Guitar connoisseurs will tell you that different woods create a different sound and not surprisingly sound is very important to guitars. Buyers of guitars likely do not think much past the type of wood used in the guitars to where it originated or if the species of tree will likely exist decades from now. However, guitar giant Gibson has been in hot water over involvement with wood that is not environmentally sound.
The Lacey Act is a United States law which requires imports to comply with environmental laws of the country of origin. The Gibson company has been raided by the U.S. government under the law twice since 2009. The raid in 2009 was due to the government suspecting the company of importing illegal wood cut in Madagascar.
A raid in August of 2011 included the U.S. government seizing at least $250,000 worth of Indian rosewood. The government cited that the company once again is suspected of violating the Lacey Act. The Gibson company denies both raids having any validation. However, the recent settlement of the case against Gibson by the U.S. government has led to Gibson admitting to having illegally acquired the wood.
The results of the settlement include Gibson having to pay a $300,000 fine along with a $50,000 so-called community payment. In addition, the company will not be given compensation for the seized wood, estimated to be wroth at least $250,000. The charges are small compared to the overall trade of illegal timber across the globe, estimated to be worth at least $10 to $15 billion per year.
Unfortunately the most popular woods for guitars are from trees which are also facing significant environmental pressures, such as deforestation of both the legal and illegal kind. Brazilian rosewood is most popular for guitars, however, that is an endangered species. Ebony and rosewood from Madagascar is also preferred, however, these species are not able to be exported due to the aforementioned environmental pressures.
Despite protests from guitar connoisseurs, if woods such as the Brazilian rosewood are not protected there may not be species which produce the correct sound available decades from now. A balance is needed otherwise both guitarists and environmentalists will be unhappy with the results.