Guess who got his guitar back after 45 years? Randy Bachman can hardly believe his luck

Forty-five years after Randy Bachman's 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins guitar was stolen in Toronto, it’s back in his arms, and he can hardly believe it.

Canadian rock legend receives beloved instrument from Japanese musician decades after it was swiped in Toronto

Randy Bachman reunites with beloved stolen guitar after 46 years

1 year ago
Duration 2:47
Legendary Canadian musician Randy Bachman's cherished Gretsch guitar was stolen from a Toronto hotel in 1976. After decades of searching and a stroke of luck, Bachman got the stolen guitar back during a Canada Day concert in Tokyo.

Randy Bachman has performed many times on Canada Day, but the event he played this year is like no other.  

The former member of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive flew to Japan to reclaim a guitar that he's been hunting for decades. 

"I'm really happy. I'm getting my lost Gretsch guitar back," the 78-year-old rocker told CBC News in a meeting room inside the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.

The guitar is a 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins, in orange, which he bought from a Winnipeg music store when he was 19 years old.  

Forty-five years after it was stolen in Toronto, it's back in his arms, and he can hardly believe it. 

"If you never want to forget your anniversary, you get married on your birthday. You never forget your wedding anniversary. I'll never forget this day," said Bachman. 

A man holds an orange guitar.
Randy Bachman was reunited in Tokyo Friday with a beloved guitar that was stolen 45 years ago from a Toronto hotel. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The Gretsch was his first big purchase as a young adult, and he played it on the recordings of iconic tracks like Takin' Care of Business, American Woman, These Eyes and Undun. But when his band BTO came to Toronto in 1977, it was left in a locked hotel room, where it was somehow snatched.  

"It was just terrible," Bachman said in an interview in 2021. "I cried for literally all night.... I loved this guitar so much."

Bachman launched his own search, which lasted decades and turned up nothing. 

Japanese media reports suggest the Gretsch was eventually taken across the U.S. border, where it was sold to a guitar trader from Japan. The reports say Takeshi, a musician who writes for Japanese pop bands, purchased it in 2014 from a Tokyo guitar shop, without knowing its history. 

Online sleuthing

Six years later, the Canadian rocker finally got a break in the case. A longtime fan and internet sleuth from White Rock, B.C., named William Long heard Bachman's story and decided to try to hunt down the instrument using facial recognition technology. He found it in a YouTube video featuring Takeshi playing the guitar. 

He contacted Bachman, who got in touch with Takeshi. Then, plans were hatched to trade it back. The Canadian bought a nearly identical Gretsch to trade for his original. 

Two people exchange guitars.
Bachman, right, receives his stolen Gretsch guitar Friday at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo from Takeshi, a Japanese musician who had bought it at a Tokyo store in 2014 without knowing its history. (Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press)

On Canada Day in Tokyo, the saga finally came to a close in front of a packed crowd at the embassy's Oscar Peterson Theatre.

Bachman and Takeshi met for the first time ever on the stage, and in an emotional moment for both of them, traded their vintage instruments, with the Japanese musician handing back a piece of Canadian rock history.

'It was all worth it'

"I was going through a lot of emotions today," Takeshi said through an interpreter while sitting next to Bachman on stage. 

"But seeing your smile after you saw that guitar, I just thought it was all worth it."

Two people sit holding guitars.
Takeshi, left, and Bachman pose after they swapped guitars on Friday. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Bachman said he has mixed emotions, too. He said he became attached to the guitar he's trading to Takeshi, but he's more than happy to go home with his first love. 

"To come here to do the trade has been very emotional, and I appreciate this honourable man giving me the opportunity to get the guitar back," said Bachman.  

'Like a fairy tale'

The story of Bachman's long-lost guitar made headlines around the world over the past year, largely because of how unlikely it was to ever be found.

Winnipeg-based rock journalist John Einarson has written extensively about the Guess Who and other bands of the era, and said the odds of getting this stolen Gretsch back were "astronomical." 

WATCH | Why this guitar made such a mark on the music scene: 

The lick that launched 1,000 bands

1 year ago
Duration 3:50
Music historian John Einarson explains why the 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins model guitar was so influential on the Canadian music scene.

"It really is like a fairy tale, you know? And it's rock and roll serendipity that it was discovered in Tokyo," said Einarson.

"The guitar looms large in Winnipeg music history because it's so iconic for Canadian music, Manitoba music and Winnipeg music. And for Randy as well." 

At the event on Canada Day, the two musicians played a set of Bachman's hits and then parted ways. 

Bachman said he will keep a close eye on his beloved instrument. He plans to play it once at a concert in Vancouver this year, and then lock it up for good at his home in Victoria, where it will join his collection of vintage Gretsch guitars.

To commemorate his unusual connection with Tokyo, Bachman also plans to release a new song called Lost and Found, co-written with his son Tal Bachman, with lyrics in Japanese.   

A person smiles.
Bachman smiles during an interview before he was reunited with his long-lost guitar on Friday. (Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press)

With files from Karen Pauls and Nathan Liewicki