What Gibson Guitars Did with the Wood the Government Returned
In 2011, the Department of Justice conducted raids on the Tennessee facilities of the famed Gibson Guitar company and confiscated large quantities of tonewood that had been imported from India and Madagascar. The action included armed SWAT teams, with automatic weapons, who apparently feared being garroted with a guitar string by an enraged Gibson employee. These raids were conducted due to the Lacey Act, which bans the importing of certain woods. The issue at hand was not that the wood was endangered or illegally harvested, but that it was not of the proper thickness that would have meant that some labor had been performed on it by workers in India and Madagascar. This was the law in Madagascar and India as a nod to the unions in those countries. Gibson, who hand-makes its guitars, cannot guarantee the craftsmanship of its products if a portion of the work is done outside their facilities.
What raised many eyebrows about this governmental action was that the countries involved, India and Madagascar, indicated that they were not interested in pursuing the matter when contacted by the Department of Justice. Also, even if Gibson had been guilty, this would have been a civil, not a criminal matter. Finally, this same kind of tonewood is used by other guitar makers such as CF Martin and Company and Fender. Those other companies were not raided. The principle difference seems to be that those companies contributed to Democratic candidates, while Henry Juszkiewicz, the CEO of Gibson, gives openly to Republicans, and Gibson has plants in a right-to-work state.
After spending nearly two and half million dollars in legal fees and paying a $300,000 fine, the government has settled with Gibson and has finally returned the confiscated tonewood. Normally that would be the end of the story, with a victory scored for partisan government bullying of political opponents, however, that is not the end.
Gibson took that wood and made it into the Government Series II Les Paul. These special edition guitars are hot stamped in gold with the Government Series graphic, which is an American bald eagle holding a Gibson guitar neck. It is an admirable statement of defiance of an abusive government and a refusal of a historic American company to be intimidated.
Victor Keith writes from Burbank, California and can be contacted at victorakeith.com.