CITES: Facts and Fairytales

CITES: Facts and Fairytales

CITES-rules stipulate the use of rare woods, but over the past years these rules have changed which led to many myths and misunderstandings about them. Like the complete ban on rosewood. That's a fairytale and there are many more. Time to list the most important facts and fairytales.


There is a ban on all rosewood


Fairytale. However, there are international rules for the use of rare wood species, the so-called 'CITES' (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This is obviously something we support, because among many other things, these rules stipulate that you are not allowed to trade in ivory. As there is a multibillion-dollar trade in tropical timber, CITES also aims to protect some of the endangered wood species. But CITES-rules are primarily aimed at furniture makers, because they use proportionally far more wood than guitar builders. Initially guitar builders have been affected by these rules, but thankfully there are now many exemptions for builders and players.


But these temporary strict rules caused a lot of confusion: what was allowed at first, was later restricted, only to be allowed again later.


In short: rosewood can now (2020) be used by guitar builders. Provided there is no more than 10 kilo(!) of rosewood in your guitar, you are allowed to cross most borders and you can even sell your guitar internationally. But be aware, there was and is one important exeption for Brazilian rosewood, or as it is officially called: Dalbergia  Nigra.



Guitars of  protected woods are illegal


Fairytale. You may have and keep any guitar made (partially) from a protected wood species, because CITES-rules are not about ‘ownership’. These rules are only relevant for travelling or trading with any products containing protected wood.



Martin and Fender no longer make or sell guitars with rosewood


For Fender this has been fact for a while, but that is no longer the case. For some models, Fender switched to pau ferro and ebony as excellent alternatives for the fretboards of some of their electric guitars. But since the ban on rosewood has been mainly lifted, rosewood has returned to a lot of Fender guitars and more or less the same can be said about Martin Guitars.


Martin has worked hard on behalf of the guitar industry to relax CITES-rules for instrument makers and has done so successfully.  Since November 2019 guitar builders and guitarists no longer suffer from rules aimed at furniture builders.



I cannot travel with my guitar if it has any rosewood in it.  If I cross the border with my guitar, I will need a certificate.


Fairytale, though it has been fact for a while. Due to the relaxation of CITES-rules in the so-called  'Annotation 15', most rosewood species are now exempt. Unless you have a guitar with  Brazilian rosewood, for which there are much stricter rules.  


But with a guitar containing 'ordinary' rosewood you can travel within the EU and in most cases even sell the guitar. Please note that the rules for trade in rare wood species may vary from country to country. If you go on a trip with your guitar, please inquire if a type of wood is protected or not. In the Netherlands this can be done on the website of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency  (RVO). If you live abroad, please get in touch with the relevant authorities in your country if you want to travel with it or sell your guitar internationally. Good to know: it is up to the seller to take care of the necessary paperwork. So if you buy a guitar from the Fellowship of Acoustics, it is up to us to sort out the paperwork, if at all necessary.


If you need a certificate for travelling with a guitar, you can put in a request  at RVO.  If you do so an original receipt will surely come in handy, so if you have one for your guitar, make sure you keep it in a safe place. We recommend you do so for any guitar, because more and more wood species are becoming sparse. At The Fellowship of Acoustics we e-mail the receipt to our customers as a service: having a digital copy might be useful in the future.


Are you in any doubt about a certain type of wood in your guitar? Thanks to our extensive experience, we are often able to help. Just call or send us an e-mail.



If I buy a guitar with Brazilian rosewood, I can't cross the border with it.


Fact. Brazilian rosewood is categorized in the ‘Annex A’ of the CITES-rules. This means that transport- even within the EU- requires a certificate. In the Netherlands such a certificate can be obtained through the RVO, but only if you meet the right criteria.


If you live abroad please contact the relevant authorities for obtaining a CITES certificate. Make sure you do so well on time, as six weeks or more for processing such a request is very common. And, please, please, please… do NOT go on a trip without the necessary paperwork. If custom officials confiscate a guitar with Brazilian rosewood in it, you'll probably never see it again.



I want to build a new guitar with Brazilian rosewood, but that is now impossible.


Fairytale. As said before: it is up to the seller to take care of the necessary paperwork. There is still Brazilian rosewood available and under strict criteria, it can be used. Some smaller guitar builders still have stocks of Brazilian rosewood, but also big brands like Martin. That means you can buy a new Martin D28 with Brazilian Rosewood, including all the necessary CITES-papers that will enable you to get past customs with that guitar without any problems in the future.



In short: thanks to the relaxation of CITES-rules, most guitarists can buy, sell and travel with their beloved instrument, without needing any certificates!


Be the first to comment...

Leave a comment
* Your email address will not be published