What does a company do when it retrieves government-confiscated building materials? If that company is Gibson Guitar, it makes guitars from it.
Late last year, the 120-year-old Nashville, Tenn., music company released a limited series of Les Paul, Explorer, SG and Flying V six-string guitars with fingerboards made from wood that federal agents had seized in raids of the company’s own factories.
The company produced 750 instruments from that first batch, which quickly sold out. Responding to continued demand, Gibson this year released about 1,000 more Government Series guitars, which sold out “in minutes,” according to Chief Executive Henry Juszkiewicz.
“We kept getting calls, and we had wood left over,” said Juszkiewicz, 60.
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Those who still want to get their hands on a Government Series Gibson guitar might have to resort to eBay, though. The company is out of reclaimed wood.
Authorities raided Gibson’s Tennessee factories in 2011, taking ebony and rosewood they suspected were illegally imported from India.
They were acting to enforce the Lacey Act, passed more than a century ago to stop illegal trade in wildlife and amended in 2008 to ban illegally logged woods.
Juszkiewicz’s plight became a cause of Republican politicians, conservative commentators, libertarians and tea-party activists, who saw the government’s move as an example of overregulation.
It was the second time Gibson was targeted on suspicion of the offense. Agents came in 2009 seeking ebony imported from Madagascar.
There were no charges in either case, and the company and the Department of Justice settled in 2012.
But Juszkiewicz said the dispute cost the company about $5 million.
When most of the wood was returned, the company decided to put out the guitars made with the seized material. The instruments feature a “vintage-gloss Government Tan” finish, black hardware, the “Government Series” logo and a note of appreciation signed by Juszkiewicz. The Les Pauls started at $1,099.
He maintains that the release of the special guitars was not a pointed statement at the government but rather a celebration of the dispute’s end. “We wanted to use this wood, which was symbolic in my eyes,” he said.