CITES - What every bass player should know

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Turnaround, Apr 24, 2014.

  1. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    This topic has arisen in different threads, but I thought it deserved a thread of its own, since it is so important to musical instrument makers and owners alike.

    CITES is the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species. The legislation from it is having a profound effect on instrument makers since it restricts their ability to source and use woods that are classified as "endangered". CITES is used to restrict the import and export of these endangered species - i.e. it legally prevents such species from crossing international boundaries.

    But the problem is not just with manufacturers. If you own an instrument that has any part made from any of the species listed in CITES, and you cross an international boundary, your instrument may be seized. If you live outside the US and need service to your Martin guitar (they have a lifetime warranty to the original owner), should you send your instrument to Martin it will likely be confiscated at the border if it has any Brazilian rosewood.

    There are a number of cited species used by instrument makers including some Cocobolo, a number of Rosewoods, Grenadillo, some Mahoganies, same Sandalwoods, some Yews an numerous others.

    When crossing the border, your instrument may be examined and if any of the woods seem to be a designated species, the instrument will likely be seized. Part of the problem is that it's not always easy to identify a designated species from one that is not named in CITES. Cocobolo is a good example of such a wood. Cocobolo from Panama is restricted, but that from Mexico is not. They look almost identical. The only way to tell for sure is in a testing laboratory, and to do the testing a sample of the wood must be taken.

    Recently some instruments were shipped to a retailer in Canada from a manufacturer in California. The top wood on these basses was Cocobolo, from Mexico - not from Panama. In order to ensure the instruments would not be confiscated at the border, the manufacturer had to prove to the authorities in the USA that Cocobolo was sourced from Mexico, and had to pay for US certification. The certificates for each instrument had to be include in the shipment. Despite that, the instruments were held at the Canadian border - because the included documentation were photocopies. The shipper had held the originals and sent the copies. Not good enough.

    As far as I know there is no mechanism for having your instrument officially certified free of designated species under CITES. The instruments in the case above now have certification, but that's only because the manufacturer was able to prove the source of the materials. If you don't already have such certification from the manufacturer you may find it difficult to get. Even then it may not satisfy the officials at the border.

    Here's a link to the USDA CITES Timber Species Manual. Perhaps it should be required reading for anyone who owns an instrument.

    Please add any information you have to this thread.
  2. lpdeluxe

    lpdeluxe Still rockin'

    Nov 22, 2004
    Deep E Texas
    Ivory and tortoise shell are also on the CITES list, although these materials are more commonly found on vintage acoustic instruments. Fretboard Journal did an article on CITES a few years ago and noted that an instrument made with any of the woods or materials listed will be confiscated as contraband, and the only recourse is if the owner can prove (for example) that the ivory is from fossil sources.
  3. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    This should probably be a sticky on this forum. Heaven forbid one of our TB brothers/sisters is going to a gig from the US into Canada and has the US border folks confiscate a pre-CBS Fender coming home from the gig. I wonder what on earth they even do with confiscated instruments. I can't think of a single destiny for such instruments that makes any sense at all, other than for bullying/harassment purposes.

    Anyhow, here are a few more key links. You can get single issue documents to cover your instruments for travel in and out of the US. Does not look like any similar doc exists for international use; so, no idea how that works. Potential issues there.

    US Government Cites-Musical Instruments (links under the "Personal Pets" heading LOL):

    US Single documentation for an instrument permit application:

    Wikipedia page on CITES, in general:
  4. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    The real test of this whole thing will be how hard the permitting is and how the documentation is honored in light of the obviously flawed documentation system.

    I can't think of a single logical argument for confiscating instruments from musicians that are played by the musician as contraband. That is the definition of stupidity and abuse of power. Hopefully, that is extremely infrequent. Regulation of commercial builders is a whole different situation. IMO
  5. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    I'll also add that the thing that makes me curious is how they will handle instruments which the player knows do not contain endangered species, but that Fish and Wildlife official decides would look pretty nice in their practice room at home? For example, I have a Tobias bass with a goncalo alves top on it. Who has burden of proof if the F&W official claims it is Brazilian Rosewood? Would the player have to have some kind of documentation even if there are no endangered species, just to protect the instrument?

    Maybe sounds stupid, but I used to go duck hunting on a semi frequent basis with my father in Canada, and was witness to amazing scenes of stupidity on the part of what I can only call bully minded F&W officials re-entering the US. Stupidity is out there. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
  6. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru..........

    Apr 11, 2006
    There is a lot I could say about this but as they are political in nature I can't. All I will say is that this is not a good time to be a traveling gigging musician.
  7. Geeeez, I might be in hot water on this.

    PRS #11 is all Honduras Mahogany with a Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard.

    Anyone know if they "grandfather" any older instruments - based on it being built in 1977-8?

    If not , it looks like it will stay stateside forever.

  8. How are any of the border agents to know the species of the wood on a given instrument?
  9. bass_case

    bass_case Maintain low tones. Supporting Member

    Oct 23, 2013
    Miami, FL
    When did Fender switch from Brazilian to Indian rosewood? I heard it was a gradual process starting in the late 60s, so if have a 71 rosewood fretless P neck it could be either one?

    Many of these trees are common in S. Florida, mahogany is planted by the state along roads.
    PhillipHolbrook and LUCE like this.
  10. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    They will make a judgement and if they get it wrong it's up to you to prove they've made a mistake.

    Good luck with that.
  11. FretNoMore

    FretNoMore * Cooking with GAS *

    Jan 25, 2002
    The frozen north
    Maybe you could get a certificate from the builder, stating what woods were used. Not that I think it's foolproof if you run across a fool with powers.
    PhillipHolbrook likes this.
  12. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    I would think that this is where a decent "manufacturer's organization" (NAMM?) would use some of their revenues to hire a team of lawyers to get on the case and file some motion to grandfather in instruments built before a certain date. Preposterous to have a problem with a twenty-five year old existing instrument (where the wood is ALREADY in it's final use) that was built before those laws were even in existence.

    That's NOT protecting ANYTHING, it's just an abuse of power.
    Dunyet, Ekulati, Rezdog and 28 others like this.
  13. The challenge is that it's very hard to date instruments (especially custom builds, one-offs, or vintage instruments). Serial numbers can be fudged, and you can't carbon date new wood accurately enough to know when it was cut down.
  14. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru..........

    Apr 11, 2006
    A builder could have a stash of BR planks that were milled 100 years ago (let's say) but if an instrument were built today with it it would be illegal for that instrument to cross borders.
    Bobro and Count Bassie like this.
  15. nashman


    Feb 11, 2011
    I can understand such restrictions for raw product or any new instruments (and other products) manufactured after a specific date - but for an instrument that was built years before the legislation took effect? Are fewer endangered species going to be impacted by taking a finished product cross border? It's OK to own an instrument with such woods - but you can't cross a border with it? I admittedly didn't read the (324 page) manual - is the legislation "global"?
    Ted Mowery likes this.
  16. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    Exactly correct. In fact I bought a stack of the last legal black ebony fingerboards from a luthier supply before they were made illegal. I have since done two fretless conversions with them. The point is that even though I have the bill of sale somewhere (sigh) even that won't do it. Because I'd have to prove that the supplier actually wasn't selling illegal wood. (Remember the SWAT invasion of Gibson) Basically impossible to do. So I guess my fretless basses are now property of Obama. I hope he plays fretless SX.
  17. TheAnalogKid

    TheAnalogKid Yer Doin' GREAT!!!!

    Dec 7, 2011
    Tucson, AZ
    And this is why the rest of the world laughs at us: Trying to solve non-existent first-world problems like whether or not a particular instrument wood is endangered without any objective methods of determination. I wonder if the EU, Asia or Australia is as chin-deep in regulatory muck as we are getting? Many cities in the U.S. and developing nations are using woods and other materials to build structures that go largely unoccupied or underutilized, ergo creating a new real estate bubble (Google: China ghost towns), but we're worried about endangered wood used in a proportionately microscopic quantity for instruments? GTFO!! I believe (my opinion only) that this may be a cynical ploy to put musicians and luthiers out of business under the guise of "conservation".

    And for the record: I do not support deforestation, nor the harvesting (poaching) of Ivory. That's right out!
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2014
  18. rockchalkbass


    Sep 11, 2012
    I think you missed the aspect of this being an international treaty law. This is a potential issue crossing most developed world borders - not just USA borders.
    reddog, Mvilmany, Artman and 4 others like this.
  19. Gab124

    Gab124 The path is greater than the destination

    Dec 30, 2006
    I never think that the way we try to enforce these kind of laws make sense, at all really, it is very illogical sometimes; but it is very important to manage our endangered species throughout the entire world. I wish it could be done in a way that protects the innocent and those that own historic instruments, but with the black market and the way people lie and cheat it is very hard to manage these things in a way that does not affect the innocent while still protecting a very fragile environment. In a perfect world the builders would never have a way to get ahold of products/materials they should not have, but that is unfortunately not the case. A very sticky situation, but as much as I love music I love our natural word more and endangered species need protection.
    Ted Mowery, Dricoman, reddog and 2 others like this.
  20. TheAnalogKid

    TheAnalogKid Yer Doin' GREAT!!!!

    Dec 7, 2011
    Tucson, AZ
    I did catch that; I was being somewhat facetious in my last post. The fact remains, and we should all have a sense of proportion, is that outright banning the use of so-called endangered timber should be around the 10-20 millionths place on our list of problems with which we are coping in the world! I guess I'm old-school, and think that we should be prudent stewards of our natural bounties, such as woods of all me crazy! I tend to think that whatever foreign government bureaucrats signed onto this also should have their heads examined, along with ours! Christ, Almighty!
    Ted Mowery, Rubber5oul and StayLow like this.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

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