Stolen Taylor Guitar in Guelph, ON

An Open Letter to a Thief

Dear Guitar Thief,

First, I would like to apologize. I’m so very sorry for whatever it is that has happened in your life that has led you to a place where you feel it’s necessary to steal from others. I can’t begin to imagine what emotional hardships and desperation could have brought you there.

I’m also sorry that due to my own oversight, I literally and figuratively left you an open door to commit this act. I’m usually very diligent when it comes to locking my doors. My van is old and doesn’t have automatic locks, and while I locked all 3 other doors, I must have forgotten the driver’s side. The way my stomach sunk when I came out from the house within about an hour’s time to find the door slightly ajar still haunts me. Seeing the contents of my glove compartment and centre console strewn about the front of the vehicle was a further shock, and I immediately noticed that the $105, part of my pay from my Thursday night gig that was in the cup holder, was gone.

I tried to quickly take mental stock of what else was in there, what else could have been missing. I noticed the spare set of keys to the van among many others, that absentmindedly had been left in the console, were on the floor. (I have an abnormally numerous amount of keys, right?) Thank you for not taking my van.

As I poked through the mess of items on the floor and seats, I glanced into the back of the van where the items I use to perform sat; PA speakers, mixing console, guitar pedal board, microphones, cables, stands, and guitar. Wait... no guitar. No guitar? NO GUITAR! Whether it was due to the chilly night air, or the emotional shock, I immediately started to tremble.

I couldn’t figure out how you managed to pull the big guitar case through the small space between the front seats and I’m still debating within myself as to whether you slid the driver’s seat forward a bit and pulled the case out from behind it, or whether you used some crazy yoga-contortionist moves to manoeuvre the case out the front. A trivial detail really, that my then in-shock mind focused on to try and make sense of a situation that still didn’t quite compute.

Funnily enough, as I was getting out of the van, I noticed that a half-empty box of cookies was also missing. Chips Ahoy! Soft Chunky Peanut Butter. I found them underwhelming. I hope you enjoyed them more than I did.

I had gone into the house near downtown that night to feed two cats and change their litter. I wasn’t supposed to be there very long. Had I been staying there, all of the gear in the van would have been brought inside. The movie Hook was on TV and I found myself distracted by the snuggles of the furry felines and Robin Williams’ amazing performance. While you were in my van, I was most likely starting to tear up while Peter Banning was finding his “happy thought”.

To skip through the details of my phone calls to the police, my brother, my mom, my girlfriend, and my best friend; I figured the next best move would be to get out and see if you could be found nearby carrying a guitar case and possibly covered in cookie crumbs. I hopped on my bike and my brother joined the search in his car after my late-night call got him out of bed, I’m so grateful for his help. Obviously, we were unlucky in our search.

I stayed up that entire night and the following day sending emails, posting on social media, calling friends, and finally, putting up over 60 “Missing Guitar” posters around town. I had a show scheduled for that evening, and after a sleepless night, I drove 2 hours out of town to perform. By this time, many friends and fellow musicians had offered spare guitars so I could do my job. I’m so thankful for their offers and even more grateful that I didn’t have to take them up on those offers as, while inferior to the one taken, I have a backup guitar.

I was beginning to feel a little ill before all of this happened, and after over 40 hours of not sleeping, driving out of town, and pouring my heart into a performance while said heart was hurting over my missing instrument, I became properly sick and had to cancel my Saturday night show, losing another night’s pay.

So, now you have my money, my guitar, and my cookies.

Please, keep the money. You’re most likely in more need of it than I am. I certainly don’t expect the cookies back either.

Now, I’m the type of person that believes material goods are replaceable. There are far more important things than our possessions.

However, that guitar case contains some less tangible, but far more poignant things than simply an instrument, strap, and a stranger’s knickknacks. In that case; are Memories.

The guitar in that case has been with me more than half my life; almost 19 years now. I remember as a teen, putting it on layaway in a music store in Richmond Hill, Ontario. I remember the kindness of the store employee, Ray, that let that layaway take longer than it was supposed to, helping a kid realize a dream he thought near impossible. Ray also discounted the guitar a bit due to some “cosmetic blemish” that my teenage eyes were never able to pick out. It was the most beautiful guitar I’d ever seen. I remember my grandfather sneaking into the store and adding small payments to my balance owing without me knowing to help me pay it off faster.

I remember a heartbroken 21-year-old kid, sitting on a ratty armchair in a basement, writing the first song he was truly proud of, after his first breakup. I remember the butterflies in that kid’s stomach when he finally found the courage to perform at an open mic night in a smoky downtown bar and I remember how that guitar was a shield. A shield that protected him from whatever may have been lurking in the misty air around the audience before him. Behind that guitar, he was safe.

I remember the nervousness of a young man playing his first paying show, and the exhilaration of an appreciative, attentive, applauding audience. I remember the trepidation coupled with excitement felt by that same young man years later, as he made the decision, quietly confident with that guitar at his side, to quit his safe day job and give up the consistent income for the inconsistent life of a full-time musician.

See the long deep cracks that run the length of the cedar wood top, both above and below the sound hole? You can feel the unevenness if you gently run your fingers across them. Those cracks contain the memory of an important lesson. The lesson an inexperienced guitar owner learns when they play a fine instrument by a warm campfire and then store it in a cold tent whilst also neglecting to pay attention to the humidity of the wood. The deep gouges below the sound hole and just past the pick-guard? Those are wear marks from innumerable strums, just slightly too aggressive, with a lime-green .88mm Dunlop Tortex pick. A pick my best friend when I was 17 dubbed the “Midas Blade”. Kids are weird. I still pretty much only use that exact model pick.

Look at the back. The beautiful 3-piece rosewood back that I’ve never seen another one like. See how the clear-coat is peeled away from a large percentage of it? That peeling started as a tiny nick and over time, the sweat from countless hours of playing slowly crept in to expose the bare wood surface. Oh, and check out the sound control knobs on the side. They’re sticky and don’t move well. That’s spilled Jägermeister.

Two full re-frets, numerous crack repairs, cleats, glue, a tusk saddle, a bone saddle, a replaced nut, different neck, different tuning keys, countless sets of Elixir strings. This poor guitar is the explicit definition of Road-Worn.

More recently, I remember sitting in a hospital room, softly plucking the strings and quietly singing as my grandmother lay near-comatose in the bed beside me. She opened her eyes as much as she could and whispered, “You’re so handsome”. The nurses said that was one of very few cognitive and responsive moments she’d had in the last couple of months, most likely a response to music and familiar songs. She passed away weeks later.

So my point is, what’s in that case, isn’t just a guitar. It’s a large part of my life, of who I am, and where I’ve been. It’s taught me about myself, and what’s inside of me when I’m standing in front of people or sitting alone. It has songs inside it! Some have come out, and I'm sure there are still more in there. That’s all contained in that case you have. I miss it terribly.

As I mentioned in my “Missing Guitar” poster, this guitar’s monetary value really isn’t all that high. Clearly though, it’s worth far more to me than it is to you, or to anyone you could sell it to. I can’t begin to fathom what your motives were for stealing in the first place; It could be that you needed some quick cash. It could be that you really want a guitar. It could be that you were intoxicated, and it was just a crime of opportunity in the moment and now getting caught would totally suck. I’m sure there are many more possibilities and I’d like to do my best to help you with any of these situations if I can, including helping you buy your own guitar, if that's what you want.

This guitar is like a family member to me. I can't imagine my life without it. Please help me find my sweat-filled memory-box to remedy the heartbreak that no longer having it has left me with.

Thanks in advance,

Derek O - derekomusic@gmail.com