Randy Bachman's guitar was stolen 45 years ago in Toronto. He just found it in Tokyo
Most of Randy Bachman’s guitars – over 400 at last count – are today safe inside the climate-controlled rooms of museums and memorabilia collections. But the guitar he really loves? The one he so cherishes that he would chain it to the toilet of his hotel room at night? Well, that one disappeared 45 years ago from a Toronto-area Holiday Inn, never to resurface again.
That is, until now.
The guitar was lost in 1976, when the former Guess Who guitarist, who had by then penned such hits as "American Woman," "These Eyes," and "No Sugar Tonight," was recording his sixth album with Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
"I would carry that guitar with me and put it in the bathroom next to the toilet, then wind a tow-truck chain through the handle and around the toilet twice, and put two locks on it," Bachman recalled this week from his home in Sidney, B.C.
"So if anyone was going to steal it, they’d have to be a plumber, or rip the toilet out of the wall."
But after the band’s final night in the studio, this security protocol failed him. Bachman handed his prized late-1950s Gretsch archtop — the one he bought with paper-route money when he was 20 years old — to his road manager before the long drive back to Winnipeg.
"I said, 'Don’t let it out of your sight,'" Bachman recalled. "He goes to the Holiday Inn, puts it in the room, goes to check out at the desk and four minutes later, or five minutes later, after checking out, it’s gone."
For nearly half a century, it stayed gone.
'I GO INSANE'
The disappearance triggered a decades-long search. Bachman enlisted the help of the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police and vintage instrument dealers across Canada and the United States.
It also triggered what Bachman now recognizes as a mid-life crisis.
The 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins model, in western orange, is considered the Holy Grail by some connoisseurs of the brand. To count Bachman among them would be an understatement.
The Canadian music icon would go on to buy a dozen orange 6120s of the era, all of them perfectly alike to the unobsessed ear. But to Bachman, they were each a reminder of what he'd had, and lost.
Randy Bachman with his 1957 Gretsch guitar in the video for "Lookin' Out for Number 1" in 1975. The guitar was stolen from Toronto the following year.
"So I enter my midlife crisis with this on my mind and I buy every Gretsch that gets offered to me," he says. "I end up with 385 Gretsch guitars. I go insane."
Bachman amassed such a collection that when the Gretsch family wrested back control of the company in the late 1980s, with a view to restarting production on its classic models again, they came to Bachman for help.
His Gretsch collection, by then the largest and most complete in the world, would provide the templates for the old models — as what remained of the early Gretsch prototypes had long since been destroyed in a pair of disastrous factory fires.
And so the company borrowed his guitars, five or six at a time, and meticulously copied every detail. "Every Gretsch that you see today, at any store or anybody playing, is a copy of one that was in my collection," Bachman says.
Three years later, the company was firmly back on its feet and owner Fred Gretsch, the fourth in the family lineage to bear that name, approached Bachman to buy his guitars and establish an official Gretsch museum collection.
'LIKE AN ELECTRIC SHOCK'
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Stuck at home, Bachman was making YouTube videos with his son, Tal, and his son's partner, KoKo, when he got an email from an old neighbour.
"I found your Gretsch guitar in Tokyo," the message read.
According to Bachman, his neighbour had used some old photographs of the guitar and rejigged some facial-recognition software to identify and detect the unique wood-grain patterns and lines of cracked lacquer along the instrument’s body.
The neighbour ran scans of this unique profile against every image he could find of an orange 1957 Chet Atkins guitar posted online over the last decade and a half.
The high-tech detective work paid off with a hit on an obscure YouTube video that, as of this writing, has been watched fewer than 250 times. The 11-minute clip, posted on Christmas Eve 2019, features a man and a woman playing guitars and singing Japanese songs at a restaurant in Tokyo.
The man is a musician named Takeshi, and for the bulk of the video, save for an impromptu kazoo solo on "Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree," he’s playing a 1957 Gretsch 6120, the Chet Atkins model, in western orange.
A videoconference call was hastily arranged through Takeshi’s PR representative. The Japanese pop musician speaks no English and Bachman speaks no Japanese. Luckily, Bachman’s soon-to-be daughter-in-law, KoKo, is fluent in both.
"So it was kind of like the United Nations because we’re here in my living room and Takeshi is there in Japan with his manager and I say hello and then we stop and [KoKo] translates it into Japanese and then he asks a question and she translates it back," he says.
Japanese musician Takeshi bought this Gretsch guitar in Tokyo without knowing it had been stolen from Randy Bachman in 1976. (Takeshi)
A few minutes into the call, Takeshi reaches his hand out of the camera’s view and pulls into frame the very bone of contention.
"I am absolutely struck right in my chest, like an electric shock," says Bachman. "This is my guitar, and it looks one day older than when it was stolen. Whoever had it, loved it and took care of it."
Trouble is, Takeshi loves the guitar too. He isn’t about to surrender it on goodwill alone. "He says to me, 'I really feel special about this guitar. How did you get it?'" Bachman recalls.
So Bachman began to tell how, at 20 years old, he entered a Manitoba music shop, his pocket bulging with the $400 he’d accumulated over a lifetime in the domestic service, mowing lawns and shovelling snow. "I walked into Winnipeg Piano," Bachman recalls. "And it spoke to me."
But Takeshi also speaks guitar, and this particular Gretsch has hardly maintained its silence since leaving Canada. "He says, 'Well, I went into a store in Japan, a vintage guitar store… and it spoke to me.'"
In a statement to CTV News, Takeshi says he “felt it was destiny” when he first saw the guitar in a Tokyo music shop. “I immediately and impulsively purchased it.”
'YOU HAVE TO FIND ITS SISTER'
It’s still unclear exactly how, over four and a half decades, the Gretsch made its way from Toronto to Tokyo. Its chain of custody contains only those two definite links. It may, at one point, have run through Texas by way of Nashville, Bachman believes.
"I said, 'Takeshi, when were you born?'" Bachman continues. "And he said, 'In 1976.' And I said, 'That’s when it was stolen.'"
It was this appeal from the elder rocker that Bachman believes finally swayed the negotiation in his favour. But no surrender would be signed until a replacement was found.
And not just any replacement. According to Bachman, Takeshi told him, "You have to find its sister."
The Japanese musician had agreed to a trade on the condition that Bachman find him a guitar of the same make, model, colour, condition, year and factory specs. (It had to have the original Bigsby tremolo intact, and the black DeArmond pickups, not the Filtertrons. That was important.)
Gretsch made fewer than 40 of the guitars in 1957. Nearly all that have survived in the decades since have been undesirably modified in some way. But after a flurry of phone calls, emails and rumours chased off into the vapour, Bachman hit the jackpot at a rare guitar shop in Ohio.
"The serial number is two digits off from mine," he says, still marvelling at the find. "Which means it was made in the same week."
Takeshi says he is “honoured and proud to be the one who can finally return this stolen guitar to its owner.”
So what does it cost to replace a factory-spec 1957 Chet Atkins in near-mint condition? One answer might be that it costs approximately 50 times what you could have got one for at a Winnipeg music shop in 1963. But that estimate doesn’t account for the millions you might spend buying up a museum’s worth of substitutes instead.
In Bachman’s case, he also has to factor in the cost of flights to Tokyo. "We have it all set to go," he says of the upcoming trip. "We’re just waiting for travel restrictions to ease up so we can go."
And in case you thought he’d be chaining his old guitar to the aircraft toilet for the flight back, there’s also the cost of the custom aluminum container that Bachman had built to shepherd his old guitar through airport security and over the ocean home.
A kind of case within a case, it’s "about the size of a child’s bed," Bachman says, with wheels on the bottom and handles on the sides reminiscent of a coffin. "I’m telling you, it weighs a ton."
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Backlog of airline complaints balloons by 6,395 since December travel chaos: Canadian Transportation Agency
The fallout from the December travel chaos continues, as the backlog of complaints made to the Canadian Transportation Agency keeps growing. As of Jan. 31, there have been 6,395 new complaints made to the agency since Dec. 21.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is raising concerns over the federal government's spending on so-called COVID-19 quarantine hotels, calling the total spent on a Calgary-area hotel in 2022 'legitimately flabbergasting.'
At first, Juan Delgado agreed to spend 24 hours inside a Dundas St. Denny’s as a consequence of losing in his fantasy football league.
A chance discovery in a Canadian laboratory could help extend the life of laptop, phone and electric car batteries.
News that she'd be headed back to the office was very welcoming for English instructor Kathy Andvaag, after more than two years teaching from her “dark” and “cold” basement.
With the spring break travel season approaching, those looking to flee the cold, wet Canadian snow for sunnier skies will likely be met with a hefty price tag for their getaway, with inflation and increased demand pushing costs up.
Jeopardy! turned the spotlight on Ontario on Monday night with a category entirely dedicated to the province. One question stumped every contestant.
Loblaw will not be extending its price freeze on No Name brand products, but vows to keep the yellow label product-pricing flat 'wherever possible.'
Woman detained in Syria says Ottawa is forcing her to make agonizing choice in order to get her kids to Canada
A woman held in a detention camp in Syria, along with her three Canadian children, says the federal government is forcing her to make an agonizing choice: relinquish custody of her kids so they can be repatriated to Canada, or keep them in the camp where the conditions are dire. Her children are eligible for repatriation but she is not a Canadian citizen.
Disturbing video of a man berating a young couple with homophobic slurs in downtown Vancouver has triggered a police investigation – and prompted an outpouring of support for the victims.
The ongoing toxic drug crisis, waves of COVID-19 and other mass casualty events have B.C. healthcare workers pleading for faster access to mental health care as more of them find themselves distressed and despairing.
Following a week and a half of testimony from 34 witnesses, the jury in the coroner's inquest into death of Vancouver police Const. Nicole Chan began deliberating Tuesday.
Ritchie, Strathcona residents express frustration over public consultation process for south-side 'health hub'
Boyle Street Community Services has acknowledged it has a lot of trust-building to do around Edmonton's first potential overdose prevention services south of the river.
The Alberta government says changes are coming to further protect free speech on campuses as a former professor speaking out on so-called “woke” policies prepares for a showdown with the University of Lethbridge.
Police are asking the public for help in identifying two males involved in a shooting in north Edmonton last month.
The family of a 95-year-old Ontario woman tricked into withdrawing $10,000 in the middle of a major snowstorm said it's 'absolutely unconscionable' that bank employees allowed her to take out the money without contacting her power of attorney.
York Regional Police say they are investigating after a baby was seriously injured in Markham on Tuesday afternoon.
A Calgary-area MP is questioning why the federal government spent almost $7 million last year for a quarantine hotel in the city that only 15 people stayed at.
The first instalment of the province’s affordability payments has been automatically deposited into the bank accounts of Albertans already receiving income supports.
Chestermere mayor slams what he calls false allegations made about staff abuse amid other investigations
Chestermere Mayor Jeff Colvin says people are pushing their own political agendas following an accusation that a city staffer slapped another employee.
Brady Tkachuk scored at 18:41 of the third period to lift the Ottawa Senators to a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.
A man who brutally attacked a 10-year-old girl in Montreal's Pointe-aux-Trembles neighbourhood last spring was declared a high-risk offender by a judge Tuesday.
So far, the winter season across Southwestern Quebec has been marked by above-average snowfall and above-average temperatures, but that is about to change. Cold, arctic air has been gradually pushing into the province.
A blast of Arctic air will combine with northwest gusts to make it feel like -35 degrees or colder for parts of all three Maritime provinces Friday night into Saturday.
New shoplifting numbers from Statistics Canada show significant increases in the Maritimes.
A section of the Trans-Canada highway that passes through the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border remains closed Tuesday evening due to an overturned propane truck in the Londonderry, N.S., area.
RCMP in Headingley say a fire at a business in the RM of Rosser that caused millions in damage was a case of arson.
New standards for long-term care homes are being rolled out across Canada in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the tragedies that unfolded during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Kitchener public school board trustee has released an open letter of dissent, arguing a recent communication to parents from the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) may have a “chilling effect” on those who may wish to voice concerns in public forums.
The City of Kitchener says they have wrapped up the first phase of consultation regarding a controversial statue in a public park.
The Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) could temporarily be relocating to the Brantford Civic Centre while their home ice undergoes major renovations.
The former YMCA building is again becoming a hub of activity downtown. Last week, a temporary emergency shelter moved into the vacant facility. On Wednesday, a fitness club will open for business under private ownership.
The Town of Assiniboia is living up to its nickname as the 'Heart of the Golden South' with its new rink attracting visitors from across southern Saskatchewan.
The SaskTel Tankard Provincial Men's Curling Championships kicks off in Estevan this week and newly formed Team Muyres is ready to make their mark.
Barrie police are investigating a motor vehicle collision at Essa Road and the Highway 400 southbound ramp.
Several local organizations are teaming up to make x-rays more accessible for residents in Barrie's long-term care homes.
Higher interest rates meant to cool down inflation have had a major impact on housing sales throughout much of Simcoe County and Muskoka, according to new data.
Residents of a Saskatoon care home are speaking out about staff shortages and broken equipment in their facility.
Thirty-seven-year-old Adam Willet was found dead in his apartment on 7th Street East in December, and his family says they are now on the hook for cleaning the suite.
The Service Employees International Union West (SEIU-West), which represents some Saskatoon healthcare workers, has launched a petition calling for safer parking.
After putting the brakes on a planned event involving high-profile drag queens at a Sudbury high school two weeks ago, the Rainbow District School Board has made a final decision about it.
Charges are being laid for the third time in connection with an ongoing dispute between northern Ontario neighbours, police say.
Preston Pablo, 21, of Timmins is a singer, songwriter and musician who's been nominated for three Juno Awards.