CITES explained for guitarists

20 March 2018

Did you hear the stories about a new law protecting guitar wood? Afraid you won’t be able to travel or buy guitars without worries? No need to panic. In this article, we explain everything concerning CITES.


No, CITES is not a conspiracy of joint guitar manufacturers to make us pay more for lesser quality instruments, nor is it a scheme by fanatic environmentalists to make our lives miserable. Supported by over 200 governments, CITES is an attempt to make our world more sustainable, and Max Guitars shares that vision. How CITES will affect you, you can read below.

Yes, CITES will change the guitar world, but that will not have substantial impact on your life as a guitarist. Unless you want to travel with a guitar containing rosewood to outside the EU, buy one from outside the EU, or want to sell one to someone outside the EU.

What is CITES and what does it have to do with me?

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) is an agreement between countries to save rare animals and plants from extinction. Now you probably think of elephants and ivory when protected animal and plant species come up, but there is clear link with your guitar, as well.

With effect from 2 January 2017, bubinga, kosso and rosewood have been added to the CITES list of endangered species. And especially that last addition impacts the guitar world to a certain degree.

CITES in detail

As mentioned above, CITES is an international agreement, voluntarily entered into by (currently) 182 countries and the EU. The aim is to prevent the now 5,000 animal species and 30,000 plant species on the list from becoming extinct. The impact of CITES is, that you can no longer freely trade, transport, collect or keep animals and plants on the list. It is mainly international trade, combined with a decrease in habitats, which threatens the survival of numerous plants and animals. By regulating trade, the CITES partners hope to prevent the extinction of rare species.

CITES is divided into three categories, called appendices, and the category in which a protected species is placed, depends on the extent to which that species is under threat.

    Appendix 1
    Species that are directly threatened with extinction. Possession, trade and transportation are subject to particularly stringent conditions. Think for instance of red pandas, most elephants, tigers, Asian lions and rhinos. Brazilian rosewood was included in the most severe category in 1992.

    As you know, Brazilian rosewood was widely used in the sixties by Fender, Gibson and Martin. Now, the possession of a vintage guitar with a touch of Brazilian rosewood is not punishable, but trade and transport are regulated quite strictly.

    Appendix II
    Other rosewood species are included in this less stringent appendix. Which means that new guitars, built after 2 January 2017, may cross the EU borders if the manufacturer can prove that the rosewood used was harvested legally before 2017. Older guitars may be exported with a CITES certificate.


Hey, it’s not me who’s killing these species!

Hmm, maybe not. And of course it is true that worldwide the vast majority of illegally logged wood is used in construction and for furniture, but we cannot close our eyes to our role in the bigger picture. Considering the developments when it comes to the living environment for plants, humans and animals, it is understandable that we as guitarists are concerned with protecting our environment, and stopping the degradation of our world.

Applying for an instrument passport to travel with your guitar, or applying for a certificate to import a guitar with rosewood into the EU, are only small sacrifices. In any case, Max Guitars likes to contribute to a more sustainable world!

What’s next?

Brazilian rosewood in Appendix I, other rosewood species in Appendix II … and we think ebony and mahogany will be next. Considering that ownership, trade and transport of these types of wood will be better regulated, which will ultimately lead to more sustainable logging, that is good news. On the other hand, the trading of guitars with these types of wood will be restricted and that could lead to higher costs. It is possible for manufacturers to have their pre-2017 stock of rosewood certified, on the condition that their stock comes from legal logging.

As these stocks of certified wood thin out, manufacturers will use other types of wood (maple, ash, cherry wood for example). Or they will consider artificial alternatives. Please note that most alternatives for rosewood are more expensive. Requesting a CITES certificate in America costs more than in the Netherlands, and that extra cost will be passed on to us consumers.

How will this affect me?

Applying for certificates for import / export of instruments with wood species that fall under CITES is the responsibility of the manufacturer, exporter, importer and / or retailer, not of the consumer. Also, the private buying and selling of guitars within your own country is no problem.

There are three exceptions:

    1. Travel outside the EU with a guitar containing rosewood or another type of protected wood

For Dutch customers: you can apply to RVO for a musical instruments certificate. RVO requests the specifications of your instrument (brand, year of manufacture, serial number, possibly photos) and checks whether the wood in the instrument was obtained legally. For €45 you then receive a certificate that you can use for three years to get your instrument out of the EU and back in.

Apply for a certificate from the RVO here.

    2. Selling a guitar with protected wood to someone outside of the EU

You will need an export certificate. You can also apply for this at RVO.

    3. Buy a CITES instrument from outside the EU

Max Guitars will have then to apply for an export certificate, while you apply for an import certificate.

Read more about buying from outside the EU here

Yes, CITES will change the guitar world, but that will not have substantial impact on your life as a guitarist. Unless you want to travel with a guitar containing rosewood to outside the EU, buy one from outside the EU, or want to sell one to someone outside the EU.

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