Guitars aren’t merely six strings and a bunch of wood. The bond between player and instrument is very real — which is why Randy Bachman, of Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the Guess Who, never stopped searching after the loss of one of his most prized guitars.
Remarkably, the 46-year search has come to a happy, Hollywood-style ending. The Sidney-based rocker now has the orange 1957 Gretsch guitar, which was stolen from Bachman’s Toronto hotel room in 1976, back in his hands. How it got there is a remarkable journey — and one that involves participants from across the world.
The guitar was returned to him on stage on Friday during a Canada Day concert organized by Ian McKay, Canada’s ambassador to Japan, in a theatre housed within the Canadian embassy in Tokyo.
“It was absolutely the perfect setting and time and day to do that,” Bachman told the Times Colonist from Tokyo.
“This is probably Canada’s most famous guitar, aside from my 1959 Les Paul that played on American Woman.”
Bachman said he never stopped looking for his “first love,” on which he wrote Shakin’ All Over with the Guess Who and Takin’ Care of Business with Bachman-Turner Overdrive, among other hits.
“It made my whole life. It was my hammer and a tool to write songs, make music and make money,” Bachman told the Associated Press before Friday’s handover.
When it was stolen, “I cried for three days. It was part of me,” he said. “It was very, very upsetting.” Bachman ended up buying about 300 guitars in unsuccessful attempts to replace it, he said.
He would watch MuchMusic and MTV religiously, hoping to see a musician with his guitar using it in a music video. At one point, he was certain a member of 1980s hitmakers the Thompson Twins had it, but his music-video muckraking never produced a positive match.
The guitar was eventually found by William Long, an amateur internet sleuth based in White Rock. Bachman said the key to the discovery was a distinctive mark in the wood near his guitar’s master volume knob, which gave Long something tangible to look for as he canvassed the internet looking for clues.
Long, who did not know Bachman, used a still image of him playing the guitar, taken from a 1976 Bachman-Turner Overdrive video on YouTube, to aid him in the search.
He came across a 2019 video of the Japanese artist Takeshi playing a guitar which very closely resembled Bachman’s missing Gretsch. After emails between Takeshi and Bachman’s daughter-in law, Koko, who is Japanese, Long’s suspicions were confirmed.
He had found the guitar.
Bachman said Takeshi had bought the Gretsch years earlier, from a dealer in Japan, unaware of its history. He may never know the full story of how it was shipped overseas. “We did a couple of Zoom [meetings], I agreed that it was mine, and he told me he would give me it back, if I could find its sister guitar.”
Seeing his guitar through their virtual meeting was an emotional moment for Bachman.
“I was crying,” he told AP. “The guitar almost spoke to me over the video, like: ‘Hey, I’m coming home.’ ”
Bachman, one of the world’s foremost authorities on guitars, said he made one phone call to Gary’s Classic Guitars in Loveland, Ohio, and found a 1957 Gretsch that was made in the very same week as his, with serial numbers in the same sequence.
“To find my guitar again was a miracle, to find its twin sister was another miracle,” Bachman said.
The two guitars were traded on stage during Friday’s concert, with a documentary film crew filming the handover.
“My girlfriend is right there,” said Bachman, 78, as the Gretsch was handed to him by Takeshi.
The exchange was supposed to take place in May, but travel restrictions and health issues kept Bachman at home in Sidney. Bachman had expressed through the media at that time that he wanted to go to Tokyo, and reunite with his guitar, which resonated with McKay.
“I probably knew every word to every Guess Who and BTO hit, and probably still do,” the ambassador told the Times Colonist from his office in Tokyo.
”I grew up on their music, so I knew immediately it would be something that we should look into doing here in Tokyo. It was lot of moving pieces, and an enormous amount of people were involved.”
The story captured the attention of people in Japan, where McKay has been based since 2021. The former CEO of the Liberal Party of Canada, who was born and raised in Penticton, said he has been inundated with calls from the media since word spread that Bachman would finally have his guitar returned to him.
“I’ve had terrific experiences [in my life], but nothing is going to top this,” McKay said.
Takeshi told the AP he decided to return the guitar because, as a guitar player, he could imagine how much Bachman missed it.
“I owned it and played it for only eight years and I’m extremely sad to return it now. But he has been feeling sad for 46 years, and it’s time for someone else to be sad,” Takeshi said. “I felt sorry for this legend.”
He said he felt good after returning the guitar to its rightful owner, but it might take time for him to love his new Gretsch as much as that one.
“It’s a guitar, and it has a soul,” Takeshi said. “So even if it has the same shape, I cannot say for sure if I can love a replacement the same way I loved this one. There is no doubt Randy thought of me and searched hard [for the replacement], so I will gradually develop an affection for it, but it may take time.”
Bachman said he and Takeshi are now like brothers who own guitars that are “twin sisters.”
Bachman intends to lock up the guitar in his home so he will never lose it again. “I am never ever going to take it out of my house again,” he said.
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— Mari Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo