TN’s Gibson Guitar creates “Government Series” with disputed wood


By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Anybody who plays Gibson Guitar’s newest product will need at four of their fingers to play it — but they might extend that remaining finger, specifically that third digit, toward the federal government.

This, at least, is the gesture the Tennessee-based company is seemingly returning to the same federal agents who raided its facilities three years ago, reportedly SWAT-style, over what some say was its conservative politics.

As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, federal agents, under the auspices of the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior, raided Gibson’s offices in Nashville and Memphis in 2011.

They said Gibson broke the law by violating the 100-year-old Lacey Act, which regulates the importation of exotic wood from Africa and India.

JUSKIEWICZ: His Gibson Guitar was raided by federal agents investigating imported wood. Republicans believe the visit was politically motivated.

Gibson, wishing to avoid a lengthy trial, later settled with the government and agreed to pay a $300,000 fine and contribute $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Now Gibson has announced it has used that wood, since returned after the settlement, to create a new “Government Series” Les Paul model guitar.

The guitars have a reported price tag of $1,099 each.

Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz told Tennessee Watchdog in an e-mail that the company is selling its second run of the guitars, which will exhaust the last of the wood the feds seized.

“The first limited run sold out almost immediately with a huge number of requests after that sold out,” Juszkiewicz said. “What was surprising is the number of players that purchased these instruments overseas, where the government action was not widely known.”

As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, Juszkiewicz is a Republican who donates heavily to party candidates, including Mike Huckabee.

His competitor, Christian Martin, CEO of the Pennsylvania-based Martin Guitar, donates heavily to Democrats, including Barack Obama.

Gibson Guitar Headquarters, Nashville, Tenn.

Martin, like Juszkiewicz, imports the same type of exotic wood to manufacture guitars — yet federal agents never touched Martin’s business.

Chris Tollefson, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services under the Department of the Interior, told Tennessee Watchdog last year that politics were not a factor in the raid.

“We did not have any information regarding Martin or any other musical instrument manufacturer at the time,” Tollefson said, adding he considers the matter closed after the government’s settlement with Gibson.

Martin Guitar spokesman Joe DePlasco said last year that his company imports the exotic wood legally. He wouldn’t answer any other questions.

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