In 2010, Johnny Marr of The Smiths recovered his $45,000 '64 Gibson SG, after it had been stolen at a gig ten years earlier. Unfortunately, most musicians who have lost their gear to theft haven't been so lucky.
The local musicians I talked to recently reported suffering similar losses. Occasionally persistence or cunning detective work have paid off in retrieving the lost instruments, but mostly it's been tales of heartache and frustration.
But whether it was from a vehicle or a home, a venue or practice space, any musician who has had his or her gear stolen suffers from feelings of violation and anger. And although I'm sure we've all played out baseball-bat-beatdown fantasies in our heads from time to time, it some good old-fashioned prevention ultimately might have been a better strategy.
After all, never losing an irreplaceable guitar is far better than the hassles of police reports, shady pawnshops and dangerous undercover work.
Often times equipment theft is just a random smash-and-grab, but others it involves a carefully staked-out plan. Koree Smith of Strange Weapons thought nothing of it when a plumber remarked on his 1992 Fender Heartfield Talon 2.
"I bought this guitar when I was 16 instead of buying my first crappy car," he says. "This guitar was my baby."
The next day the Talon was gone -- taken not only at a time when Smith's family was not in the house, but through a broken window in a heavily curtained room, through which only a visitor to the house's interior would have known to access.
Ryan Mylott of The Pastees recently lost his custom Ellis guitar in a car break-in. While he responsibly took a cab home after a Friday night out, he irresponsibly left his guitar in his trunk overnight.
"Saturday morning, I went to get my car and my window was smashed and all my stuff was gone," he says.
HP's own Jeff Balke once experienced the "load-out-walk-off" of a briefcase of cables, mikes and effects after a gig at the Mucky Duck. "I walked in for less than two minutes, came out and it was gone," he says.
Much fabled is the practice-room theft. I've heard stories of crackheads burning down doors or neighbors hoisting equipment through the ceiling tiles, but couldn't come up with one verifiable source.
The real story is much more boring. Steve Duarte of The Tie That Binds pretty much knew it was a friend behind a chain of gear disappearances.
"We found out that he was taking our gear and pawning it, and then replacing it back when he got paid so it looked like he never took it," he says.
Anyone who has relied solely upon police work to retrieve stolen goods is devastatingly familiar with term "backlog." Sometimes perseverance, determination and a little detective work might bring home your girlfriend's $3,600 Breedlove acoustic. This worked for Rob Wilharm, bassist at Houston's dearly missed Punk Rock Karaoke nights.
When the police practically threw his police report away, Wilharm did not give up, as most do. He persisted, resent his equipment's serial numbers and then went downtown to demand a printed confirmation that his information had been processed.
He also routinely visited area pawnshops, tracking down at a nearby Fiesta Pawn an amp and some basses stolen in the same break-in. Wilharm immediately called the authorities, and just by chance, the thief had arrived to unload a car stereo.
It still took months of pestering the police department and demanding a detective's attention to get these stolen items back. Wilharm even managed to get the suspect arrested after finding that his book of pawned items was as "thick as a phone book."
"Isn't that a problem?" he says. "Does he really own 68 car stereos he doesn't need anymore?"
But when you find your stolen equipment at a pawnshop, the store loses the money it had paid out for it. So, knowing that a hot item like the Breedlove was in their possession they found alternate means of fencing it.
A lucky guy stumbled upon it for $300 and took it to Austin Thomerson of 713-GUI-TARS to authenticate it. Immediately, Thomerson knew that someone was missing it and suggested calling Breedlove directly for more info.
Wilharm is a smart guy, and didn't leave any room for error. He had called Breedlove to report it stolen, and treated the $300 as a reward when his girlfriend was reunited with her guitar.
While it's a big mistake to wait by the phone for a call from the police, it's a huge mistake for musicians to think they have to take this crime lying down. Strange Weapons' Koree Smith checked Craigslist daily and set up eBay alerts with endless combinations of "fender heartfield talon," which he still receives.
It couldn't hurt to search as many online avenues as you can think of and to set up alerts of all sorts. Post online. Put up flyers. Make sure as many people as possible know about it; especially other musicians, we're the most likely to come across it.
And if you ever happen upon your P.A. at one of those creepy pawnshops with the wall of TVs playing Faces of Death, play it cool. Act like you're interested in it, check it out and make sure it's yours. Go outside and call the police, and you've just done their work for them.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Of course, you'll be looking at months of paperwork and bullshit before getting anything back, but justice is justice, right?