Gibson Admit Buying Illegal Wood

Despite knowing its timber stock was illegal, it ordered more. Now it's been slapped with a hefty fine - but is it enough?

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Gibson have admitted to using illegal wood imported from Madagascar in its guitars, and has been fined $350,000.

The company based in Nashville is renown for its designs, but knowingly violated the Lacey Act which requires firms to ensure their timber is legally obtained.

Instead, despite knowing that its imports might be illegal, Gibson ordered further timber stocks which would become fretboards for guitars, mandolins and banjos.

The company was raided by federal agents one year ago. At the time, CEO Henry Juszkiewicz insisted their timber came from a certified supplier, and made a claim for more than $300,000 for their losses in stock. The court case has since proven otherwise, and Gibson has withdrawn its claim.

"As a result of this investigation and criminal enforcement agreement, Gibson has acknowledged that it failed to act on information that the Madagascar ebony it was purchasing may have violated laws intended to limit overharvesting and conserve valuable wood species from Madagascar, a country which has been severely impacted by deforestation," said Assistant Attorney General Moreno in response to the settlement.

According to the World Bank (via BBC), the illegal timber trade is worth $10-15 billion every year, and conservations groups say that too little is done to enforce trade laws which protect the forests affected.

How do you feel about Gibson making instruments out of illegal wood? Would you be happy to buy a guitar if you knew it came from a protected forest, and is the fine enough? Take the debate to the comments.

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174 comments sorted by best / new / date

    thatnstuff
    Because over deforestation of a certain species of tree in one area can lead that tree becoming extinct in a particular ecosystem. Other species rely on that tree for god knows what but thats how ecosystems work and without the tree maybe other species would die off as well. In other areas maybe the deforestation hasnt been as severe so since were human we dont really give a shit and just keep chopping them down until were like, "ok....maybe now weve done enough damage here". On a second thought itd be cool to get one of the les pauls made with illegal wood
    killektrika
    I wish they'd mentioned the amount that Gibson is charged as fine. In any case, all they'd have to do is sell 2 or 3 guitars to compensate for it.
    deadsmileyface
    Gibson have admitted to using illegal wood imported from Madagascar in its guitars, and has been fined $350,000.
    Thats the first thing it says at the top of the story.
    Basti95
    new comment system and we STILL have to triple-post to apologise for double-posting. tut-tut
    HarrySound
    It's not a rare wood, it's an important wood. Alot of people here are showing their age. Trees take a long time to grow and if you kill what lives in it you will probably kill it forever. This world disgusts me sometimes, you people need to wake up.
    damillion
    It's not ok that Gibson makes guitars out of illegal wood just because they can afford the fines. And to top it all off they made a counter-claim? ...losing respect quickly...
    T00DEEPBLUE
    I'm pretty happy that my Gibson was made literally days before this Lacey Act scandal came about.
    satansnachos
    Guys, this is REALLY bad. What this means is (and I have heard of this happening) that if you try to visit another country and bring along your gibson guitar, they can confiscate it since it was made with illegal wood.
    ranbat
    Here's the kicker though, if you happen to own an instrument made from these woods, you are now in danger of having it taken from you. Do you think Gibson will replace that instrument free of charge? Since they knowingly manufactured and sold these instruments? Probably not. Most likely you would have to sue.
    link no1
    Wait, why would they take it off you? They gonna take the illegal wood guitars, plant them and grow new trees?
    Wisthler
    Sadly its true, but that danger comes when you are carrying one of those Gibsons instruments trought an airport or a fontier
    HavokStrife
    Their quality control has become so piss-poor that they deserve this.
    -xCaMRocKx-
    Agreed. I hope this whole thing will be a wakeup call to Gibson. It's such a minuscule fine though, so it probably won't be.. then again, the bad press from this incident will definitely be an issue for them.
    AndyZ
    Woah, so many idiots here. Are UGers really this uneducated about the importance and the amazing biodiversity of rainforests? Madagascar has very little forest, yet thousands of endangered species, that do not live anywhere else in the world. All of you defending Gibson for the use of Madagascarian wood should ashamed of yourselves.
    Smegal
    Given gibson baught the wood from a licensed trader that didn't check their sources (Or knowing did so for more profit) can you really blame gibson? It's like If i gave you a sandwich, to which you ate. Then someone came here asking why you ate their sandwich. You had no idea that it was their sandwich, you just ate it, I gave it you. You can see the point i'm making. You didnt know, I may have done but all that guy knows is YOU ate his sandwich. Gibson mitigated their losses by settling the case rather than spend millions on a bureaucratic lawsuit that involved multi national laws with differing laws on the matter at hand.
    Epi g-310
    That only works if there's some law that says you have to do a background check on any sandwiches you may receive. What Gibson is guilty of is buying wood that they didn't know for a fact was legal.
    Smegal
    Then how could they know for a fact it was legal? That itself is a near impossible feat. If they are buying from a middleman then they have no access to the suppliers of the middleman. Ever tried to get info about a middlemans sources? Let's just say you wont get that info because the middleman exists to be that bridge, they don't want their sources known. For a company they have to deal with reputation of this middleman. A dodgy middleman with a decent reputation has no trouble making official looking documents. So back to the sandwich. You have no idea where I get the sandwich, you just know i'm well known for getting sandwiches. You desire a sandwich so I give one to you, due to reputation you have no need to question that I have the sandwich. Yet you ask anyway and I show you a receipt that I mocked up that looks official. If it then your job to trace through paper records to determine if this is legit or not? no. You took all reasonable steps to determine the source. Yet still the guy finds you eating his sandwich and I duck away into the shadows to leave you to bite the bullet. Welcome to the real world.
    seabear70
    I hate to tell you this, but you are the idiot. This has nothing at all to do with biodiversity. If anything the increased use of these woods would lead to increased acreage planted with the trees.
    adodin
    Ok quick response to this: thats not how shit works. Better response: Ok there are several factors here. Ecological and Genetic. Biggest and most considered ones are ecological. Harvesting these trees from the wild heterogeneous environment where they are keystones in the ecosystem, affecting every single species directly or indirectly (and not talking about subtle only tree huggers care about it shit) I mean a loss of 10-25% being like humans losing all maize grown in the USA. When you plant them in homogeneous enclosures where the presence of other species isn't allowed they can't serve their keystone role essentially making the "captive" population useless ecologically speaking so that eliminates the increased acreage argument. On top of that when you consider the fact that unlicensed sources practice illegal harvesting from wild populations where they don't replant (on top of having further negative disturbance effects in their harvesting strategy.) On top of that genetic effects. Essentially you're killing off all sorts of different genotypes and replacing them with clones of the same tree. it makes them vulnerable to a single blight wiping out the entire population and hence destroying the madagascarian ecosystem with further impacts worldwide through aquatic communities. I could write you an entire paper about all the reasons you should care but suffice it to say that killing off this one tree would destroy the ecosystems and livelihood of an entire country causing famine and resultant poltical instability in addition to further impacts globally resulting in increased food prices, fuel prices and a whole load of shit that would affect you directly. So this isn't exactly a conscience thing.
    Samko_00
    I like how people on here are all like "Can someone tell me why I should care/why this is bad because I'm not seeing it" then they get told, in very clear and well thought out terms, why they should care and why it's bad and they just essentially respond with "lawl nerdz, I bet u read bookz haha"
    seabear70
    I never asked why I should care, and if I did, I'd actually ask someone who knew what they were talking about. Now, if you want to explain why Gibson got singled out for an industry wide practice, I'm all ears.
    Jazz1992
    Wait, so if it's "an industry wide practice" then nobody should be considered guilty? Interesting viewpoint.
    adodin
    .... really someone who knew what they were talking about.... would you like me to refer you to some of the case studies and scientific papers I read on my way to completing my degree or mail a photocopy of the aforementioned degree. I didn't think that the internet was a stickler for credentials.... I was just clarifying that the "will have no impact on biodiversity" remark was completely false and missed out a large amount of relevant information that even an undergraduate who's taken one course on this stuff hell even a highschool student could probably tell you. And as for the "why should I care" aspect that wasn't a direct response to you but more so to preempt any comments of that variety and to address the already made comments of that type. So don't be so presumptuous please.
    guitar7masta
    You may not have asked seabear, but you posting a completely ignorant comment that needed correcting.
    seabear70
    Right.... Would you like to tell me about the spotted owl while you are at it?
    Basti95
    Think of the bush babies! WON'T SOMEBODY PLEEASE THINK OF THE BUS BABIES!
    mafuhungy
    As if I needed another excuse to avoid Gibson. Overpriced, declining in quality and now this.
    Spychosis
    Honest mistake? More like dishonest crime. And no $350k is not enough or a lot of money. You think that makes them come even close to bankruptcy to even mention it?? So many people who think that it's funny cuz they're "just trees" when you're talking about one of the most unique parts of the world. ADVIL originally came from an amazon rainforest vine people. Don't be an ignorant jackass and think there's nothing valuable to keeping the forest alive.
    theblackwell
    I have a feeling that the guitars that were made with this "illegal wood" are going to become valuable, coveted guitars.....for no reason....
    seabear70
    Where can I get an illegal wood guitar? I want to do a custom tribute Les Paul. Maybe I can use active pickups and have a setting that makes it sound like a chainsaw?
    iCarebear
    Id feel special that my guitar was made f such rare wood o.o
    gnurph
    I really don't care about the rarity of the wood in my guitar. My main concerns when purchasing are tone, and then looks. If later I found out the wood is rare and came from a unsustainable, ecologically uncertain place I'd feel kinda bad about it. But I'd keep the guitar.
    Sinfinity000
    I hate to say this, but I kinda agree...
    Symbolic Acts
    I would feel horrible.
    Sivert95
    why? Of course you feel special when you have something this rare. You are just a moralfag. It's only wood anyway, no one died or anything. Chill.
    ][v][ETAL
    Pick between the two: Moral Fag or Ignorant Fuck... I choose Moral Fag because its better to have morals and knowledge about everything and use the knowledge accordingly and properly in relations with everything else rather being stupid and saying "its only wood"...
    Sivert95
    I'm sad to say I'm one of the ignorant ****s. I can't make myself care one second for those trees. I'd rather be playing guitar on the rare wood, than seeing some extremely rare trees standing in Madagascar, doing nothing byt beeing rare. If those trees never where chopped down, how wood (you see what I did there?) that affect your life?
    ][v][ETAL
    haha that pun made my day xD... but anyways... It doesnt take a guitar made of rare wood to make a good player or to enjoy playing the guitar... Its just going to overprice your next purchase.. Im okay with buying a cheap swapmeet $70 electirc guitar with cheap wood as long as i can still play it... And, i care about trees because they are what bring oxygen for our lungs to breath.. you might not care because you are not from over there, but you could at least think of the people(if any) and species that live on Madagascar
    StOlaf12
    in the sad scenario, I'd say that I honestly wouldnt even think about it whenever I picked it up/looked at it. I know its an extinction thing, n most people w/ a conscious might feel horrible, but its a guitar...if you dont want it, sell it or just dont buy it in the 1st place. either way its sad, but who really gives a shit, and in the grand scheme, how many people even know this whole thing happened?
    ][v][ETAL
    I just want to know what is so cool about playing on rare fretboard wood? is it any better than Rosewood or whatever? does it have to be rare? When I am buying a guitar the only that comes in mind is pickups, weight, thickness of the neck, fret numbers and thats all... Oh, and yes, people give a shit. People give a shit so much that they are now known as tree-huggers, ever heard of them? Alot of people heard about this news, it came up on the tv the other day... wait, did you just say that you dont have a conscious mind? I think you should see a doctor about that, I dont think thats normal
    StOlaf12
    Tree huggers? Really? Dude, go back to the 60's when people gave a damn. And just bc I don't give 1/100000th of a damn, don't mean that I don't have a conscious...my conscious just don't give a **** bout this particular issue and, I digress, if you already bought it and don't want it, sell it, if you haven't already bought it, just shut up n dont buy it. Either engage in a Gibson/Epiphone boycott or get over your hippy ass.
    NightGamerFX
    Just like a bad hair cut...it will grow back
    NightGamerFX
    Just kidding, but seriously I don't know good rare wood with a messed up ecosystem. Or regular wood, but the ecosystem survives... Hmmm...tough choice...Yeah I guess that is kinda bad...but that good wood though. :/
    boomershadow
    Any type of logging can wipe out a forest if not done properly, whether you make guitars or furniture out of it. Gibson had a responsibility as a company to make sure they're not wiping out the rain forest while making guitars, and to ensure that their company is abiding by the laws in every country in which it does business. If it admits to not fulfilling those requirements, sanctions are in order.
    ibaneztron
    Pathetic, just another example of how crap gibson is. Not only are they overpriced, and ridiculously heavy, but they say they give a crap about the environment, then go and do something like this. Stupid.
    captkarl
    gibson wipes their ass with $350,000. I own one, I love their products, but a slap on the wrist obviously didn't work the first time... it's irresponsible on both the company and the governments part at this point. I see people here saying that it isnt gibson's fault because they bought it from licensed dealers or whatever. That's a bullshit excuse. Finding a loophole doesn't make it morally acceptable. I know we all love guitars here, but this transcends that.
    ziggy821
    any word on the years on models the wood was used. i'm sure not all have it.
    ][v][ETAL
    lol sorry, I didnt mean to say you have an unconscious mind, I just noticed that you called yourself someone with an unconscious mind in your previous comment.... You make sense in your argument.. Back in the 60s there were way mroe trees than there are now. People cared back then because they liked it, and then they started noticing that they were losing something special, now we already lost all the trees around us so im not surprised that you dont care since you dont know what its like to lose what you dont have. Madagascar is lucky to have all those trees, species, and crap, and they dont want to lose it all for a stupid guitar that doesnt make a difference.... Oh and im no hippy, i just like trees, I could careless about other plants, but trees are the important stuff, I already start a social action project to stop the cutting down of trees especially rare ones, and the organization my team and i were working with gathered over a million supporters in 2 weeks to protest against such companies who destroy our ecosystem to make money. Well, i did all that when I was in High School for to graduate, but I learned a lot from it... i got an A+ and two scholarships
    SchecterDean
    So if someone bought one of the rare wood guitars before they got raided, would it be more valuable today?
    calger14
    Well they admitted it and have agreed to pay the fine. I'm sure this will put off many guitar manufacturers from doing the same.
    ryandevison
    Everytone should watch this video, regarding the current state of ebony:
    In this video, the founder of Taylor guitars talks about how in future guitars, and other products which uses ebony, will start seeing different colored streaks on your fretboard, since they are now using every ebony tree they get their hands on, instead of usign a certain few that is pure black.
    iamonlykidding
    A lot of people in the comments are arguing about how the illegal wood is ruining the rainforest, and how if they'd only acquired legal wood they could save it... the only difference between legal and illegal wood is that the illegal wood had no finish. That's it. Even if they'd bought legal wood the same trees would have got chopped down, but they'd have a finish.
    rstark56
    Gibson just settled. This is so they could move on. There is alot of speculation but they bought the wood unfinished. Now, if it was finished in Madagascar (which is a island off the cost of western Africa) it would not have been illegal. Now with that said what constitutes "finished". Everything is up to interpretation. Here a good article of what is really going on. http://www.forbes.com/sites/billsinger/2... n-les-paul-guitars-with-less-ebony/
    dahrothgar
    The manufacture of guitars cannot wipe out a forest. That's the first thing. The second is that Gibson didn't do anything wrong. The Feds decided to look at foreign laws and try to "define" them. Gibson bought wood legally from licensed dealers in Madagascar and India. Gibson was not found guilty of any wrong doing. The DOJ's case was undermined by statements from the governments in question. Rather than be forced to spend millions more defending itself from idiocy, Gibson chose to settle.
    guitar7masta
    Whether it was a "licensed dealer" or not, the plain and simple fact is that not a single tree is supposed to be cut down due to their protection of an area that has already been heavily deforested. You are literally ignoring every fact, saying certain things are legal when they aren't. Gibsons claims were looked into, they were bogus. No need to defend them, they learned their lesson.
    sideslick
    Shame on Gibson for lying about breaking the law. I want a good tone, but not one from illegal activity. I can't say I want a Gibson Les Paul anymore. I've been a Fender player since I started, but I wanted to branch to other brands. I don't know know anymore.
    tonello
    I love my gibsons and will purchase Gibsons in the future. I don't see this so much as "They broke the law because they don't care" I see it as "they care enough about their instruments to "break" the law"
    skidlz
    I just bought an epiphone in April. Are the feds gonna knock on my door soon?
    aCloudConnected
    i feel like that $350k fine is almost nothing to them
    philwhite
    They spent over 2 million dollars in legal fees, received negative press, and had product tied up for several years. Seems a bit more than nothing to me.
    BradTheBluefish
    Madagascar is its own country. It is Madagascar agencies that need to protect their forests. American agencies do not need to get involved. It is these kinds of things, making Americans think we have to patrol the world, that gets us into massive debt. We can't keep this up.
    guitar7masta
    It was the American government to get involved because it was an American company that was breaking the law. This is one case when if anything, the US tendency to "police the world" actually makes sense. If you didn't realize, they just stopped an American company from continuing the deforestation of an already heavily harvested piece of land, this will only help Madagascar. This wasn't about policing the world, it was about policing companies that are breaking the law with their headquarters right in the middle of US territory.
    WelshKes
    Quite right, so what is going to happen to all that confiscated wood? Most likely they are going to burn it, real waste, good job American Government, it doesn't matter if Obama stays or Romney gets in, they both suck. Lemmy had it right, government causes more problems than it solves. Madagascar should have looked into the problem themselves, then complain to America
    saint_berzerker
    Of course they have to "admit it" for the idiot Feds to get off their backs. This is how our system works. Like a mafia crime ring.
    Im a Rattlehead
    The simple fact is Gibson got the wood from Madagascar because it was cheap, & they could make more money without investing as much. No one other than Gibson should have to feel bad because it's not their fault they didn't know the sourcing of the materials. There's many arguments you could say to this: * If Gibson doesn't buy the wood, someone else will. * It's sooooo good on my les paul. * It's only a bit of wood, get over it. * But Gibson rules, **** the police. * At least we're sending money to that god-forsaken country. * Hey they admitted their fault, leave them alone. & there's plenty more to say to "try" defend them, but at the end of the day, they broke the law. They were greedy & they should suffer for it. Unfortunately $350,000 is too low a fine to really teach them a lesson, but I don't think this should hinder people from buying their guitars.
    Smegal
    I love nature but I also love my les paul. Difficult choice but I may go with my les paul for reasons about to be explained. Gibson as a company made a huge c**k up. They will now pay more attention to where they source from and this case will raise the awareness of the issue and thus other companies will do the same just in case. Thus in the long run it will reduce the effect by a significant amount because it currently exists (As most things do in some way) in a strange equilibrium. To condemn a company for an honest mistake (Albeit one the failed to cover up) is making a statement sure but it also means the efforts into technology that specific company has made could go to waste if they go under from lack of sales... As I said, strange equilibrium. And btw 350k is a lot of money for gibson, it may not be for say donald trump but it is a lot of loss to their fiscal year. Enough of a drop to make a point and repair some of the damages but not enough to force bankruptcy. I agree with the level of fine.
    Lemoninfluence
    It wasn't exactly an honest mistake when they admitted that they knew the wood was illegal and yet ordered more.
    olix95
    lol, $350,000 from Gibson is nothing, all thy have to do to make up for it is sell 3 les paul customs, which is of course no problem somehow
    Battery Chicken
    This is actually pretty terrible. I've always thought music and environmental concern should go hand in hand. I was considering buying a Gibson acoustic down the road, but I've lost all respect for them after this.