Some time in November last year, I received this reply after making enquiries about a particular bass guitar from this store in Tokyo:

Who would’ve thought buying a guitar from an overseas vendor can be that troublesome. A couple of years back, I had heard about the clamping down on the import of guitar built with exotic woods, which include (what I’d consider) the ubiquitous rosewood, thanks to CITES[1], or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The clamping down isn’t an outright ban but the requirement of a vendor of namely guitars (in the context of my post) to declare the origin of the rosewood used in building the instrument. Shouldn’t be a problem if it was a one-off boutique make but imagine the thousands of MiM Fenders or even Asian-made Squiers that utilise rosewood on their respective fingerboards. So much so, builders like Fender have used alternatives like pau ferro or ebony. I do find that Japanese makes eg ESP or even Fender Japan, are still making guitars with rosewood but this law doesn’t affect local sales. One way about this is to buy that dream MiJ guitar with a rosewood fingerboard is to carry it with you when you travel, provided the amount of rosewood doesn’t exceed a certain weight (which won’t happen as this would mean bringing a lot of guitars with you).

The CITES paperwork is required for any guitars built in 2017 onwards, if I remember correctly. Not too sure what this will mean if I were trying to buy a pre-2017 guitar from Japan (for example) on eBay but with horror stories I have heard with instruments being held by customs, I’d rather not gamble.

The long and short of it is pretty much this, as quoted from the PMT online store FAQ:

You can:
You can still buy and sell guitars with rosewood (and other regulated woods) within your country and freely within the EU.

You can travel with your guitar freely as long as you don’t have over 10kg (22lbs) of rosewood and other regulated woods.

You can’t:
You can’t order a guitar outside of the EU without the correct CITES certification. This is the responsibility of the exporter / retailer.

You can’t sell a guitar internationally without CITES certification. If you’re selling a guitar which is 2nd hand internationally and it includes any of the regulated woods, you may have to prove that it’s older than Jan 2nd 2017.

So much so, this one UK site selling Japanese-made guitars (where I had bought a ’62 Tele reissue) are now selling only guitars with maple fingerboards.

There is a happy end to this #firstworldproblem, though. The Fender Precision bass that I was originally denied its import from Japan was later found at Swee Lee in KL.

Which meant using the 2nd ‘can’ rule above, she travelled with me legally on the plane back to the UK after my vacation back in February this year. Result!

The thing with this clampdown by CITES is that it goes to show how much man has ravaged nature’s resources for so long, and it’s great that the powers that be are doing something about it. I have to add, however, the main culprit behind the ‘ravaging’ ain’t the guitar makers. I guess that is how things are these days. So, hold on to your rosewood guitars!

[1]There are many sites that explain this ruling’s effect on guitar sales. You may read them here, here and here.