Gibson Guitar to Uncle Sam – “From my cold, dead hands”

Are you a guitar owner? More important, do you own a guitar made by Gibson, one of the most well-known American guitar manufacturers? If so, listen up; you may be in Uncle Sam’s cross hairs – as a criminal.

Just ask Henry Juszkiewicz, Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitars.

Last week, heavily armed federal agents raided two guitar manufacturing facilities in Tennessee owned by Gibson — one in Nashville, another in Memphis. The feds were not acting on a tip that an al Qaeda cell was holed up in the buildings; or that Mexican drug cartel gangs were lurking inside. It was actually something far more serious; far more serious, that is, to a bunch of federal bureaucrats with nothing better to do.

The raids were carried out because the Department of Justice and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claim that parts of the iconic guitars manufactured in the plants contained the wrong kind of imported wood. And, although the feds have not made clear to Gibson just what it has done wrong, the government appears also to be claiming the guitar parts might have been exported to the U.S. contrary not to American laws, but to certain domestic laws of the countries exporting the parts to the United States!

One of the laws at play here is the hundred-year old Lacey Act, passed during the “Progressive Era,” and intended to promote conservation and as a crackdown on illegal trafficking in wildlife. The law also makes it a crime for a company to violate the laws or regulations of other countries. In this particular case, Gibson’s attorneys surmise it may be the law of India they are charged with misinterpreting or violating.

The Justice Department apparently believes the wood in question, used to construct fret boards for Gibson’s popular instruments, was imported from India without having first been “finished” by Indian workers; actions that could be considered a violation of that country’s byzantine legal code.

According to a press release from Gibson, the agents “seized several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars.” Juszkiewicz estimated the loss of raw materials alone to be $1 million; obviously not including financial losses due to the inability to produce guitars from those materials.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Gibson has been subjected to the overreaching, punitive arm of the federal government. In 2009, the Nashville facility was raided in similar fashion, based on accusations that rosewood imported from Madagascar and used in guitars, came from illegal logging. And, despite the fact that to this day, the government has not filed formal charges against Gibson, it has refused to return the company’s property.

Gibson has engaged in extensive and costly efforts to recover its property from that raid two years ago; including the filing of a civil lawsuit. In the civil proceedings, the company presented proof, including statements from the Madagascar government, that the wood was obtained legally. Still, the federal government refuses to budge; and now, with these second and third raids, appears intent on trying to put Gibson out of business completely.

These highly publicized actions by the federal government have ramifications for any musician owning a guitar made out of certain woods by overzealous federal agents of having been obtained illegally at some point in the manufacturing process (even if years ago and by a prior owner or manufacturer). The Wall Street Journal notes that owners of vintage guitars made out of now-banned or regulated woods had “better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent – not to mention face fines and prosecution.”

Gibson’s obviously frustrated CEO, who noted during a press conference the day of the raid that every guitar his company builds could possibly be considered criminal in nature, given the widely disparate countries from which the various woods are imported and in various states of manufacture; and considering the difficulty – if not impossibility – of correctly interpreting every relevant law of every one of those countries.

The government’s treatment of this American company – one of the few bright spots in domestic manufacture of musical instruments – is disgraceful, counterproductive, and mean-spirited.

In 2000, Charlton Heston, then serving as president of the National Rifle Association, and fighting gun control proposals, held a flintlock rifle over his head and declared famously, “from my cold dead hands.” Gibson’s CEO needs to rally freedom-loving Americans similarly; raising a Les Paul Gibson guitar over his head. All Americans who believe in freedom and limited government should come to Gibson’s defense; not just those who are guitar players.

by Bob Barr — The Barr Code

158 comments Add your comment

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David Ziebell

August 31st, 2011
6:06 am

Right On, Bob! (There. I’ve not remained silent when they took away their guitars…)

Karl Marx

August 31st, 2011
6:25 am

Perhaps Gibson should do what other companies have and move outside the US. I would not blame them if they did. I blame the out of control Federal Government.

Damond Horner

August 31st, 2011
6:55 am

Fact is they have provided proof, to the government, the wood was procured legally. They have by and large stole property of Gibson… Not once but twice. Who ever called for these raids, should be held accountable from top to the bottom.

Gerald West

August 31st, 2011
7:08 am

Yeh, that’s what comes of enforcing laws passed by past and present corrupt, ignorant, self-serving Congresses. The Obama administration should simply ignore silly laws like the Lacey act and immigration restrictions.

Did you notice also that our judicial institution is unable to provide prompt, fair settlement of business disputes? Both sides may have to pay out millions of dollars to lawyers for delayed, distended, and indecisive litigation. That’s one of the reasons the US is not a good place for business investment.

Does anyone care, so long as we can keep our AK-47s for “personal protection”?


August 31st, 2011
8:01 am

“bunch of Federal bureaucrats with nothing better to do”

Actually, there are other things they could be doing. It’s just that it’s a lot safer to raid a guitar manufacturer than rounding up and deporting illegal aliens or raiding heavily armed drug dealers. The easy way out wins every time.


August 31st, 2011
8:03 am

Would it not be India, itself that has the responsibility for seeing wood from endangered trees is not shipped out of the country? Does India do anything to stop the shipment of our most endangered species, American products to be assembled by Indian workers, or having humongus call centers in their country where they are paying their under age workers to work for pennies.
What has happened to the free enterprise system, making it is so incredibly difficult for a profitable business[Gibson Guitars] to stay in business.

Joe the Plutocrat (and Leo Fender fan)

August 31st, 2011
8:22 am

wow, I feel much better knowing my ‘72 tele custom has a maple fret. seriously, Gibson is one of a handful of American manufacturers that hasn’t off-shored all of it’s jobs/production. talk about “job-killing” legislation. of course, you have to tip your hat to Uncle Sam, as no doubt the dozens of federal agents and the bureaucrats in DC likely far outnumbered the handful of one of a kind, skilled artisans who manufacture top quality musical instruments. this may sound obvious, but would it no be better to simply re-write or better yet rescind the law? perhaps we should invade India or Madagascar to “protect” the mahogony and rosewood trees?

[...] it has refused to return the company’s property. Here's the link to the whole piece. Gibson Guitar to Uncle Sam And this is really crazy check out the quote from the WSJ The Wall Street Journal notes that [...]

Greg Matthews

August 31st, 2011
8:57 am

This is the LAST STRAW! I’m glad that someone if finally speaking out about this in the media. Gibson Guitar company is one of the last remaining American Iconic Companies. I implore every red-blooded American reading this article to do something and help spread the word about this travesty of American justice. I’m contacting newspaper editors to encourage them to keep the story alive and on the first pages.

Tiger's Woody

August 31st, 2011
9:01 am

Looks like the Feds have given up on the war on drugs and found someone they can bully around.


August 31st, 2011
9:03 am

Ridiculous!!!! Absolutely ridiculous!!! Since when did we become under other countries jurisdiction, with laws that are nonsensical at best and intentionally vague at worst. Why have we allowed our sovereignty to be diluted in this fashion? And how can Gibson even mount a reasonable defense? They can’t mount a defense in India because the property is not seized there. They can’t mount a defense here in America because no American law was broken. So now the Federal Government can deprive us of our property by the say so of another government? For shame on us to allow this unconstitutional situation.


August 31st, 2011
9:04 am

Could the raids have been politically motivated since Gibson donates money to the Republican Party?


August 31st, 2011
9:18 am

Someone else owned my bass guitar before I did, and he’s dead now. How do I find out if it’s made of illegal wood? Or does Gibson make bass guitars?


August 31st, 2011
9:22 am

Bob, you do not mention the origins of the relevant portions of the LACEY ACT being used against Gibson. Seems a Congressman from Oregon was pressured by the lumber worker unions in the NW US who were not happy with the competition from overseas lumber producers.

Bottom-line: this case against Gibson is about the oppressive steps the democrats have taken/will take to accommodate the bullying oppression of the unions…all in the name of protecting the (union) workers (…and the cash flow to the coffers of the democrat party).


August 31st, 2011
9:38 am

Here is the problem. If you look at how the government treats Boeing after you read what I post you will see this isn’t a far stretch to think they are doing the same to Gibson. I also play a guitar so this hits close to home as they may come after personal guitars soon enough…..

Gibson is the only guitar company targeted by the Obama DOJ under the
Lacey Act.

Tennessee is a right-to-work state.

Fender, Taylor, Rickenbacker, Danelectro, Carvin, MusicMan, and ESP
are in California;
Spector is in New York;
Martin is in Pennsylvania;
Guild, Ovation, and Hamer are in Connecticut;
Alvarez is in Missouri;
B.C. Rich is in Kentucky;
Heritage is in Michigan;
Washburn is in Illinois.

All are forced-union states.

Peavey is another guitar and electronics company, located in the
right-to-work state of Mississippi.

Since 2009, Peavey has been the target of multiple lawsuits filed by
a competitor, MUSIC Group, which alleges that Peavy products fail to
meet federal safety and emissions standards.


August 31st, 2011
9:39 am

Enter your comments here


August 31st, 2011
9:42 am

I wonder what guitarist like slash or Eric Clayton have to say about the raids. Don’t they own Gibson guitars? It would be great if liberal musicians would make a stand!


August 31st, 2011
9:46 am

Enter your comments here What do the pickle heads like Bruce Springstein, Mellisa Ethridge and Nataile Manes have to say about this? They always know so much about everything else.


August 31st, 2011
9:56 am

Query: why are we enforcing another countrys laws that requires raw material be manufactured(finished) before being shipped to the U.S. Seems to me companies have to ship jobs overseas befgore moving the product to the U.S.. This law has to go, period.


August 31st, 2011
10:00 am

When US guitars are outlawed, only outlaws will have US guitars.

Stan Poff

August 31st, 2011
10:05 am

Wasting Taxpayer’s money with their bureaucratic bull crap! We’ll vote these useless people out of the government in 2012 and stop Obummer’s liberal agenda of destroying jobs and running companies overseas! Good Luck in Your fight!


August 31st, 2011
10:06 am

If you watch the news… well you will never see any of the BS carried out by the DOJ, DEA, FDA, etc. But it is happening every day all across this Nation. Want to see it stopped?
The entire monster will dry-up and blow away in 60 days if just 50% of the taxpayers stopped paying the federal gov.


August 31st, 2011
10:22 am


Vote Ron Paul to Save Us All.

[...] exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess <political hysteria>…ands%E2%80%9D/ Better safe than sorry. I'm keepin' mah baby…. __________________ Check my music on [...]

Grand Sport

August 31st, 2011
10:30 am

This is sad. An America icon attacked by America. Something here is very wrong. The government doesn’t feel “American” anymore. This is not America. This is not American. It is no wonder that we are currently in our present state: In the gutter. For God’s sake, these people make musical instruments that enrich the lives of many people. This is a company that has contributed to the history of rock music in ways that are not even possible to measure. Serious moments of our lives are documented by pieces of music created on a Gibson guitar. I would be seriously pissed off if some Feds came into my company and did this. This is wrong.


August 31st, 2011
10:35 am

It happened under the Obama Administration because BHO plays a Strat.. How rude is that??

Seriously, it is a shame and a Sham.. But let’s give guns to Drug Lords and see if we can track em down after they kill US Citizens. Nice.. Gov’t Gone Wild!!


August 31st, 2011
10:46 am

I say the Republicans in the House should start an investigation. I know Obama is behind this. Maybe we could spend millions of $$ to find the truth. This Gibson guitar guy is a Republican donor and the Martin guitar guy (who don’t get harassed) gives to the Democrats. It all smells. I think we should turn to Bob to head the congressional inquiry. He’s really good at that. No doubt, we’ll have Obama impeached before the next election.


August 31st, 2011
11:05 am

Gibson already makes guitars in China, but “real” players won’t buy imports. Gibson has used illegal woods in the past because of consumer demand and money, this is a fact. They know the rules and the system. Martin guitars would have the same type of problems/issues — are they better documented ? Anyway you look at it, there will be due process so don’t let Bob incite you. If Gibson is wronged, they will be righted.


August 31st, 2011
11:16 am

After the last Rosewood tree is cut down, what will Gibson use then?

The Snark

August 31st, 2011
11:19 am

So, Bob, I guess your point is that laws should not be enforced if you think they’re silly? Or, they should be enforced, but not against “well-known American guitar manufacturers”? Or, they should not be enforced if the government bureaucrats have something better to do?

You’re very handy with perjorative comments, Bob, but I don’t see any point in your diatribes except “gummint bad.” Maybe you’d be happier in some land where there is little or no government to interfere with your precious notion of freedom.

Say, Somalia.


August 31st, 2011
11:22 am

“Wasting Taxpayer’s money with their bureaucratic bull crap! We’ll vote these useless people out of the government in 2012 and stop Obummer’s liberal agenda of destroying jobs and running companies overseas! Good Luck in Your fight!”

This is a law that was in place well before Obama took office. It may be an unjust law, but I’m not sure how one can criticize the administration for enforcing laws that are already in place. In Bob’s last blog, he talked about how Obama was undermining immigration laws and it wasn’t right to do that. So is he now arguing they shouldn’t follow this law?


August 31st, 2011
11:27 am

Bob Barr is…..WRONG!!!! America was founded by a handful of air-guitar masters, they din’t need no stinking wood, and neither do we.

Insert emoticon of guy playing the air guitar lead to “Stairway to Heaven”, the greatest air guitar lead ever written.

Dave Hicok

August 31st, 2011
11:28 am

Try & take my guitar & i’ll El Kobong you right into 2012!


August 31st, 2011
11:29 am

Oh, come on. Heavily armed agents at a Gibson factory? Really?

Fender friend of Gibson

August 31st, 2011
11:34 am

i visited the gibson factory, impressive, really enjoyed it, and am thankful for them. they’re not out to hurt anyone they are our friends.

my guitars are more valuable and dangerous than my guns. they’re my ’spiritual’ weapons thats why they are known as ‘axes’. designed to cut down, like trees. to me they’re spiritual weapons of this world’s warfare. they can be used to do spiritual surgery on a soul. none of these battles we fight can be ’seen’… all the root of todays issues are in the spiritual realm, the ‘unseen’ deep within souls.

i pray that the evil in peoples soul is eradicated. i pray that souls that have money in excess that use it for evil to oppress and destroy other souls, that it (excess cash)turn out to be a curse to them. many souls use excess money for good. i’ll never see any of that what is mine, that which i’ve paid into social security for years. probably being used by a politicial soul to solicit the soul of a hooker or whore. the banks now want more fees. i myself am unemployed and getting squeezed. but it is working out for good because now i have more of my God and am experiencing a miraculous provision of making it day by day… by faith. didn’t know it before but, i’ve learned that peace within my soul is priceless, more valuable than money. this world we exist in seems to make no sense (like this action in this article), neither does faith make sense to me, but it works! i now understand peace within my soul despite the external circumstances. only God can do that. not missing a beat literally and figuratively. am also able to spend more time ’shedding’, studying my axes, learning it, applying it. in the old testament, the musicians went out before the army before battle. they needed the music to pump them up for the battle.

God will prove to be faithful, it is written, the battle has been already won.

the Doobies sang “what the people need is a way to make them smile, it ain’t so hard to do if you know how, gotta get a message, get it on through”

do you hear the music? feels like funk!



August 31st, 2011
12:06 pm

I’m a little confused by the self-righteous response some of you are giving here. Was Gibson importing illegal wood? If so, then they deserve to be busted. Anyone with a non-antique guitar made of rare or endangered wood should be ashamed of themselves. If, as some have said, Gibson is innocent, then I’ll shut up!

G. Baecher

August 31st, 2011
12:09 pm

I’m a Gibson owner and I am disgusted with the company’s flagrant violation — possibly criminal violation — of US and international law regarding protection of tropical rain forests. I would also add, God-given laws. These laws protect all of us, even T-Party’ers. Both Taylor Guitars and CF Martin play by the rules and are good corporate citizens. They are American companies run by their founders. The same cannot be said of the Harvard-MBAs who run Gibson. I say, boycott Gibson and save America.


August 31st, 2011
12:11 pm

Henry, you should arm all your employees, so the next time the Federal Criminals decide to step foot on your plant’s property, shoot to kill. F*ck them. We have guns too. Cokcy motherf*ckers. DEA and FBI agents bleed like everyone else.

Jimi Hendrix

August 31st, 2011
12:22 pm

You can’t hear Jimi…excuse me while I kiss the sky!


August 31st, 2011
12:26 pm

G. Baecher – So do you work for Martin, the DOJ, the democratic party or what. There is a thing called due process in this country and our government is violating that law. They are the criminals, not Gibson. Gibson deserves everyone’s support and a purchase if financially possible.

Here’s some info on one of their competitors – Big Democratic party supporter – big surprise:

America has become a police state.


August 31st, 2011
12:33 pm

MrLiberty, Gibson will have it’s day in court so I’m failing to see how the gov’t isn’t following due process. And it’s a stretch to call this political just because one Gibson competitor (who by the way does not even make electric guitars, only acoustic), supports the democratic party.


August 31st, 2011
12:59 pm

As a bass player (and I think Gibson Basses, suck!!)all I can say is… How much did they spend on this tidbit of criminal behavior? I remember back in the day one of my makers was Alembic. THey specialized in African Teakwood Basses (which I’m sure was illegal as heck) with pearl inlays. Nice axe, obscenely expensive. Like having a real Cuban cigar. But, at the end of the day, who frikkin’ cares??!!

This is not a political fight, this is just a stupid fight…

Valentine Wiggin

August 31st, 2011
1:02 pm

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


August 31st, 2011
1:06 pm

The ones that are easily incited are easliy misled….look at the GOP party.


August 31st, 2011
1:14 pm

Obama and his justice department are leading the way in selectively enforcing the law. They are clearly saying that they have no intention of enforcing immiagration law ( while arguing in Federal court that only the feds can enforce the law) while pursuing other silly pursuits. Holder is chasing the “criminals” he wants to and disregarding the ones he thinks might be on his side.


August 31st, 2011
1:15 pm

With the arrest of kids over lemonade stands, and adults with gardens, and the open border, and Fast and Furious, I agree…. we ARE in a police state. Oh and don’t let me forget Rawsome foods and THEIR swat raid….
As for Gibson having their day in court, their first battle has been put on hold by the government.
I have no faith in either Repub. or Dem. They’re ALL sending us down the road, while they and theirs get rich beyond belief off our taxes.


August 31st, 2011
1:41 pm

I believe in freedom and limited government, too. But in this country, they both died in 1865 when the federal government became omnipotent.


August 31st, 2011
1:47 pm

my guitars are more valuable than my guns. they can do more damage than guns too being ‘axes’. i use my axes to cut down and build up.

we’re battling spiritual entities that reside in souls of people. we can’t see these from our perspective. there is ever increasing activity of evil in the souls of people. that is the root of this topic and all prevailing nonsense these days. many souls of rich are using money for evil to oppress and destroy souls. many souls of rich do much good also. my prayer is that all evil is eradicated in the souls of people. the decisions that are made like this are product of evil residing in the soul, making life deplorable, unthinkable causing deteorioration, destruction and misery.

was thinking how i’ll never receive my social secuity despite the contributions made over the years. but some political soul is probably taking my money to solicit the soul of a hooker or whore. the banks evil desire to take more via way of ‘fees’ is never enough, evidence of the greed deep within somebodys soul.

i am unemployed but experencing more of God than ever. everything else is being squeezed out. it is working out for good. peace of mind deep within the soul is more valuable than any dollar figure. the bible says God is going to turn this evil around. he has won this battle, the evil in the soul will turn out to be a snare for many.

in the old testament, the musicians went out before the soldiers before the battle began. the music pumped up Gods people and inspired the army, then miraculously, God showed up and fought and won the fight. God has not changed.

i make it by faith every day and we are miracuously provided for. i also have time to do some serious ’shedding’ in order to continue to fight good fight of faith and ‘go out in front of the army’ with my guitars. God promised, it is written and it is true, it is his battle and it has been won.

the Doobies sang, “what the people need is a way to make them smile, it ain’t so hard to do if you know how, gotta get a message, get it on through”

do you hear the music? feels like funk! keep on keeping to our friends at Gibson!



August 31st, 2011
1:47 pm

To Nate:

You hit the nail on the head! The entire fiasco is nothing less than intimidation and payback to TN for being a right to work state (and for being entirely too conservative!)

Harrassment, lies, confiscation and cover-up is what we have come to expect from a Justice DEPT gone wild. I wouldn’t blame Juszkiewicz if they were to move the company out of the US.

This is Obama’s idea of being business friendly? He says creating jobs is the first thing he thinks about at night and the first thing he thinks about in the morning. If this is a sample of his thinking, it reflects more how to sabatage business and how to bring this limping economy to its knees.

Lord help us!