While social media, online marketplaces and the tight musician community has made it easier for stolen instruments to be recovered these days, some of the most important historic stolen instruments in popular music folklore still remain missing today.
We are going to look into four of the world’s most famous stolen guitars from their owners and the stories behind them.
Eric Clapton’s “Beano”: ‘59/’60 Gibson Les Paul Standard (Burst)
Inspired by Freddie King’s regal use of a Goldtop LP, Eric Clapton bought his own Les Paul second-hand in 1965 from the Lew Davis guitar shop in London. This guitar is generally understood to be a 1960 Standard Burst (though, as we’ll discuss below, there is some debate). It was Clapton’s most famous pre-Cream guitar, and for good reason—the tone. It is, in many ways, the guitar that defined the sound of the British blues explosion.
Beano was set to be Clapton’s main axe in Cream too before its theft just days after the release of the Blues Breakers album. According to Clapton, the guitar was stolen out of the Cream rehearsal room and that, as a result of the theft, he was in the middle of borrowing guitars while considering his next move.
Since the time of its theft the guitar has gained a rightful reverence, with its cultural significance increasing its worth from the hundreds of thousands into the millions. The last word on the location of this instrument is actually from noted guitar addict/collector Joe Bonamassa, who told Guitarist magazine in 2016 that “… it is in a collection on the East Coast of America. That’s all I can tell you—and that’s all I will say.”
Jeff Beck’s ’59 Gibson Les Paul Standard (Burst)
According to Beck, he purchased this guitar for “about $300” in 1968, before a gig from Rick Nielsen, the eventual guitarist of Cheap Trick. As amazing as this sounds, Rick was a teenaged vintage guitar dealer before he was handling the world-rocking guitar duties for Cheap Trick.
In a recent interview with MusicRadar Nielsen exclaimed about the sale, “I’m not kidding one f****ing bit! It was a ’59 that had a Bigsby on it. … If you look close, you can see where it used to be
This guitar would become a main guitar for Jeff Beck during the beginning of the Jeff Beck Group feat. Rod Stewart. This was Beck’s only Burst at the time—until it was stolen after the Jeff Beck Group’s gig in Detroit on July 26, 1969.
Years later Jeff Beck played a Burst owner Binky Philips own guitar. Beck, after about 60 seconds, darkly mentioned that one of his Les Pauls had been stolen a few years earlier. When Binky rebuked Beck, Jeff came around and eventually settled on attempting to buy his LP. Binky declined multiple times, and Jeff Beck left the encounter Burst-less.
Unlike every other guitar on this list, this guitar has almost assuredly been located. For years it has been rumored to be a Burst with the serial number 9_1864. Aside from the figured top being overwhelmingly similar to Beck’s, as Rick Nielsen noted about the guitar, it has a stoptail where a Bigsby tailpiece used to be installed. Oddly enough, the latest word on the web is that Jeff knows about this guitar and its whereabouts but has not expressed an interest in re-acquiring it.
Paul McCartney’s Hamburg Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass
This bass gets its nicknames from two places—first, and more popularly among Beatles fans, from where Paul bought the bass. McCartney purchased the bass in 1962 in Hamburg, Germany, at the Steinway Musichaus. As Paul later recalled of the day and the bass:
“There was this bass which was quite cheap…I couldn’t afford a Fender; even then, they seemed to be about £100. All I could really afford was about £30, so for about £30 I found this Hofner violin bass. And to me it seemed like, because I was left-handed, it looked less daft because it was symmetrical. Didn’t look as bad as a cutaway which was the wrong way. So I got into that.”
In 1969, it was allegedly stolen out of a closet during the Let It Be sessions at Abbey Road studios, along with several other Beatles guitars.
While at one point Paul McCartney publicly expressed interest in recovering the bass guitar, at last account, he seemed dismissive of those trying to help him achieve that.
The reported owner of the vaunted instrument resides in Ottawa and apparently refers to himself as “The Keeper,” according to Philip Norman, the author of Paul McCartney: The Life.
George Harrison’s 1965 Rickenbacker 360/12
Harrison, throughout his time with The Beatles, was known for playing a number of Rickenbackers. In a way you could say that they mutually defined each other, much like the Hofner did with McCartney. To be clear, the Rickenbacker 360/12 that was stolen from George was not the first 360/12 that he came to own—it was the second.
Oddly enough, George’s first, which came into George’s life sometime in late ‘63, was the second ever made.
The Rick in question was given to Harrison at a Minneapolis pre-concert press conference in the Minnesota Room at the Old Met Stadium on August 21, 1965, by local radio station WDGY. Local music store B Sharp Music had previously custom-ordered the guitar and saved it in advance of the Beatles concert to gift it to George, on the advice from another touring band that he would like it.
The guitar was a ‘65 Fireglo-finished model with checkerboard binding on the back—essentially, an updated version of his first 360/12. While George didn’t immediately make use of the Rickenbacker, he is reported to have used it in the studio and on the sessions for Rubber Soul.
The fate of the guitar has been disputed over the years and the belief is that it was possibly stolen alongside the Hamburg Hofner at Abbey Road in ‘69. Since that time, there hasn’t been a ton of progress in finding the guitar, in part because the record keeping of serial numbers on part of the store was allegedly not the most strict.