One common theme through many artist and band interviews is, sadly, they’ve all had that moment in their career where their gear was jacked, nicked, stolen, or deemed MIA. Every now and then, however, there’s an epic return story, where the one that got away miraculously returns to its rightful owner years later.
This week we’re exploring three famous cases of guitars that once were lost and were eventually found.
Billy Corgan’s Gish Fender Stratocaster
As alternative rock came into its own in the early 1990s, Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins lead the charge. The album Gish (1991) blazed a trail with fuzz-laden riffs and that signature loud-quiet sound that defined an era. The instrument of choice for Corgan on this album was a 1970s era Fender Stratocaster decked out in a psychedelic design he created himself. Corgan originally purchased the guitar a few years earlier from the Pumpkins’ drummer, Jimmy Chamberlain. Following a gig at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit in 1992, however, the instrument disappeared from the show without a trace. As it turns out, the guitar landed in a garage sale in small town Michigan, where a bargain hunger named Beth James picked up the instrument for $200. Upon learning the guitar might belong to the Pumpkins’ front man, James reached out and Corgan was reconnected with the lost guitar in early 2019.
George Harrison’s Gibson “Lucy” Les Paul
As with Corgan’s guitar above, this one too has an illustrious ownership history before it disappeared. Originally given to Harrison by Eric Clapton in 1968, who used it to cut the lead tracks on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the instrument is painted in bold red and is arguably one of the more (in)famous guitar theft tales. Tragically, in 1973 Harrison’s Beverly Hills home suffered a break-in and Lucy was among the many items stolen. In short order, the instrument found its way into a local music shop where one passerby, the Guadalajara musician Miguel Ochoa, noticed the guitar was Harrison’s. After picking it up for a price, Ochoa contacted Harrison to work out a swap and return. Reportedly, the negotiation cost Harrison a sunburst Gibson Les Paul and Fender Precision Bass. The guitar remained Harrison’s prized possession in his collection until his passing in 2001.
Peter Frampton’s Gibson Les Paul Comes Back to Life
As Peter Frampton’s career took flight with the band Humble Pie and he was jet setting around the world as a solo act following Frampton Comes Alive! (1976). During a 1980 tour in South America, his rig was loaded on a cargo plane from Venezuela to Panama, which went down shortly after takeoff. With the loss of life and an entire stage worth of gear, Frampton assumed his signature black Gibson Les Paul too went down unrecovered. Somehow the instrument found its way into the hands of a musician on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. Eventually, the guitar was noticed by a collector who contacted Frampton and started negotiations to secure the return, or better, resurrection of Frampton’s famous guitar. In late 2011, Frampton’s Les Paul returned home to its rightful owner.