Internet Sleuth Solves 45-Year Guitar Mystery Returning the Beloved ’57 Gretsch to a Rock Idol
Back in 1976, when Canadian rock star Randy Bachman of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive discovered his favorite guitar had been stolen from his Toronto hotel room while he was on tour, he cried all night.
Having done every odd job on the block as a boy to afford the $400, 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins model in Western Orange, its departure left a hole in his heart that would only be filled 35 years later, when an internet sleuth managed to track down the distinctive instrument to Japan.
Bachman, who used that guitar to write hits like Takin’ Care of Business and American Woman, told CBC News that he and Neil Young would “spend hours drooling over it” in the window of a Winnipeg music store.
“So I have a paper route where you make, like, two bucks a week delivering the paper, you mow a lawn for a dollar, you babysit someone, you get a dollar, you’re working at a car wash and you’d get 50 cents an hour. This is way, way back,” he told CNN. “So to save the 400 bucks was a big, big, big deal.”
Then it was stolen after the road manager didn’t use the 12-foot long tow chain to lock it up, as was Bachman’s custom, and in the aftermath he would buy hundreds of Grestch guitars trying to replicate the magic of the one he’d lost.
Fast forward more than three decades, and a fan of Bachman was watching some Guess Who videos on YouTube when he came across one of Bachman and his son explaining the story of the guitar theft, and—being a fan of solving puzzles—he decided to see if he could locate the missing Gretsch by comparing hi-resolution imagery of the stolen guitar with second-hand listings of the same model around the world.
“I probably went through maybe 300 Gretsch images and I got pretty good at it so I could see them and I could know right away that it wasn’t it,” William Long, the fan in question, told CNN.
He tracked it down to a Tokyo vintage music store, but looking over their website, found it had been sold. Comparing footage of a particular Japanese guitarist to that of Bachman playing the song Looking Out For #1 on Dutch television, Long concluded it was the same instrument by the distinctive pattern in the grain of the wood.
When Long finally got in contact with Bachman and explained the situation, Bachman said it was “like being hit in the face with a shovel.”
“Man, my guitar, I was in tears. It’s just unbelievable, because I’ve been searching for this forever and basically gave up on it,” he recounted.
KoKo, Bachman’s Japanese daughter-in-law, reached out to Takeshi, the guitar’s then-owner, to explain the situation.
KoKo translated a Zoom meeting between the artists, in which Takeshi assured Bachman he was not the thief. “But of course,” said Bachman, noting Takeshi had only just been born the night the Gretsch was taken from his hotel room.
Takeshi agreed to return the guitar if Bachman could find one just like it, a difficult task as fewer than 40 remain from the 1957 lot code. Fortunately, having been deprived of such a model for so long, Bachman had already amassed a rolodex of distributors and collectors, into which he dove until he found a guitar which he described as likely made “on the same bench.”
“When I first strummed this guitar at the music shop in Tokyo, it spoke to me like no other guitar I’ve ever played. I knew and felt it was destiny—I immediately and impulsively purchased it,” Takeshi said in a statement that was translated by KoKo.
“I’m so honored and proud to be the one who can finally return this stolen guitar to its owner, the rock star, Mr. Bachman who was searching for it for nearly half a century and I feel very grateful for this miracle happening in both our lives.”