© UnknownJimi Hendrix with his restrung Gibson flying V.
Washington: George Harrison played 'While my guitar gently weeps' on the instrument manufactured by them. Eric Clapton sang his paean to Layla and laid down Sally on their storied equipment. Jimi Hendrix generated Midnight Lightning and Jerry Garcia took a long strange trip - all on legendary Gibson guitars.

But contemporary musicians, especially guitarists, are fretting that they will soon be playing a different tune. Uncle Sam says it has the wood on Gibson, the legendary American guitar maker whose instruments were used by the above musicians and whose products are considered the last word in the west's most popular instrument.

So where does India fit into this story? The US government says Gibson has been illegally importing tropical hardwoods such as ebony, rosewood, and mahogany, used in making guitars, from India, in violation of American laws that bar import of endangered plants and woods. Not true, says Gibson, arguing that its imports are legal and New Delhi itself has not made an issue of it.

In a tempestuous development for the world of musical instruments and performers, US federal agents earlier this week raised Gibson facilities in Nashville and Memphis, seizing wood imported from India and sending workers home. Officials believe Gibson is in violation of the Lacey Act, a conservation law relating to endangered plant and wildlife that goes back to 1900, although it has been amended several times.

The US crackdown, invoking a complex and controversial law, has instrument makers fuming and musicians fretting.

"(The government) has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of US law, but because it is the justice department's interpretation of a law in India," Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson's CEO said.

If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal, he said. (Gibson executives maintained the wood the government seized is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier and is FSC controlled, meaning the wood complies with standards of the Forest Stewardship Council, which is an industry-recognized and independent, not-for-profit organization established to promote responsible management of the world's forests. FSC controlled wood standards require, among other things, that the wood not be illegally harvested and not be harvested in violation of traditional and civil rights.)