A Visit From the Dark Side

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I’ve been lucky so far myself, but at one time or another, a lot of people I’ve known have suffered from theft of their musical instruments or equipment.

Happily, this is very rare at bluegrass festivals, where a sense of community and good will (and a cost for admission), coupled with the sounds of banjos, keeps thieves mostly at bay.

But outside the warm and loving confines, it’s a darn jungle out there.  Almost everyone I know has some miracle stories about leaving a treasured instrument somewhere, and getting it returned, unmolested and unpurloined. These stories are lots of fun, often involving Lloyd Loars or other irreplaceable masterpieces that survived momentary lapses of reason by their owners.

On the other hand, I have heard multiple stories about vehicles being broken into and instruments or gear (that would not have been noticed visually by casual passer-by) getting stolen.  Were they being watched?  Are thieves randomly forcing open trunks?  Is a “Station Inn” or “CBA” bumper sticker a theft attractant?  I don’t know, but it’s pretty creepy.

On one hand, it’s easy to cluck and shake your head if someone leaves a valuable instrument in a car trunk. But life intervenes – shouldn’t that be safe long enough to go have a post-gig meal in peace?  In Mayberry, I reckon it might. In San Francisco, maybe not.

Insurance can help recover some of the value of instruments that are stolen, but I suspect most musicians (like most people) are under-insured.  Then, too, some instruments, heavy with history and memories, simply can’t be replaced. What can be done?  Most of us are not going to buy a gun safe big enough to store all our instruments in. Well, you mandolinists and fiddlers might..

One thing I have done is take digital pictures of all my instruments, including the serial number, (if the instrument has one) and put it, along with a description in a document that I keep in a safe deposit box. I wasn’t thinking of insurance as much as how this accurate and easy to distribute information might help the police, and could be sent to pawn shops and music stores in the area.

You see, I don’t think most thieves take things to enjoy them, I think they just want the money they can get for them.  The better job you can do of flooding your area with a description of the stolen goods, the more likely a pawn shop owner, or music store proprietor will spot the instrument when it’s brought to them for evaluation. If all goes well, you might get your treasured axe back with a whole new (albeit dark) set of memories for it.

Naturally, in this digital world, there are online archive sites for stolen instruments (just do a google search on “recover stolen instruments”.  I took a look at some of these listings, and it seems to me that telling where the guitar was stolen is pretty important. I’m not going to keep my eyes peeled for a guitar stolen a thousand miles away, but if I hear of one locally, I’d be on the lookout.  

Hope you never have to worry about this!

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