It all started on August 26th. The Wall Street Journal published an article by Eric Felten the struck fear into the hearts of guitar players the world over.
Federal agents swooped in on Gibson Guitar Wednesday, raiding factories and offices in Memphis and Nashville, seizing several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. The Feds are keeping mum, but in a statement yesterday Gibson’s chairman and CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, defended his company’s manufacturing policies, accusing the Justice Department of bullying the company. “The wood the government seized Wednesday is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier,” he said, suggesting the Feds are using the aggressive enforcement of overly broad laws to make the company cry uncle.
It isn’t the first time that agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service have come knocking at the storied maker of such iconic instruments as the Les Paul electric guitar, the J-160E acoustic-electric John Lennon played, and essential jazz-boxes such as Charlie Christian’s ES-150. In 2009 the Feds seized several guitars and pallets of wood from a Gibson factory, and both sides have been wrangling over the goods in a case with the delightful name “United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms.”
Not only is Gibson in the cross-hares of the Obama administration’s Department of Justice, but guitar players themselves could be found guilty simply for owning the instruments. If a musician owns a vintage Gibson or Martin, any dark wood used on the guitar might require specific documentation on its harvest date to prevent the seizure of the instrument.
While artists are largely opposed to changing out one wood for a more ecologically sustainable one, they are even more opposed to the government looking in their guitar cases.
Numerous blog posts, forum entries, magazine stories and online stories have publicized the activities of the U.S. government. This one from the Atlantic Wire titled “How to Turn Guitarists Into TEA Partiers: Take Their Gibsons Away” uses the multitude of posts in guitar internet forums to illustrate that perhaps artists are starting to see what happens when freedoms of a certain group are infringed upon.
While I’m not sure that the latest action by Attorney General Eric Holder and company will really turn most guitaristss into Conservatives, it should. Individual liberty is the one part of the platform that free-thinking, non-collectivist, independent-minded six-string fret-masters should have no trouble accepting.
Government over-reach has been furthered in this manner for decades (many decades). Go after one specific group and take their freedom away. What will the voting populace care if some small group of long-haired guitar-players loses a few instruments in the name of the greater good? The truth is, they won’t.
Gun regulations, cigarette restrictions, unfair taxation and more all came about by finding a small population and imposing something on only them. Tax some small group a little more and the rest won’t mind because it doesn’t affect them. Then go after another group, and another, until everyone is under the thumb of a growing government and there is no one left in opposition.
Perhaps that is what sent this viral. Perhaps guitar players make up a larger portion of Americana than the administration had counted on – an increasingly connected, online, aware, young and possibly voting population. Perhaps because it there is a large, traditionally liberal (if that’s possible) base in the musician community. It could also be because it’s not just about the wood and not just about guitars.
Gibson released a press release on August 25th that demonstrates that the government’s raid almost seems to target them for doing .. nothing wrong.
In 2009, more than a dozen agents with automatic weapons invaded the Gibson factory in Nashville. The Government seized guitars and a substantial amount of ebony fingerboard blanks from Madagascar. To date, 1 year and 9 months later, criminal charges have NOT been filed, yet the Government still holds Gibson’s property. Gibson has obtained sworn statements and documents from the Madagascar government and these materials, which have been filed in federal court, show that the wood seized in 2009 was legally exported under Madagascar law and that no law has been violated. Gibson is attempting to have its property returned in a civil proceeding that is pending in federal court.
In that same release, it notes that the Justice Department has, “asked the judge to stop the court case indefinitely.”
If this were about protecting forests and what Gibson may have done wrong, why suspend the case? Why no charges in the last two years? Why not Martin and co who uses the same wood? What is the government up to? Perhaps it’s politics.
Gibson is located in Tennessee, a right-to-work state. Martin is located in Pennsylvania – a union shop state. Obama’s National Labor Relations Board has already shown a propensity to go after companies, like Boeing, in right-to-work states. Also, C.F. Martin tends to support Democrats while Gibson’s CEO supported Republicans.
One of Gibson’s leading competitors is C.F. Martin & Company. The C.E.O., Chris Martin IV, is a long-time Democratic supporter, with $35,400 in contributions to Democratic candidates and the DNC over the past couple of elections (though, to be fair, he did donate a whopping $750 to Republican Congressmen in the 90s.) According to C.F. Martin’s catalog, several of their guitars contain “East Indian Rosewood.” In case you were wondering, that is the exact same wood in at least ten of Gibson’s guitars. – Landmark Report
Even if artists, music lovers or just those that like to pluck on a good ‘ole six string don’t want to get into politics, these actions almost force their hand. Everyone has a breaking point. If not to protect something as individual and free as a Gibson, then for what? Perhaps to find the answer to why this story is broad-reaching (a.k.a. viral) one only needs to ask “If not now, when?”.