As a teenager, Randy Bachman saved every dollar he earned. He spent countless hours mowing the lawn, babysitting and washing cars so that one day he could afford the guitar of his dreams.
Bachman, Canadian musician and founding member of Guess who group, vividly remembers spending Saturdays in the early 1960s in front of a music store in their hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
He stared longingly, sometimes for over an hour, at the pumpkin-orange guitar that stood in the store window. It was a 1957 Gretsch 6120 – the same rare model played by three of Bachman’s greatest idols, Chet atkins, Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran.
âIt was years and years dreaming of buying this guitar,â said Bachman, now 78.
Finally, at 19, he had saved enough. At the time, the guitar cost him $ 400. Today, it’s worth around $ 15,000, Bachman estimated.
From the moment he held it, “this guitar meant everything to me,” he said. “It was really special.”
It was the guitar he used to write several hit songs, including “American Woman”, “No Sugar Tonight” and “These Eyes”.
The instrument was so precious to Bachman, in fact, that whenever he traveled with it, he used sturdy chains to tie the sheathed guitar to the toilet in his hotel room.
“If anyone wanted to steal it, they would rip the toilet off the wall,” he joked. âEveryone thought I was crazy. I loved this guitar so much.
In 1976, his fear came true: someone slipped his precious Gretsch.
At the time, Bachman was in Toronto recording an album for Bachman-Turner Overdrive, another rock band he founded, known for songs like “Takin ‘Care of Business” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing. Yet “.
He left the guitar with a trusted road manager, who put the instrument in his room to keep it safe with the rest of the luggage as he left their hotel. In five minutes, Bachman said, his precious possession was stolen.
âMy guitar suddenly disappeared, and it was heartbreaking,â he said. âIt’s like your first love. You never forget it, and when it was taken, it was an absolute shock.
In the years that followed, he searched tirelessly for the guitar, repeatedly phoning music stores around the world in the hope that someone had sold or traded it. He collected around 300 Gretsch guitars as part of the search for his original instrument.
Yet ânone of them compared. I couldn’t find an exact replica as difficult as I tried, âBachman said. “I thought about it every day.”
But almost 45 years after the instrument’s disappearance, an Internet detective spontaneously found it halfway around the world. He found it in Tokyo in the hands of a Japanese musician called Takeshi.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, William Long, 58, was at home in British Columbia, watching music videos from the 1960s on YouTube. As a longtime Bachman fan, he eventually landed on a interview 2018 in which the musician mentions his stolen instrument.
âI just got totally fascinated with this guitar,â said Long, who is semi-retired and enjoys doing photo analysis as a hobby. While some people do puzzles, âI prefer to do real life puzzles. “
For some reason, âI felt completely confident that I was going to find him,â Long said. “I’m pretty good at going into the nooks and crannies of the internet and scratching.”
So began his multi-week mission to find Bachman’s beloved Gretsch. He began by using advanced image software to enhance and manipulate a screenshot of Bachman’s guitar that he took from an old clip to accentuate the unique markings on the wood face of the guitar.
Then Long began to browse the web. He kept the enhanced image open in a window and compared it to all the guitar images that popped up when he searched for basic keywords on Google like âGretschâ and âGretsch Orangeâ.
âI figured it had probably passed into the hands of the internet,â Long said, adding that the guitar’s distinctive color and grain helped him narrow down his search quickly.
Initially, he only watched North America, then broadened his hunt to include the UK, Australia, Asia and elsewhere.
âI had to browse over 300 images from all over the world,â said Long, who spent several hours a day searching.
âI became completely obsessed with it,â he continued. âI had a great time looking for it. It was fun.”
Eventually, he found what appeared to be a match on the website of a music store in Tokyo. The instrument was sold in 2016, according to the site.
That’s when Long shifted gears to focus his research exclusively on Tokyo. After several days, he found an image of the same guitar on a Japanese photo-sharing platform. Although he couldn’t understand the text description below the image, there was one word in English that stood out: Takeshi.
So he started to Google âTakeshiâ. Long quickly learned that Takeshi is a Japanese musician who produced several hit songs for Japanese pop stars and also made music for movies and TV commercials.
Long found Takeshi Youtube channel, where he discovered several videos of him playing what sounded like Bachman’s guitar. A “Rockin ‘Around the Christmas Tree” blanket most clearly highlighted the instrument.
Once he was sure he had found a match, Long decided to contact Bachman.
He started by writing an email to Bachman’s son, Tal Bachman, who is also a musician, thinking it might be a faster way to get in touch. In addition, he knew that they were living together at the time, because he had regularly listened to their father-son youtube channel. The Bachmans are producing an album together.
He received a response within half an hour, and once Long shared his findings, Bachman confirmed that the guitar was his.
âI didn’t expect this to happen someday,â Bachman said. âI couldn’t believe a stranger took the time to do this. I thought the quest was over.
In fact, the journey was just beginning.
Luckily for Bachman, his son’s partner, KoKo Yamamoto, is originally from Japan and is fluent in the language. Yamamoto contacted Takeshi’s management team, and after a few weeks she got a response.
They set up a Zoom call for Bachman to meet Takeshi and see his long-lost guitar via video chat. Yamamoto was the interpreter during the meeting which lasted for hours.
âI was very excited to be able to play a part in this because it’s such an amazing story,â she said.
During the conversation, the musicians agreed to do a guitar swap. Bachman found a 1957 Gretsch 6120, in the same shade of orange as his original guitar, to trade in with Takeshi.
How the instrument ended up in Japan remains a mystery, but either way, “we are guitar brothers,” Bachman said. “I was totally verklempt on the Zoom.”
Takeshi also had tears in his eyes. He said he was delighted to connect with Bachman, adding that he also felt a special connection with the instrument.
âWhen I first strummed this guitar at a music store in Tokyo, it spoke to me like no other guitar I’ve ever played on,â he said in a statement to the Washington Post, which was translated by Yamamoto. “I am so honored and proud to be the one who can finally return this stolen guitar to its owner, the rock star, Mr. Bachman, who has been searching for it for almost half a century.”
Foreign nationals from North America are currently not allowed to enter Japan, but once the pandemic restrictions are lifted, Bachman will travel to Tokyo to facilitate the in-person exchange.
âIt will be amazing,â he said. “You can’t make that stuff up.”
Bachman is counting down until he can finally scratch his dear Gretsch again.
âI’m going to be in tears when I find this long lost part of me,â he said. âI can’t put it into words. It will be electric.