Q&A with Gibson’s Henry Juszkiewicz: On the Record
When Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz spoke with us about our guitar technology coverstory (page 32), we took the opportunity to ask him for an update on Gibson’s struggles with the federal government’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Since 2009, the department has sent in armed agents twice to remove products they say contained wood illegally cut and shipped from Madagascar. In addition to NAMM and other members of the industry standing on the side of Gibson, Juszkiewicz personally become something of a celebrity, doing scores of interviews and even speaking at a Nashville Tea Party Rally.
Remarkably candid, he gave MMR an exclusive update.
MMR: So where is Gibson today in relation to the government raids on the factory?
Henry Juszkiewicz: One, there is of course our individual problem [of the raid]. That’s just a Gibson issue, and there are going to be things we have to resolve …
The second issue is more exciting in that I’ve taken the bull by the horns to organize an effort to actually to improve the Lacey Act, to make it so it leads to a more productive and sustainable future, which, in the end, is what our industry needs, frankly. If you’re against a strong Lacey Act, you’re against our industry.
MMR: What kind of things are you involved with?
HJ: We’re trying to work within the political process, but politicians aren’t good at understanding “win/win.” If our industry doesn’t get involved with a new version of this law, and a few points aren’t thought through, it’s going to be bad. With laws, there can be unintended consequences. So now Gibson is squarely in the political process, working with congress, senators, political regimes to improve the situation. I can’t really talk about it beyond that right now… but I can say there is a very bipartisan sensitivity and will to make this better, to make this work and improve it. Not to defeat the law as sometimes quoted – that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
MMR: In other reports, you’ve been quoted as feeling that Gibson has been singled out.
HJ: We have been singled out. Nobody else has been harmed by this. Thousands of dollars worth of products taken… I don’t know of any [other guitar company]… so, factually, we’ve been singled out. We’re not the only one under investigation, but we are the only company attacked and injured in a very aggressive fashion and that’s a fact.
MMR: So many other guitar companies – any ideas of why Gibson?
HJ: The feds aren’t talking. I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s justified. I don’t know what their motivation is… honestly, I’m totally confused.
MMR: When this first broke, there was lots of talk about scenarios where an individual player taking a guitar into another country or that guitar dealer here buying a 1948 acoustic from someone in, say, Germany – that in both those cases their guitar would be confiscated and they would suffer under the law. Do you know of any instances of that actually happening?
HJ: The law is very clear and it puts everybody at risk. To comply with the law, almost no guitar can cross a border. That’s according to the letter of the law, which of course would virtually shut down commerce because that applies to anything with wood in it.
Now the government has come out and said they aren’t going to enforce that part of the law. Well, okay. So why would you pass a law you’re not going to enforce? They could do some bad things for some reasons, but the justice department has said they are not going to mess with consumers.
MMR: So no individual dealing with a single guitar has been arrested or fined?
HJ: They haven’t, though they’ve scared a lot of people. I have heard of a couple of instances, though not with a guitar, but other musical instruments. Just two or three cases of enforcement [of Lacey] and not severe, but the facts are that, according to the law, you have to know every species of wood in your guitar, know where it came from, and be able to document it. Who is going to do that for a 1940s guitar? It’s not possible.
MMR: If the law were enforced in this manner, what would be the consequences?
HJ: There’d be large fines. Up to $100,000. That’s factual, what the law says. Now in my view that’s baloney and the law should be changed because aspects like this don’t accomplish anything. It only puts consumers at risk, and puts Congress at risk. Again, if the government isn’t going to enforce the law, then why have it?
MMR: When do you see the Gibson case wrapping up, and how do you see it wrapping up?
HJ: This is the government. They don’t move fast. I don’t expect a quick response.
We’ve been in this battle for over two years now and no charges have been filed. But if I was to project, I think there will be a resolution in less than a year. The way I’m reading the tea leaves, there are some developments that argue for a settlement-type of resolution, but that’s by no means guaranteed.
But I believe in the end, what we’re going through will be a great thing for conservation and our industry.