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Fretting over Rosewood: The Impact of CITES on the Guitar Industry

by Adeel Ahmed | Aug 10, 2017
You might have heard something about new Rosewood laws, but what does this have to do with guitars and why should guitar manufacturers care?


Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Where there’s wood, there are...laws?

You might have heard something about new Rosewood laws, but what does this have to do with guitars and why should guitar manufacturers care?

Well, let’s take a look.

In January, 2017, the new CITES laws came into effect. CITES (or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement created between governments in order to prevent illegal trading of endangered species. You’ll notice the convention includes flora – which means there are certain species of trees that have been placed in the spotlight to prevent over-logging and destruction of ecosystems.

If you’re into Cocobolo, Rosewood or Bubinga on your guitars, you should probably go grab whatever’s still left on the shelves, because anything made of these species has become increasingly regulated in the past six months.

CITES originally acted in response to the voracious Rosewood furniture market in China, known as hongmu, and the threat the trade placed on the survival of many Rosewood species. Restrictions on more than 250 Dalbergia species were instituted – including raw materials and finished products.

Those participating in the international guitar trade may find these laws to have a serious impact on their business. In the US alone, guitar sales reached over $1 billion in 2016, a number to which Rosewoods and other exotic timbers have always made a major contribution, especially for high-end instruments.

Not only is the number of new guitars made from these woods rapidly decreasing, it has now become extremely time consuming to move or ship old ones between countries. Any product that’s made of a CITES categorized material needs export papers that define exactly where the timber came from and when it was harvested. If you want to export Rosewood products that were imported before the regulation, you’ll still need papers, albeit a different set potentially from a different agency. This is a worrying thought for anyone trying to sell their vintage guitar; finding the exact forest and tree from which a 1959 Stratocaster was created could end up being a monumental task.

Dear manufacturers

Your shipments will now require detailed documentation for each individual guitar. The certifications will also require time for review and approval, so get ready for longer wait times in the customs department and adjust your delivery dates to your distributors accordingly. Keep in mind, these laws aren’t just restricted to the type of wood guitars are made of; they also include the fancy mother-of-pearl fretboards or body inlays instruments might have. And in the future – potentially your ebony bridges and fretboards as well.

The guitar industry will inevitably adapt, but the transition won’t be an easy one. The continuing plunder of Rosewood for the furniture industry means the CITES regulations and trade limitations won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

Get your papers

If you’re in the US and want to sell your instrument internationally, apply for a re-export license from the US Fish and Wildlife Service here.

If you’re located in the UK, click here for the appropriate paperwork. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has more resources available here.

Everyone else, contact the appropriate service in your country. Check out the CITES website for more information about how to find your contact agency.

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* Cover image photo credit: Fender Guitars

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