45 Years After It Was Stolen, A Fan Tracks Down the Guitar Used to Write “American Woman”

Randy Bachman's 1957 Gretsch 6120 was recently found in Japan nearly five decades after it went missing

Randy Bachman performs at Sony Hall on August 28, 2019 in New York City. Bachman was reunited with a guitar of his that was stolen in 1976
Randy Bachman performs at Sony Hall on August 28, 2019 in New York City.
Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images

It’s a mystery that remained unsolved for 45 years, but thanks to the detective work of a devoted fan, Randy Bachman of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive is about to finally be reunited with a guitar of his that was stolen in 1976.

As the Washington Post reports, the musician bought the 1957 Gretsch 6120 when he was 19 for just $400. (It’s now worth an estimated $15,000.) He wrote hits like “American Woman,” “These Eyes” and “No Sugar Tonight” on it, but while he was checking out of a hotel in Toronto, it was stolen.

“My guitar was suddenly gone, and it was heartbreaking,” he told the publication. “It’s like your first love. You never forget that, and when it was taken, it was an absolute shock.”

For decades, he tried to track it down himself, and he collected about 300 Gretsch guitars in the process, but, Bachman says, “none of them compared.”

“I couldn’t find an exact replica as hard as I tried,” he added. “I thought about it every single day.”

Enter William Long. Long happened to find a 2018 interview in which Bachman mentioned the stolen guitar on YouTube, and he made it his mission to track it down. “I just got totally fascinated by this guitar,” Long told the Post. “I felt completely confident that I was going to find it. I’m pretty good at going into corners of the Internet and scraping.”

Long started by using advanced image software to enhance a screenshot of Bachman’s stolen guitar that he took from an old music video, highlighting the unique markings on the guitar’s face. Then he compared it with any images that came up when he searched for “Gretsch” or “orange Gretsch” on Google, spending “several hours a day” searching.

“I must have gone through over 300 images from all over the world,” he said. “I became completely obsessed with it. I had a great time looking for it. It was fun.” Eventually, he was able to find a match, tracking the guitar to a Japanese musician named Takeshi who had purchased it at a shop in Tokyo. Once he confirmed it was the guitar, he reached out to Bachman, who arranged a Zoom with Takeshi.

“I didn’t expect it to ever happen,” Bachman said. “I couldn’t believe a stranger took the time to do this. I thought the quest was over.”

Japan’s borders are currently closed to those traveling from North America due to pandemic restrictions, but once they reopen, Bachman plans to travel to Japan to trade Takeshi a different 1957 Gretsch 6120, in the same orange color, for his original guitar.

“I’m going to be in shuddering tears when I get this long-lost part of me back,” he said. “I can’t put it into words. It will be electric.”

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