CITES feature on Gibson

Rosewood has a long history in guitar making. With its appealing dark-brown hue that occasionally reveals a subtly exotic grain. Rosewood, coupled with the way it can enhance sonic complexity in a guitar’s tone, has come to evoke quality and tradition for players who have experienced it in the fretboards of their electric guitars and the backs and sides of some high-end acoustic guitars.

As many will know, however, trade in all forms of rosewood, as well as some other endangered tonewoods, has recently become far more restricted. While in actuality these increased restrictions might not affect the majority of end users in the slightest, it has certainly sent ripples of concern through the guitar community. Let’s take a look at how these new restrictions on rosewood and other listed woods will impact you as a Gibson player.

Brazilian Gets Company

Anyone who has bought and sold vintage guitars knows that Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) is both highly prized and has been difficult to obtain since the late 1960s. Even if you haven’t been active in that market, chances are you’re aware of the severe international trade restrictions governing the import and export of Brazilian rosewood, established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES for short). Most American guitar manufacturers stopped using Brazilian rosewood in 1969 when supplies became extremely scarce; CITES restrictions were placed on this genus in 1992, and it’s currently on the Convention’s most restricted list of endangered flora and fauna, known as “Appendix I”).

In September and October of 2016, however, this international institution overseeing the protection of endangered plants and animals voted to place all species of rosewood (including both the genus Dalbergia and Pterocarpus erinaceus, also known as African rosewood). On January 2, 2017 three species of bubinga came under the somewhat lesser, but still considerable, protections of Appendix II. What this listing intends to recognize—as per information supplied on the CITES website—is that, while Appendix II species are not necessarily in immediate danger of extinction, their trade should be monitored and controlled in order to avoid necessitating stricter protections in the future, such as moving them to Appendix I alongside Brazilian rosewood.

As a side note, while we players know these tonewoods primarily from their use in our guitars, we should be aware that the new CITES restrictions weren’t established to inflict some kind of penalty on the music community. Although rosewood has long been important to many types of guitar making, it has been used in far greater quantities in furniture making and has long been a highly valued component of expensive furniture, particularly in China, a trade that has seen greatly increased demand in recent years as the country has become more prosperous.

CITES feature on Gibson

What do CITES Restrictions Mean for Me?

The new international restrictions mean that any rosewood or bubinga shipped internationally for commercial use will need to be accompanied by the appropriate export/import certificate. The key phrase here for guitarists is “commercial use.” The whole thing still requires further explaining—see below—but that tells us that many of the fears stirred up when these CITES changes were first announced are unfounded. Beyond that, though, this considerable tightening of the international trade in rosewood might have major implications on how any guitar-maker aspiring to international sales can use this popular tonewood.

The foremost concerns for guitarists are whether their own instruments might now be considered “contraband” and whether they’ll need special documentation in order to travel with any guitar that includes rosewood parts.

According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, most players don’t have much to worry about. The USFWS told that non-commercial items of less than 10 kg (22 lbs), “including gifts, items not intended for sale that are carried in personal baggage or as part of a household move, and items that are personally owned and shipped to oneself” are exempt from restrictions. Clearly, those exemptions will cover most guitars you might travel with. Guitars that do not meet the requirements of this exemption “must be accompanied by CITES documents when traded internationally.” Note that even such restrictions are only relevant when items are exported or imported across trade borders. Shipping within the United States, for example, or within the borders of the European Union should not require a CITES certification.

If you’re a touring guitarist or just traveling with a guitar for your own pleasure, that’s clearly good news and alleviates the fear of having guitars taken by customs officials when you’re just carrying your instruments for private use.

If your guitar contains Brazilian rosewood, on the other hand, you will need formal documentation to carry it across international borders. In 2013 the Parties to the CITES devised an “instrument passport” of sorts that can be used for multiple border crossings with any instrument carrying Brazilian rosewood that was incorporated into it prior to 1975. Applications for these forms—and a lot more information—can be found on the appropriate page of the USFWS web site, where you’ll also find applications for one-time border crossings or import/export.

CITES feature on Gibson

Rosewood in Guitars for Commercial Export

Between the restrictions on importing stocks of rosewood and exporting guitars manufactured using rosewood parts, these new CITES restrictions do have more of an impact on the guitar trade. Any manufacturer, authorized dealer, or re-seller of pre-owned instruments that does business overseas will need to be aware of the required documentation.

If you’re a private seller intending to export a guitar out of the United States, you can apply for a CITES certificate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pay the required single-item fee of $100, and expect to receive the documentation necessary to get that guitar across international borders within 60 to 90 days. Dealers or private sellers who expect to do a lot of international trade can purchase a blanket three-year certification for $200 plus $5 per individual guitar shipped. In addition to this export documentation, however, some countries also require import documentation, so sellers will need to research the regulations on a country-by-country basis.

For the most part, though, CITES restrictions on standard species of rosewood shouldn’t affect the day-to-day guitarist in any significant way. If you plan on selling a guitar to a buyer overseas, you’ll need to pay close attention to the requirements and the correct forms available from the USFWS. But if you’re carrying it with you for personal use, there really should be no problem whatsoever.