Rosewood in the 21st Century


As many now know, all species of rosewood have made it onto the CITES list restricting international movement of anything with any amount of the wood in their construction.  For guitars, this can include fingerboards, backs, tops, sides, bridge pins, peghead overlays, heel caps, pickup rings, inlay details, etc.  So how does a guitar owner deal with this?  I’ve assembled a number of links to articles on rosewoods and to the US Fish and Wildlife Service who enforce CITES regulations in the US.  For anyone overseas, you’ll have to do your own research to see what organization.   If you’re interested in all wood species, the Wood Data Base is an incredible resource:

Please understand that I am not an expert on International law, nor do I necessarily know what rosewood may or may not be in a particular guitar.  A number of rosewoods are very difficult to tell apart visually; we’ve had Amazon rosewood, Madagascar rosewood, and cocobolo in my shop that were absolutely indistinguishable from Brazilian rosewood.  To further confuse things, Brazilian rosewood is not the only rosewood found in Brazil!    Also, when I got into lutherie, we did not distinguish among rosewood species.  Rosewood was rosewood, and Brazilian was often used, especially for fingerboards and bridges, on cheap guitars…little Gibsons, Harmonys, you name it.  Rosewood?  No big deal in the centuries past.

If the links below do not take you to the information you seek, just remember “Google” is your research assistant.

What is CITES and why do they get to restrict trade and movement of rosewood, ivory, etc.?

International travel with an instrument having any species of rosewood; the “passport” issue:

Chris Herrod’s LMI blog on rosewood:

And Chris again on alternatives:

Michael Watts and John Thomas on Brazilian rosewood and CITES

John Thomas again on CITES

NAMM on CITES Update:

An interesting article outlining how to distinguish Brazilian rosewood from other rosewoods:

Information on some (but not all) of the rosewood species we’ve used here at Turner Guitars

Added on 3/19/2017

Here is additional information from my old friend, Chuck Erickson, aka “the Duke of Pearl”. Chuck has been at the forefront dealing with the bureaucracy on behalf of luthiers and NAMM for several years now.  Lacey Act and CITES regulations impinge closely on his own business, and he has taken the time to advocate not only for himself but for all of us in the lutherie, decorative inlay, and scrimshaw trades.

APHIS issued guidelines for getting exemption certificates on pre-2008 items (including guitars) which contain unknown woods or lack other information (but only if the wood is really not identifiable!):…/lacey-act-special-use-codes….

The non-commercial export of an instrument containing CITES I materials like Brazilian rosewood (BRW), tortoiseshell, or ivory requires a species-specific export permit, such as a preconvention certificate 3-200-32 ( – but this only applies to the U.S. and doesn’t necessarily protect the owner in other countries. For CITES II materials no permit is needed as long as all other personal exemption requirements are met (such as not involving any type of commercial activity).

This permit can also be used by luthiers to register unpapered stocks of BRW or other listed materials. The cost is $50.00-200.00 (depending on whether applying for a single shipment, personal property, or for setting up a “Master File” for multiple items). Currently the approval process can take 3-6 months. Recently published factsheets by the USFWS regarding musical instrument issues can be seen at: ://…/by-activity/musical-instruments.html and ://…/pdf/factsheet-musical-instruments.pdf.

Everything needs to be listed by metric weight or volume, or by the number of parts in stock; if by weight or volume, you should include an estimate of how many guitars or parts that raw wood will eventually yield. Take good close-up pictures of the woods, and submit an accurate tally of how many sets of backs, sides, tops, neck blanks, veneers, bridges, etc. you have in stock; or, how much wood you have in cubic meters (along with your best estimate of the number of guitars that will produce). Get everything notarized and submit with the application. Then, if approved, be very careful to not make more instruments from that inventory than the estimate allowed for. If the story is credible and doesn’t involve a container load of material, there’s a very good chance of being approved.

As of June 26, 2014, all unpapered BRW already in the U.S. will continue to be illegal to buy or sell internationally unless it receives the above exemption permit, or has CITES paperwork that includes a Pre-Convention Certificate. Domestic sales requirements are a bit more relaxed: to be legal, all that’s required are more informal but credible evidences that the wood was in the U.S. prior to June 11, 1992 (a label date, a serial number that can be referenced to a pre-ban date of manufacture, a dated invoice, a certifying letter from the maker, etc.) and no special permitting is necessary, but get it all notarized.





2 thoughts on “Rosewood in the 21st Century

  1. Can you let me know if you have come across a recognized expert in mid century rosewood furniture that ciuld provide a pre convention Cites validation for rosewood furniture



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