Getting Their Guitar Strings Crossed

, , , , , , | Legal | December 6, 2019

My father told me this story from when he worked in a pawnshop in the 1980s.

The pawnshop specialises in musical instruments and equipment and is the largest second-hand dealer of those goods in the city. One day, a friend of Dad’s wants to pawn a 1970s Ibanez Les Paul-type guitar with a sunburst finish. It doesn’t have a serial number — not unusual for Ibanez at the time — but it has some identifying marks: belt buckle scratches on the back and a small Brazilian flag sticker on the back of the neck. The deal is made and his friend walks away with the money.

As the months go on, Dad’s friend doesn’t come back for the guitar, so Dad calls up and tells him that it will have to go to auction. It fails to meet the reserve price at auction, so Dad calls him up again and says it will go on the shop floor for sale but that if he wants it back he can come in and pay for it — at a discount — before it’s sold.

One day, a man walks in and sees the guitar on display. The man claims it is his and describes it to dad in detail — the scratches, the sticker — without touching it. Dad calls the police and a detective from the theft division is sent out. The guitar is taken as evidence and Dad’s friend is subsequently charged with dealing in stolen goods.

Some months later, another man walks in wanting to sell a guitar. It is a 1970s Ibanez Les Paul-type guitar with a sunburst finish, belt buckle wear on the back, a Brazilian flag sticker on the back of the headstock, and with the same case and accessories as the other guitar.

Dad stalls the second man and is able to convince him to get a coffee across the street while they do additional ID checks. Then, he calls the police and speaks to the detective, who confirms that the original guitar is still in evidence.

The detective comes to the shop with the original guitar. It is confirmed that there are two nearly identical guitars.

Then, the customer who claimed the original guitar was his walks in!

Dad suggests to the detective that the customer plays both guitars and tells them which is actually his. The customer confirms that the second guitar is his, because he had adjusted the string height to be lower than the other guitar.

The man trying to sell the second guitar is charged and Dad’s friend is cleared.

We’re not sure why the two guitars were identical, but we suspect that there was one owner who bought them new and sold them separately. This would explain the similar belt buckle scratches and the Brazilian flag stickers.

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