The Gibson factory that crafts the ES335, often known as B.B. King’s cherished “Lucille”, has been raided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. At the same time, the Gibson plant in Nashville, which makes the beloved Les Pauls, was also raided. Agents carrying automatic weapons with U-Hauls in-tow took inventory and carried out pallets, guitars, and computers in the morning raid. While authorities did not release the reason for the search and seizure, they did acknowledge that it was related to a 2009 raid in which they claimed Gibson was importing rare and illegal ebony wood from endangered and protected forests in Madagascar. A palette of wood and several guitars were confiscated from Gibson’s Nashville plant during that raid.
Gibson released a statement claiming that the wood was from a certified supplier from India, and accused the feds of over-reaching.
The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.
Gibson went on to point out that nearly two years later, not only have no charges been filed stemming from the 2009 case, but none of their guitars or wood has been returned.
Some of the wood in question is used for fretboards on some models of Gibson guitars, but it can potentially come from a small strip of Madagascar, located off the coast of Africa, that a very rare endangered species of Lemur inhabits. If the federal authorities do manage to bring a case against Gibson, it can mean very hefty fines and even possible criminal charges and jail time for it’s executives.