Nanaimo police and collectors on lookout for stolen guitars

NANAIMO – News of rare '50s Fender Stratocasters stolen from Arbutus Music spreads across North American music industry.

  • Dec. 31, 1969 4:00 p.m.

Richard Leighton, owner of Arbutus Music in Nanaimo, was fortunate he remembered to renew his store’s insurance policy Tuesday, just hours before the store’s burglar alarm was triggered and two rare 1950s Fender Stratocaster guitars were stolen.

Now the police, musicians and collectors across North America are on the lookout for the guitars, which together are valued at nearly $50,000.

“One was mine and the other was a customer’s on consignment,” Leighton said. “They were hanging right above the counter.”

The break-in happened at 2:30 a.m. Taken were Leighton’s 1959 two-tone Stratocaster and a customer’s 1958 model.

Fortunately, Leighton remembered to phone his insurance company at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to renew his store’s insurance policy that was scheduled to expire at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

But payment on the value of the guitars won’t replace such rare instruments and news of the thefts has the music industry on the lookout.

“It’s all over North America,” Leighton said. “You wouldn’t believe the coverage this has got. When guitars like that get stolen, the word in the vintage market and the collectors, it’s just like a buzz. The same for all the music stores. Every music store in Canada has heard about it.”

Leighton has worked for major bands and they’ve all been notified as well.

“Aerosmith knows about it. KISS knows about it, like it’s all through L.A.,  Nashville, New York, Toronto,” Leighton said. “There isn’t a pro musician in Canada or half of them in the U.S. that hasn’t heard about it.”

Leighton said it’s possible the thief already had a buyer – a custom-colour 1950s Stratocaster hanging between the stolen guitars was left behind along with the rest of the store’s extensive collection of rare and vintage guitars. But the buyer would never be able to show off the collection.

“They might go into a collection somewhere, never to be seen,” Leighton said. “It’s like a Picasso. If you own a guitar like that, it’s not like you can take it out in the public and play it. You can’t announce to everybody, ‘Oh, look at the new ’58 and ’59 Strat I got,’ because that would raise eyebrows.”

“This is a very selective theft with a unique market,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman. “An individual in possession of this type of stolen property? It’s not as simple as walking into a pawn shop. There will be buyers on a black market, so this is something we will certainly be following up on and we’re hoping people in the music industry will assist us in monitoring any movement of these stolen guitars.”

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com.

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