#TraceTheBass… and 15 other lost guitars of classic rock

Guitars are really important to a musician. They’re pretty much a part of them, so to speak. It’s their livelihood. For an established, successful musician there are a lot of memories associated with their guitars: like that guitar was played on their classic album or played on this famous world tour.

It makes sense why guitarists treat their guitars like a baby, flying with their guitars when possible, writing diss tracks to airlines who destroy their guitars, taking out insurance policies, and maybe even hiring an armed security guard just for the guitar.

For decades, musicians have often been the targets of theft because the equipment is expensive and worth a lot if it’s a famous person’s, often carried in one place, musicians are constantly on the move, and if you have a high vis jacket or a jacket that says “Security” on it and are wearing a lanyard and act the part by carrying big bags of ice or cases of water people will just think you’re meant to be backstage and bingo you’re in!

In this blog post, we’re going to talk about Höfner Guitars’ #TraceTheBass campaign to find Paul McCartney’s bass. We’ll also talk about other lost instruments of classic rock. Some of these stories have happy endings and other guitars have yet to be found. Maybe you can help!

#TraceTheBass and Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney’s Höfner Violin Bass is one of the most famous instruments in all of classic rock and he’s had multiple ones over the years, but there is one he purchased in 1961 that has been missing for nearly 50 years that he really wants back. Cynics may say that it’s about the money and attention, but there is a lot of sentimental value in it and  Paul McCartney wants to know if it still exists, where did it end up, what happened to it, and if he can get it back.

The bass’ story goes like this. In 1961, original bassist Stu Sutcliffe left The Beatles to continue painting. The Beatles needed a new bassist and Paul McCartney decided to switch to the bass. He bought his first bass, a Höfner 500/1 at the Steinway shop in Hamburg. He famously used this bass guitar when the Beatles regularly played at the Cavern Club, giving it the nickname, The Cavern Bass.

That bass can be heard on the songs “Love Me Do”, “She Loves You”, and “Twist and Shout”.

He got a new Höfner bass in 1963 and stopped regularly using this bass, but he kept it until it went missing. He still loved it and used it as a backup on tours, played it in the “Revolution” promo video, and for the filming of Let it Be. In a 1966 Beat Instrumental interview, he said that the first Höfner bass he bought was his favourite.

Even Paul doesn’t know when exactly the bass went missing. All we know is that it was last photographed in January 1969.

Is it possible that it could be found? Yes. Other musicians have lost their guitars and got them back decades later. However, there are still some unsolved mysteries. In the rest of this post, we’ll talk about other musicians who have lost their guitars or had them stolen from them.

1. Billy Corgan: Success! Got it back.

Billy Corgan bought his famous guitar in 1989 or 1990 for $275 and painted it because he didn’t like its pale yellow colour. The paint job on it was inspired by Eric Clapton’s guitar in the Cream Disraeli Gears era, but it ended up looking splotchy in the end – but that adds to its charm. It was special to him because it changed the way he played guitar because of its unique sound. For a guitar collector, the only thing special about it is who it belonged to.

At the beginning of 2019, the Smashing Pumpkins lead singer and guitarist got his Early 70s Stratocaster back. The guitar was missing for a little over 26 years.

The guitar went missing the year after the band released their debut album, Gish. They were just finished playing a gig at Detroit’s Saint Andrew’s Hall and a roadie told Corgan that a thief walked out with his guitar minutes after the show ended. It broke his heart because he felt it was a big part of his identity.

He filed a police report and offered a generous $10,000 reward for the return of the guitar, no questions asked. He even later upped it to $20,000 and offered not to press charges. No luck though. Over the years, he heard many rumours about the guitar resurfacing, but couldn’t believe it.

Until one day, a friend sent him a picture of a guitar that looked a lot like the one that was stolen from him. At first, he was sceptical because he had been told the same thing by someone else who revealed that the guitar was an exact copy. But he decided to take a look and see for himself and lo and behold it was the real deal. There were a few distinguishing markings on it that he never spoke to the press about so he knew for a fact it was his.

A Michigan woman named Beth James bought the guitar for $200 sometime in the late 2000s at a garage sale because she thought it would make a cool conversation piece because of its unique look. She didn’t know it until a friend pointed out that it looked an awful lot like Billy Corgan’s guitar. When she returned the guitar to Corgan, she didn’t even want a cash reward – just a signature on a guitar. A very happy and wholesome ending.

2. Eric Clapton: No guitar, possibly know the alleged whereabouts.

Reverb calls it one of the most important guitars in all of British Blues because of its tone. In fact, it was the guitar Eric Clapton played when people started proclaiming: “Clapton is God”.

Clapton bought the either ’59 or ’60 “Beano” Les Paul in 1965 and it’s one of his most famous pre-Cream guitars. It gets its name from the comic that Eric Clapton was reading on the cover of Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton

Like in the Billy Corgan story, the guitar was stolen not long after the release of an album. In this case, just days after Bluesbreakers was released and stolen from Cream’s rehearsal room. So that makes it having been missing for 53 years. Clapton himself called “Beano” magnificent, said he misses it, and hasn’t found one as good as that.

After that, Eric Clapton had to borrow guitars and figure out what to do next. He posted an ad about it saying that the guitar has cigarette burns on the front and a thick leather strap with the names Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and Big Maceo carved on the inside. It isn’t known if he knows the serial number (a little tip: take a picture of your guitars or other valuables and have a record of the serial number!). It could look very different today as time passes though.

Guitarist and avid collector Joe Bonamassa claims that the guitar is actually a ’59 (and not a ’60 like Eric Clapton believes) and has a pain top and not a sunburst design. As for its whereabouts, he told Guitarist “It’s in a collection on the East Coast of America. That’s all I can tell you and that’s all I will say. It still exists and I haven’t seen it, but I have it on good authority from people who have. And it’s got the little ‘fingerprint’ by the pots and they can trace it back.” Some people allege that maybe he’s saying this to negotiate a return. Who knows?

3. George Harrison: Got one guitar back, but never got the other one back.

George has had multiple guitars stolen. He managed to get one of them, Lucy, back, but the another, a 1965 Rickenbacker 360/12 is still missing to this day.

Lucy is a red Gibson Les Paul that Eric Clapton gave George Harrison in 1968. Eric Clapton didn’t play this guitar much, so that’s probably why he gave it away. The guitar was named after Lucille Ball, who had red hair. George Harrison played it in the “Revolution” promotional video and in the three way guitar solo in “The End”.

It was stolen in 1973, when George’s Beverly Hills home was broken into. The thief took it to a music store called Whalin’s Sound City on Sunset Boulevard. George Whalin sold it quickly, which he wasn’t supposed to because there’s a law that says there’s a 30 day waiting period. The buyer was a man named Miguel Ochoa in Guadalajara, Mexico. When Whalin found out it was stolen from George Harrison, he contacted Ochoa’s contact and after negotiation, George traded a sunburst Les Paul and a Fender Precision Bass for Lucy.

Lucy was so important to George that he kept the guitar until his death in 2001. He described the stealing of Lucy as a kidnapping.

As for the Rickenbacker, George never saw it again. This was his second Rickenbacker, and he got it as a gift from a music store called B Sharp Music in Minnesota. Another touring band told the music store that he’d love that guitar.

The guitar went missing in 1966 and since no one knows the exact serial number, we’re not sure if it will ever be found.

4. Jeff Beck: Legal battle over stolen guitar. Still doesn’t have it.

Once again, another missing Les Paul. Jeff Beck apparently bought it back in 1968 from Rick Nielsen, who later became the lead guitarist of Cheap Trick. While on tour in the US in 1969, something went wrong at one of their shows and the band had to leave their instruments behind. That opened a perfect opportunity to steal Jeff Beck’s guitar.

In 2000, a Long Island vintage guitar dealer named Perry Margouleff heard that a collector was selling Jeff Beck’s guitar (he didn’t know at the time it was the one stolen from him), but he didn’t know who, but he ended up buying it for $75,000. What resulted though was a whole legal battle in 2018 when Margouleff hired a process server to tell Jeff Beck at a concert in Port Chester, New York, see you in court.

Margouleff wanted to buy the guitar and asked Jeff Beck’s manager for permission. He says that Jeff Beck gave him permission, while Beck’s lawyer said he didn’t because he didn’t speak to Jeff directly and asserts that Beck is the rightful owner. So Margouleff was arguing that Jeff Beck abandoned the guitar and it should be his, while Beck, who is from England really wants the guitar back even though he doesn’t want to go through an expensive litigation process because he doesn’t live in New York and he doesn’t want to submit an affadavit in case Margouleff will monetise the document and add notoriety to the guitar, increasing its value.

In the end, Jeff Beck still doesn’t have the guitar and his lawyer has one message for Margouleff, just give back the guitar if you claim to be a big rock and roll fan.

5. Jimmy McCulloch: Never got the guitar back.

I found out about the #TraceTheBass campaign through my friend, Paul Salley, the author of the soon to be released Jimmy McCulloch biography, Little Wing. He mentioned, that like Paul McCartney, Jimmy McCulloch lost a guitar and sadly, never got it back.

In 1971, Jimmy McCulloch’s Gibson SG Special was stolen just before Christmas. It is unknown who stole it, where it is, or if it still exists. In order to find it, we’ll need more details: photographs of the guitar, markings, a serial number, anything distinguishing looking about it.

Jimmy McCulloch said this in 1975 about his guitar:

“I used to use only one guitar, an SG Special. It was the only guitar I had, and it was stolen four years ago. There were four guitars in the rehearsal room and mine was the only one in a case. That’s the one that was stolen, so they obviously knew what they were looking for. Whoever’s got it, if he’d like to write to me I’d be only too happy to have it back, no questions asked. I’ve never found an SG as good as that.”

My friend contacted Gibson to see if they can launch a similar campaign for Jimmy. Let’s hope that the guitar can be returned to Jimmy’s family.

6. Jimmy Page: Success! Got it back decades later.

Jimmy Page played a 1960 Gibson “Black Beauty” Les Paul in the 60s and in the early days of Led Zeppelin, that is, until it was stolen in 1970. It was mostly used in the studio, but Jimmy did play it in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in January 1970, but three months later, it was stolen from an airport. He wouldn’t get the guitar back for 45 years.

Who helped get the guitar back to Jimmy Page (you can see photos of it here)? Perry Margouleff, interestingly enough.

7. John Lennon: Guitar went to the Grammy Museum, then to a charity auction

In 1962, John and George bought identical Gibson J-160Es from a Liverpool guitar store for £160. From that point, John toured with that acoustic guitar, for a year and a few months, until suddenly it was stolen in London.

The guitar was used to compose the songs “She Loves You”, “All My Loving”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, and “Love Me Do”.

In 1969, the guitar landed in a San Diego man named John McCaw’s hands. John bought the guitar from a friend who bought it at a local music shop, but didn’t know it belonged to John Lennon. He paid $175 for it and took very good care of it over the years and taught his kids to play on that guitar, so it was surprising when it resurfaced in such good condition.

One day in 2014, he was flipping through a 2012 issue of Guitar Aficionado and saw a picture of the same guitar, but in George Harrison’s hands and saw it looked exactly the same. He felt a lot of emotions: excitement, shock, and overwhelming thoughts. He took the guitar to be authenticated and sure enough it was indeed John’s because of how roughly it was played.

McCaw didn’t want fame or fortune. He wanted to make sure the whole world could see it because of how important it is to music history. So it was displayed at the Grammy Museum and the LBJ Presidential Museum for a time, before going to charity auction and selling for $2.41 million. At the time, it was the most expensive guitar ever sold.

8. Michael Schenker: Recorded the album, unknown if he got the guitars back

Not only did Michael Schenker of UFO and Scorpions fame lose some guitars, he also lost an entire Temple of Rock album, Spirit on a Mission, back in 2014. Four of his guitars, including a unique Dean V in chrome were stolen from Kidroom Studios in Greven, Germany. Computers and backup drives that had the tracks on it were stolen too.

He had hope that any reputable shop will know these guitars are stolen and it won’t be easy for the thieves to offload them.

In the end, the band buckled down and re-recorded Spirit on a Mission and released it in 2015. Unfortunately, some reviewers said that as a result, the album sounded a bit rushed production wise. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like Schenker got the guitars back.

In this video, Schenker shows off his guitars, including the Chrome Dean V:

9. Myles Goodwyn: Success! Got it back decades later.

Myles Goodwyn of Canadian rock band April Wine, finally got his 1962 Gibson Melody Maker back after 46 years missing. He bought the guitar in 1968 in Cape Breton and played it on April Wine’s self titled 1971 debut and their sophomore album, On Record. It can be heard on one of the band’s earliest hits, “You Could Have Been a Lady”, #2 in Canada and a top 40 hit in the US.

The guitar was lost when a truck carrying the band’s equipment crashed in Montreal in 1972. Myles was told there was a lot of damage and there was no hope of getting the guitar back. After searching, he was told no luck. Even if it was in pieces, Myles would have wanted to get the pieces so he could see if he could salvage it. Even bandmate Brian Greenway who saw the damage believed that it was gone for good.

The guitar had sentimental value to him for a bunch of reasons, one of them being that photos of him with that guitar were iconic promotional photos that helped launch the band to stardom. Myles had this to say about his guitar:

“I don’t want to say it’s like a child or a loved one. That’s a little bit extreme. But it’s kind of like that … It’s losing something that was very, very important to you that meant something to you more than to anybody else, and it hurts, and there’s grieving.”

On Christmas Eve 2018, a Victoria, BC man named Doug reached out to Myles and told him that he thought he had his cherished guitar. Lo and behold, it was! Better yet, it was in pristine condition.  A Christmas Miracle!

Somehow, the guitar made its way across the country. Doug kept it as a conversation piece and never played it.

He got the guitar back on New Years Eve. He pledged never to take it with him travelling. Can’t take chances. What a way to end the year!

His message to secondhand shops and people using online marketplaces to buy and sell secondhand stuff, if you suspect it’s been stolen – report it.

10. Nils Lofgren: Got the guitars back and the thief was arrested.

The E Street Band member lost four guitars and an electric harp when thieves broke into a van parked outside of a Dallas area hotel. The robbery was devastating because he was about to play some of his first shows after a very difficult year and losing all those instruments will make it so much harder and change the whole show. But the show must go on! Luckily, a former bandmate lent him a guitar for his performance that night in Dallas.

He took to Twitter to see if people can help spot the guitars, listing their serial numbers and models. The guitars were quickly recovered when a person who unknowingly bought the stolen guitars from a classified app called OfferUp contacted the police.  The guitars have since been returned to Nils Lofgren and the police arrested the suspect, Oscar Mendoza.

11. Peter Frampton: Success! Got it back decades later.

You know his famous live album Frampton Comes Alive. It’s a record collection staple. On the front cover, you see Peter Frampton playing his Les Paul. This guitar was so important to him and he called it his dream guitar.

He got the guitar in 1970 when he was in Steve Marriott’s band Humble Pie and playing at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. The guitar he was using at the time wasn’t working well and after the show, a kind fan sold him a Les Paul that he had modified with an extra pickup. Frampton was sceptical at first, but gave it a shot since he was desperate for a new guitar. He fell in love with it! From that point, he continued playing that guitar almost exclusively, taking it around the world with him.

When he was touring Latin America, he lost the guitar. The Panama-bound plane that had the guitar on it, crashed shortly after takeoff in Venezuela. He was in a restaurant when he heard the news of the plane crash. The pilot’s wife was devastated when she found out her husband died. Peter Frampton thought his guitar was a goner.

Little did he know, the guitar survived the crash and was sold to a musician in Curaçao. The musician owned it for years and when a collector saw the guitar and told him that he thinks that guitar is Peter Frampton’s he got in contact with him to return the guitar to its rightful owner.

The guitar’s finish is more matte now and there were a few repairs needed, but he was glad to have it back.

12. Rory Gallagher: Guitar found in a ditch and returned to him.

Apparently, the first Stratocaster brought into Ireland was owned by Rory Gallagher. He bought it in the early 60s for £100 (which is about £2000 today) from a guy in a show band (a type of band in Ireland that played pop, rock, folk, and country songs in dance halls). The guy in the show band ordered a red strat, but instead got a sunburst one.

He played it often, therefore it had a lot of wear and tear and battle scars – so worn that the sunburst finish was gone. It’s considered one of the guitars he is most associated with.

Sometime in the 60s before he was super famous, the guitar was stolen from the back of a tour van en route to Dublin. Playing in Dublin was such a big deal for Rory that he borrowed a Telecaster from a friend so he could play slide guitar too. Not only was the Stratocaster stolen, so was the Telecaster. After the theft, he was devastated and felt like he lost a close friend.

The missing guitar was featured on an RTÉ TV show called “Gardia Patrol”. Since that was the only TV station in the country at the time, everyone watched and it became a hot topic. Two weeks after the guitar was stolen, the police found it abandoned in a ditch. The recovery was shown on the TV show and the police made a joke that the thief was doing the neighbours a favour by throwing the guitar in a ditch. Rory’s brother Donal, immediately shouted back at the TV, “If only you knew how good this guitar player is!”

13. Rosanne Cash: Guitar still not found

Rosanne Cash got a 1940s Martin acoustic guitar as a present from her father, Johnny Cash. In the sound hole is a message “To my daughter, Rosanne. Love, Dad” and that is what makes the guitar really special to her. The guitar was lost when she took a flight in 1979 and 40 years later it still hasn’t been found.

14. Roy Wood: Got six figures worth of equipment back!

In 2018, Roy Wood of The Move, ELO, and Wizzard fame had to cancel a concert after a truck containing his guitars and thousands of pounds worth of sound equipment was stolen from a warehouse.

What hurts even more is that the guitars that were stolen were ones that he has used throughout his 50+ year long career. One of the most special things that was stolen was a unique red Marshall Stack amplifier. Luckily, he has a record of all the serial numbers of the stolen gear and since a lot of it is so unique, it will be hard to get rid of without being caught.

Through the power of social media and security camera footage, the equipment was found quickly. He got the £100,000 worth of gear back thanks to the police.

15. Steve Vai: Got one of his guitars back!

In 2015, one of Steve Vai’s guitars, a mirror Ibanex JEM with blue LEDs nicknamed “Bo”, was stolen outside an LA benefit concert for Tony MacAlpine, who was diagnosed with colon cancer. MacAlpine has since beat cancer. The guitar was stolen from the loading area after the concert.

In the end, Steve Vai got his guitar back. The thief threw the guitar into the bushes in front of the gate to his house. No note was left and he doesn’t know exactly how it got back there, but still he’s glad to have it back.

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