The Gibson Crisis : The End of Made in the U.S.A. Guitars ?

Yes, I know it’s a weird question to ask… Is the era of guitars made in the U.S.A. coming to an end because of the Gibson Vs U.S. Government infamous crisis ?

Probably not… But this might be the end of a certain idea of guitars made in the U.S.A.  or maybe a certain idea of guitar itself ! Let me explain…

On the case itself, there are a lot of articles on the internet, and I guess there will be more until the case is closed. But here is a quick bullet points summary (I linked to several articles at the end of this post)…

  • 2008… Amendment on the Lacey Act which is a hundred years old law that now forces the U.S. companies to comply with U.S. laws as well as with laws of their supplier countries.
  • 2009… Gibson Guitars is raided.
    • Why ? U.S. authorities suspected that the Madagascar woods supply chain might be illegal at some point.
    • Federal agents seazed wood stocks (rosewood, and ebony) imported from Madagascar.
    • Consequences ? To date, no charges have been filed yet. US authorities couldn’t prove that the wood supply chain was illegal. Gibson couldn’t prove that the supply chain is clean despite due certifications. Gibson stopped importing wood from Madagascar.
  • 2011… On August, 24 ! Gibson is raided again.
    • Why ? The use of wood that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal in India. That’s a supposed violation of the Lacey Act (US companies have to comply with laws of their suppliers).
    • Due to the raid, Nashville and Memphis facilities ceased operations for a day. Rosewood, and ebony stocks from India were seazed.
    • Consequences ? Financial loss. Gibson fights back.

People at Gibson are obviously upset… And they are fighting back ! It’s legitimate and I can understand this…

  • Financial loss, and threatened activity because of closed facilities, and wood seizure.
  • Threatenedjobs… If Gibson was forced to relocate its production that would mean layoffs in the US facilities !
  • Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson claims that Gibson is innocent. They didn’t falsify any documents. He also adds that Gibson is a long time supporter of environmental groups through his involvement with the Rainforest Alliance for example.

And now here comes the touchy part… Gibson can’t fight the government alone… So Gibson is trying to bring everyone to fight for the cause…

The demand is simple, and reasonable : US government must clarify the Lacey Act in order to help the instruments makers to do their job the right way.

But the way they are doing it is kinda borderline…

First, Henry Juszkiewicz is trying to involve Gibson guitars owner, and Gibson customers by telling them the following. According to their  interpretation of  the Lacey Act, Gibson guitars owners are as responsible as the company for having instruments with illegal woods as acknowledged by the Lacey Act.

Then, he brought the Gibson Vs government on the politics field… He claimed that Gibson Guitars is harassed by the democrat government because of his personal support to republican politicians.

Finally, he tried to involve other instruments makers who are quite silent on that case… I can understand them because if there is an actual Gibson case then most of the industry will be in trouble… In the U.S.A. at least. After all, Gibson competitors use the same woods imported from pretty much the same countries…

But the touchiest argument… The one I have no answer for but that raises many questions is the following…

Henry Juszkiewicz keeps repeating that Gibson is not accused of violating a U.S. law but an Indian law. And according to him this is unfair because no concerns have been raised by the Indian government.

But this is the main problem that every instruments makers will have to face one day or another. Of course, the environmental issue, and sustainable development questions have to be solved at the local level… But the companies can’t miss the global scale ! To be more clear, to make things work, not only the companies in the industry have to comply with national laws (of their own country) but also with international laws (those of their suppliers) !! This is the cost to preserve the resources they use to build instruments… What is at stake here is the future of their activity.

Shouldn’t that be the time for Gibson but also for the guitar makers industry as a whole to ask the right questions about the future of the industry ? And this shouldn’t be a concern for the U.S. industry only… It is a worldwide issue ! Relocating production is clearly not a solution ! Maybe the following leads are the ones to follow…

  • Work with woods from sustainable forests ? Help create that kind of forests ?
  • Work with different species of woods instead of endangered species of woods ?
  • Work with alternative materials to build guitars ?
  • Back to reasonable production volumes ?

As I said above, I don’t have the answers…

Converting the whole industry is not an overnight task, nope !

Bringing guitar players to embrace new kind of woods made of different species of wood or even alternative materials might be a long, and hard process.

I only can imagine how it is hard for Gibson to prove their innocence but I think their defense strategy is not the best one !

Well… Anyway I also think that it would be sad to see Gibson sinking because of this crisis. So if you want to support Gibson you can sign the petition This Will Not Stand that will be sent to president Obama.

Here are some resources to understand pretty much everything about the Gibson crisis :

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