Rosewood Ban

It used to be that only Brazilian rosewood required a CITES permit. Now, it's all rosewood.

It used to be that only Brazilian rosewood required a CITES permit. Now, it’s all rosewood.

I’m a big environmentalist and I understand fully the actions taken by governments to protect endangered species. Protecting elephants by making trafficking in ivory illegal is laudable and necessary. Prohibiting the cutting of dalbergia nigra trees is important as well. So is acknowledging and acting on climate change. The problem is not in the acknowledgement of the crises. The problem is in the methodology undertaken by governments to address these crises.

It doesn’t save any elephants to strip the ivory off an antique piano. I wrote a post about this a few years ago when a client told the story of her antique French Erard piano being refused entry into the USA. Find that post here. The government approach to preserving Brazilian rosewood has been flawed and unwieldy but made some sense. It took too long (up to 90 days) to get certification and was fairly expensive ($100 per guitar). But the exemption of pre ban guitars (1992 and earlier) was reasonable. All you had to do was prove the guitar was made before that date. All of this was a pain in the ass but conservation of endangered species is important. I don’t know what the countries where Dalbergia Nigra grows have been doing to keep poachers from illegally cutting the trees that remain. Once the wood is cut, all the regulations in the world won’t bring back that tree. You have to keep it from being cut. This is where the time, money and effort should be going. I hope the government is taking the money collected for certification is spending it to keep the remaining trees from being poached. But the game has changed.

CITES has banned ALL rosewood. You can thank the Chinese for this since the bulk of the rosewood being cut is going to China as furniture. Apparently, the supply of Indian rosewood and a few other species has been affected in a detrimental way  (Vietnam was cited as a prime example). There is still, apparently, plenty of Indian rosewood left but trying to fix the problem before it becomes a crisis is good management . There was, however, another reason for doing this as I understand it. The Customs officials couldn’t tell Brazilian rosewood from Indian rosewood, so the solution was to ban it all. It’s a little like saying that since your doctor doesn’t know your spleen from your appendix, he should just remove both of them. You didn’t need them anyway. That adds a ton of paperwork and a not insignificant amount of dollars to the cost of all guitars-not just vintage ones. I don’t know all the details yet but if the wheels of the bureaucracy turn as slowly as they have in the past, you aren’t going to get your guitar anytime soon. And you’ll end up paying an additional fee for the certification. Once the guitar is certified, it’s certified so when you go to sell it, you will have the correct documentation in hand.

Note that this only affects international shipments. All types of rosewood can still be shipped domestically. I’m taking a wait and see approach to the new rules. I don’t ship many pre ’92 guitars anyway, the changes probably won’t affect me much. Also, the fact that they weren’t all that diligent in seeking out rosewood made it pretty manageable. I only had two guitars stopped by Customs for “illegal” woods. In both cases, they were wrong but it did hold up my shipment. Mostly, it seemed that they didn’t pay much attention-certification or not. That is likely to change. Without the proper certification, Customs can take your 59 ES-335 and confiscate it. You have no recourse. So, if you’re a big exporter, get your “Master File” in order. If not, be ready to wait 60-90 days to get your guitar certified


3 Responses to “Rosewood Ban”

  1. Rob says:

    This is funny since two days ago I went to the best local used instrument store to buy myself a 70th birthday present– a cheapo Les Paul that I could leave out on its stand in my den and not worry if it gets dinged up. So I narrowed it down to two– a 2011 50’s Tribute and an ’09 Studio faded with Burstbucker Pro’s. I really wanted the Tribute since it has P-90’s and I never owned an axe with those. But I did some internet research before going to purchase and found that the Feds raided the Nashville plant in the summer of 2011 and took all their rosewood. I checked the Tribute serial number and found that it was made in November of 2011. When I went in, I took my magnifying glass and inspected the fret board which, according to the Gibson specs and the shop, was rosewood. Turned out to be baked maple. So I left with the ugly brown one with its rather nice rosewood board. Hopefully the new administration will bring some sanity to this and other environmental situations.

  2. RAB says:

    Scary stuff. I am also all for protecting endangered species (especially animals) in a reasonable way. Harvesting guitar woods and other materials from existing sources is a good idea. My folks had the tone bars from a very old marimba that they weren’t using (the instrument wasn’t playable in that state). Yup, made out of some damn fine pure Brazilian rosewood! Instead of them tossing it we donated it to a very grateful local luthier!

  3. James says:

    I love the scent of Brazilian Rosewood! I guess this will make new guitars more expensive.

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