Is Michelle Obama strumming along with Gibson Guitar?

October 13, 2011

It’s not often that a U.S. first lady’s gift makes news — years after the fact — but Michelle Obama’s 2009 present to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has sparked some comment among free trade boosters and guitar pickers. The gift in question: a Gibson Hummingbird guitar.

Gibson Guitar Corp. has been making some news of its own this week, which is why those in Washington with long memories recalled the gift to the music-loving French first lady. Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz¬†was in town to raise awareness about a problem he has with a long-standing U.S. law aimed at curbing illegal trafficking in tropical hardwoods, among other materials. Federal agents raided two of his Tennessee factories and confiscated more than $1 million worth of rosewood, ebony and finished guitars. No charges have been filed but Gibson’s chief says he is being investigated for possible violation of the Lacey Act of 1900. Read more about that here.

At a lunch with reporters and others, Juszkiewicz said he favors using sustainably harvested wood for Gibson instruments, and because guitars need such a small amount of tropical hardwoods for their fingerboards — the wooden top of the guitar’s neck — that’s well within the realm of possibility. But he says a 2008 amendment to the act is more protectionist than environmentally friendly. And he says the seizure of the materials his company needs to make the instruments makes it harder for Gibson’s hundreds of U.S. employees. The Justice Department has refused to comment on the ongoing litigation.

The 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act passed during the Bush administration with bipartisan support, but still hackles were raised soon after the latest raids at the end of August.

About Michelle Obama’s gift to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy: the Hummingbird model features a rosewood fingerboard “with¬†rolled edges for an extremely comfortable in-the-hand feel,” according to the company’s website. And as the site says, “It all starts with the wood.”

But it may not end there. Juszkiewicz hopes to gather some momentum to modify the Lacey Act, and has been talking with members of Congress, whom he says have been largely supportive.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (Carla Bruni-Sarkozy performs at The Mandela Day concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York July 18, 2009)

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson Guitar Corp. CEO, Chairman unveils the ‘Gibson Firebird X’ at a news conference in New York, October 28, 2010)


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I’m sure there are no more pressing problems more serious than the small amount of wood that one of the best American guitar companies use for their headboard. You can kill people by deregulating clean air, but use a little bit of wood that doesn’t meet import standards on a guitar and you never hear the end of it. As far as I know Gibson is as American as apple pie.

Posted by aota | Report as abusive

The right is always banging their pots and pans about something. Every week a new “scandal” appears on the website of the Drudge Report and slides down the right wing news ladder. It’s just how they roll.

Posted by GetpIaning | Report as abusive

Move along people, nothing to see here. There are MILLIONS of Gibsons out there with rosewood or ebony fingerboards. The First lady gave one as a gift a while back? Oh, Yawn. There is rosewood and there is rosewood, it is sourced from several areas on the planet and most of it is perfectly legal. The Justice Dept needs to find some real criminals (for a change) and all you right wing nut jobs a new whipping girl

Posted by PartTimer51 | Report as abusive

This reminds me of another probably exaggerated reaction by the U.S. administration, on the basis of fair principles. Container in New York harbor were stopped by the customs because they contained dolls that were sexually identified. You could see it was a newborn girl or a boy. It took the proportions of a state matter. We must keep the sense of proportions and not feel guilty to listen to such or such guitar, if the music is good.

Posted by MyriamPotteur | Report as abusive