Adan Salazar
May 18, 2012

Guitarists and other musicians can take heart in the fact that someone in Washington loves them.

Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Ron Wyden of Oregon are fighting to ensure that the Lacey Act, the law under which feds raided the Gibson Guitar factory last year, won’t leave musicians sans their instruments when traveling internationally.

The piece of legislation that had feds cracking down on Gibson was an amendment added in 2008: “The 2008 Farm Bill (the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008), effective May 22, 2008, amended the Lacey Act by expanding its protection to a broader range of plants and plant products. The Lacey Act now, among other things, makes it unlawful, beginning December 15, 2008, to import certain plants and plant products without an import declaration.”

The woods used in constructing Gibson’s fretboards, derived from India and Madagascar, were the subjects of federal scrutiny. Namely, they wanted to find out if the ebony wood used came from protected forests.

In a 2011 Infowars exclusive interview with Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, he revealed that the company was even told by court briefing that it should move to Madagascar:

Now two Senators are wanting to make sure that musicians entering and leaving the country won’t be persecuted.

The Senators spoke at a roundtable meeting Thursday in Maryville, Tennessee joined by representatives from the music and wood import industries, as well as environmental conservation groups, to clarify portions of the law that have both manufacturers and artists fearing for their livelihoods.

Senator Alexander:

“Senator Wyden and I will work first to achieve these goals through administrative regulation because it produces a faster result, but, failing that, we’re prepared to introduce legislation to amend the law.

“Senator Wyden and I are going to write the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a letter in the next couple of weeks and try to make it clear that wood harvested before 2008 to make musical instruments can’t be seized by the federal government. I don’t want the musicians from Nashville who are flying to Canada to perform this summer to worry about the government seizing their guitars. The Justice Department and Fish and Wildlife have said they have no intention of doing that, but Sen. Wyden and I are going to make it absolutely clear. We hope to get a clear ruling within a few weeks, and if we can’t get a clear ruling, we’ll introduce legislation to change the Lacey Act.

“We are also working to make clear which laws apply and don’t apply to businesses importing and manufacturing with wood, and to remove burdensome regulations on importers and instrument manufacturers.

“We’re committed to creating a safe harbor for instruments made before 2008—this law was never intended to apply to those instruments. We are also working to give companies more certainty about importing wood, by requiring the federal government to inform importers of foreign wood whether the law applies to them or not. We will also work with importers to make it more efficient to comply with the law’s paperwork requirements. We are still working on other aspects of the law, particularly in dealing with penalties on the importation of wood harvested after 2008.

“We held this roundtable because instrument makers like Gibson Guitars in Tennessee are an important part of our music industry, and if the Lacey Act as written is keeping them from being able to get the wood they need to make instruments, we need to make every effort to fix the regulation.

“The law was intended to prevent illegal logging and protect U.S. job that are threatened by illegal logging, it was never intended to seize instruments or wood products that were obtained prior to the passage of the Lacey Act amendments in May 2008 because they were made from imported wood—and when laws have unintended consequences, Congress has a responsibility to promptly make changes.”

So far Gibson has been the only manufacturer targeted by feds.

According to Gibson’s FAQ on tonewoods, concerned musicians have wanted to know if they need paperwork stating that their woods conform to the Lacey Act: Q: Will Gibson provide paperwork declaring the wood origins (per Lacey Act) for Customs if I take this new guitar out of the country? A: No. There is no known official form for a manufacturer to provide to a customer.

Gibson guitars have played a key role in the evolution of music in general. Robert Johnson (1911-1938), master of the Mississippi Delta blues, played on a Gibson L-1 acoustic. Elvis Presley used a Gibson J-200. Chuck Berry, singer, songwriter, and pioneer of rock and roll plays a hollow body ES-345. B.B. King, blues legend, is never seen without his ES-355 “Lucile.” Johnny Marr of the UK’s The Smiths used Gibsons in their earlier recordings.

Other famous acts that have used Gibson guitars include: Rush, Jeff Beck, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Eric Johnson, Carlos Santana, Eddie Van Halen, and the Beatles to name a few.

Appreciative musicians are encouraged to email words of thanks to Senator Alexander.

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