Mysterious musical instrument disappearances

BB King

The famous blues legend was known for riffs on his legendary guitar, a Gibson he named Lucille – in fact, King had multiple performance guitars named Lucille over the course of his career. The name was inspired by a lover’s quarrel King witnessed in 1949 (the woman arguing was named Lucille, and she left quite an impression on King). When this particular Lucille guitar was stolen, it was eventually found in a Las Vegas pawn shop by Eric Dahl, a fellow musician who mistakenly purchased the guitar and later returned it to King. Dahl offered it without compensation and went on to write a book about King and his many guitars. The Gibson also ended up being one of the last instruments King played before his death in 2015, and it was subsequently sold at his estate auction for $280,000 (£222,286) in 2019. 

Eric Clapton

Clapton’s Gibson Les Paul guitar, named Beano, was stolen soon after his studio album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton was released in 1966. Unlike King, Clapton hasn’t been so lucky as to be reunited with his lost guitar – yet. But singer-songwriter Joe Bonamassa has claimed he knows where it is: In 2016, Bonamassa gave an interview in which he said the guitar was in a private US collection, which spurred a 2018 petition to encourage Bonamassa to reveal more details. On their YouTube channel, music aficionados Baxter and Jonathan of North Carolina-based Casino Guitars joked that they imagine a “guitar illuminati” trading in lost and rare instruments might not be pleased with what Bonamassa has already shared so far – and pondered whether he has a responsibility to help Clapton retrieve the stolen item if he does, in fact, know where it is. 

Takiko Omura

A violin made in 1675 by Nicolo Amati in Italy was stolen in 2005 from the home of Japanese violinist Takiko Omura, who had purchased the instrument in the United States many decades earlier. The violin, which was priced at nearly £300,000 ($377,895) in 2005 when it was taken, was reportedly found in 2020 in Parma, Italy, in the raid of a home of a suspected drug trafficker. Authorities in Italy and Japan worked together to return the instrument to its rightful owner. 

Stooges Brass Brand

It’s difficult enough to find one lost guitar, let alone an entire brass band. In 2022, a famous local New Orleans “second line” brass band had all their equipment stolen from their van during the worst possible time for them – two weeks before New Orleans Jazz Fest. Nearly $12,000 (£9,526) in musical instruments, including cymbals, drum sets, keyboards and amps, were stolen when the band’s van disappeared from outside the home of a band member. The theft threatened to derail the Stooges’ festival appearance that year, but the band is back on its feet, with a scheduled appearance on 28 April at this year’s Jazz Fest.

Min Kym

As the BBC has previously reported, the violin prodigy Min Kym’s Stradivarius was stolen in 2010 from a Pret a Manger restaurant. This was no ordinary violinist and no ordinary violin: At just seven years old, Kym had earned a slot at the prestigious Purcell School of Music in the UK, and at age 11, she won first prize at the Premier Mozart International Competition. When presented with the opportunity to own a rare 1696 Stradivarius, “Kym remortgaged her flat and bought the violin for £450,000 ($580,000). If this seems like an astronomical amount of money, it was in fact a steal in Stradivarius terms: the violin’s actual worth was closer to £1.2m ($1.5m) and these instruments are so precious that their value only ever goes up,” reads the 2017 article about the crime. Although the stolen violin was eventually recovered three years later, it was not returned to Kym, and her memoir, Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung, tells the story of coping with a musical instrument being lost and found and then lost again.

George Harrison

Sir Paul wasn’t even the only Beatle whose beloved instrument was absconded with: George Harrison’s 1965 Rickenbacker guitar was allegedly stolen in 1966. Rickenbacker CEO John Hall told Reverb that the guitar’s mystery has been so longstanding because “no one knows the exact serial number of the original guitar.” The Rickenbacker team were, however, able to narrow the list down to five potential guitars based on shipment dates. 

Harrison also had his ’57 Les Paul, Lucy – which was formerly owned by the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, Rick Derringer, and Eric Clapton – stolen. It was nabbed from Harrison’s home during a burglary in 1973 and then sold to a Los Angeles music store who, in turn, sold it to Mexican musician Miguel Ochoa, who declined to sell it back to Harrison at full price. Instead, Ochoa negotiated a trade with Harrison: Harrison got Lucy back, and Ochoa would get a 1958 Les Paul Standard and a Fender Precision bass. 

Drake

In his 2009 song Say What’s Real, produced by Kanye West, Drake revealed that he lost some of his best lyrics in Mexico: “Lost some of my hottest verses down in Cabo/So if you find a Blackberry with the side scroll,” he raps, followed by an expletive-laden line that finishes the rhyme. For his genre of music, that Blackberry was his instrument, which he used to pen his songs. While it doesn’t sound like it’s ever been returned, Drake has probably upgraded his tech.

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