. One is under "strict liability" to fill out the paperwork—and without any mistakes.
It's not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What's the bridge made of? If it's ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar's headstock bone, or could it be ivory? "Even if you have no knowledge—despite Herculean efforts to obtain it—that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever," Prof. Thomas has written. "Oh, and you'll be fined $250 for that false (or missing) information in your Lacey Act Import Declaration."
-The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2011
Finally, here is a video recording from a cable news show last week that gives the company's side of the story, straight from the mouth of the company's CEO. It is especially interesting to watch for its background video footage of the Gibson manufacturing process.
Here's hoping that the whole thing gets worked out, that we come to some kind of reasonable solution to protecting endangered woods, and that companies will be provided with clear guidelines that allow them to purchase and produce quality wood products within the intent of the law.