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Monday, August 29, 2011

Your Vintage Instrument May Be Confiscated!

Federal agents raided the Memphis and Nashville factories Gibson Guitar last week, seizing several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. Fish and Wildlife Service agents were looking for banned wood like Madagascar ebony and Brazilian Rosewood, even though the company claims to purchase all of their wood from only certified suppliers.

While it's easy to think that a large company like Gibson routinely skirts the law all in the name of guitar tone, the problem is that the Feds are only enforcing some overly broad mandates, which can also apply to a typical guitar owner. Here's how that might work:

If you own a vintage instrument and try to travel into or out of the country with it, you're subject to a statute called the Lacey Act that requires anyone crossing the U.S. border to declare every bit of flora or fauna being brought into the country, which includes wood. Your are under what's known as a "strict liability" to fill out the paperwork without any mistakes.

It would be easy if you could just declare the guitar as a single instrument, but an overzealous border agent can follow the letter of the law and require that you declare every part of the instrument. You have to declare where the wood from the body came from, where the ivory was harvested if there's an ivory nut or inlays. What about the neck? Is it made from ebony with maybe a rosewood fingerboard? You better know not only what it is, but where it came from as well.

So what if you don't know, or you just guess? First of all the Feds can confiscate your instrument (and may never give it back), then fine you $250 for false or missing documentation. If you happen to have any banned wood in your instrument, you can be fined thousands of dollars and even go to jail.

I know it's a good thing for the world we live in to be environmentally safe, and I hope we begin to find other materials that sound as good as the woods we've been using that make vintage instruments sound the way they do. But in the meantime, it would be great if the Feds back off on being so stringent about the materials of an instrument that might be 50 years old; something that virtually no one could ever source (and probably couldn't even when it was originally made). There are too many things in the world to worry about. Having your instrument confiscated by the government shouldn't be one of them.

You can read more in this article from the Wall Street Journal.

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Unknown said...

Do you know of any cases of instrument confiscation, fines, and imprisonment? I would like to be informed and inform others of any potential threat.

Black Smith said...

Valuable information and excellent design you got here! I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and time into the stuff you post!! Thumbs up

ENT instruments


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