As a teenager, Randy Bachman saved every dollar he made. He spent countless hours mowing lawns, babysitting and washing cars so he could one day afford the guitar of his dreams.
Bachman, a Canadian musician and founding member of the Guess Who band, vividly recalls spending his Saturdays in the early 1960s standing outside a music store in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
He would gaze longingly, sometimes for more than an hour, at the pumpkin-orange guitar that sat in the store window display. It was a 1957 Gretsch 6120 — the same rare model famously played by three of Bachman’s greatest idols, Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran.
“It was years and years of dreaming about buying that guitar,” said Bachman, now 78.
Finally, by age 19, he had saved up enough. At the time, the guitar cost him $400. Today, it’s worth about $15,000, Bachman estimated.
From the moment he held it, “this guitar meant everything to me,” he said. “It was really special.”
It’s 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 would travel with it, he used heavy-duty chains to fasten the encased guitar to the toilet in his hotel room.
“If someone was going to steal it, they’d rip the toilet out of the wall,” he quipped. “Everybody thought I was crazy. I loved this guitar so much.”
In 1976, his fear came true: Someone swiped his treasured 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 for safekeeping with the rest of the luggage while he checked out of their hotel. Within five minutes, Bachman said, his prized possession was stolen.
“My guitar was suddenly gone, and it was heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s like your first love. You never forget that, 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 hopes someone might have sold it or traded it in. He collected about 300 Gretsch guitars in the process of looking for his original instrument.
Still, “none of them compared. I couldn’t find an exact replica as hard as I tried,” Bachman said. “I thought about it every single day.”
But nearly 45 years after the instrument vanished, an internet sleuth spontaneously tracked it down on the other side of the world. He found it in Tokyo in the hands of a Japanese musician who goes by the name Takeshi.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, William Long, 58, was at his home in British Columbia, watching music videos from the 1960s on YouTube. As a longtime Bachman fan, he eventually landed on a 2018 interview in which the musician mentioned his stolen instrument.
“I just got totally fascinated by this guitar,” said Long, who is semiretired and enjoys doing photographic analyses as a hobby. While some people do jigsaw puzzles, “I prefer doing real-life puzzles.”
For whatever reason, “I felt completely confident that I was going to find it,” Long said. “I’m pretty good at going into corners of the internet and scraping.”
So began his weeks-long mission to track down Bachman’s beloved Gretsch. He started by using advanced image software to enhance and manipulate a screenshot of Bachman’s guitar that he took from an old music video to accentuate the unique markings on the guitar’s wooden face.
Then, Long began scouring the web. He kept the enhanced image open in one window and compared it with any guitar images that came up when he searched basic keywords on Google like “Gretsch” and “orange Gretsch.”
“I figured it probably passed hands somewhere over the internet,” Long said, adding that the guitar’s distinctive color and grain pattern helped him quickly narrow his search.
Initially, he looked only in North America, then broadened his hunt to include the United Kingdom, Australia, Asia and elsewhere.
“I must have gone through over 300 images from all over the world,” said Long, who spent several hours a day searching.
“I became completely obsessed with it,” he continued. “I 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, the site said.
That’s when Long shifted gears to focus his search exclusively in 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 beneath the image, there was one word in English that stood out: Takeshi.
So he started Googling “Takeshi.” Long quickly learned that Takeshi is a Japanese musician who has produced several hit songs for Japanese pop stars and has also made music for films and TV commercials.
Long found Takeshi’s YouTube channel, where he uncovered several videos of him playing what looked like Bachman’s guitar. A “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” cover most clearly showcased the instrument.
Once he was certain he found a match, Long decided to contact Bachman.
He started by crafting an email to Bachman’s son, Tal Bachman, who is also a musician, thinking it might be a quicker avenue to get in touch. Plus, he knew that they were living together at the time, as he had regularly tuned in to their father-son YouTube channel. The Bachmans are in the process of producing an album together.
He received a response within a half-hour, and once Long shared his findings, Bachman confirmed that the guitar was indeed his.
“I didn’t expect it to ever happen,” said Bachman. “I couldn’t believe a stranger took the time to do this. I thought the quest was over.”
In actuality, the journey had only just begun.
Fortunately for Bachman, his son’s partner, KoKo Yamamoto, is from Japan and fluent in the language. Yamamoto contacted Takeshi’s management team, and after a few weeks, she heard back.
They arranged a Zoom call for Bachman to meet Takeshi and see his long-lost guitar via video chat. Yamamoto was the interpreter during the hours-long meeting.
“I was quite excited that I could play some role in this because it’s such an incredible story,” she said.
During the conversation, the musicians agreed to do a guitar exchange. Bachman found a 1957 Gretsch 6120, in the same orange shade as his original guitar, to trade with Takeshi.
It’s still a mystery how the instrument ended up in Japan, but either way, “we are guitar brothers,” Bachman said. “I was totally verklempt on the Zoom.”
Takeshi was tearful, too. He said he was thrilled to connect with Bachman, adding that he also felt a special connection to the instrument.
“When I first strummed this guitar at the music shop in Tokyo, it spoke to me like no other guitar I’ve ever played,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post, which was translated by Yamamoto. “I’m so honored and proud to be the one who can finally return this stolen guitar to its owner, the rock star, Mr. Bachman, who was searching for it for nearly half a century.”
Foreign nationals coming from North America are currently not permitted to enter Japan, but once pandemic restrictions are lifted, Bachman will travel to Tokyo to facilitate the exchange in person.
“It will be incredible,” he said. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Bachman is counting down until he can finally strum his cherished Gretsch once again.
“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.”