Sonic Youth's massive collection of one-of-a-kind modified touring gear (amps, drums, pedals, guitars) was stolen in Orange County, California. The truck was found several days later in L.A., its door hanging open, completely empty. All was lost.
But over the years, some fans have remained on the lookout, tipping the band off whenever a guitar for sale raises an eyebrow. This month, the sixth and seventh guitars to be recovered from the robbery both mysteriously reappeared within one week of each other. "It's kind of wild," Lee Ranaldo said. "After all this time, things are still surfacing thanks to the diligence of fans."
One white Jazzmaster, used by Thurston Moore on songs including "Bull in the Heather" and "Dirty Boots" and in the "Diamond Sea" video, came from a fan in Belgium who noticed it on eBay. "He wrote saying, 'Check out this auction. The color's different, but it definitely looks like your guitar. The serial number matches,'" Ranaldo says.
The second was Lee's burgundy Jazzmaster from "French Tickler" on A Thousand Leaves, put up for sale by a pawn shop and discovered in a lengthy thread at the website OffsetGuitars, a "forum of geeks for these kinds of guitars," Ranaldo said. "Three pages into this discussion, someone said, 'This looks like it's Sonic Youth-ized or one of those stolen SY guitars.'"
Two long-lost guitars, recovered within one week, 13 years later. A cosmic coincidence... or a sign delivered by the powers that be?
The band began to recover these stolen guitars in 2005, when they played a show in L.A. Ranaldo explained:
"These two scruffy teenage boys came up. They told us they knew about our stolen guitars. One claimed his uncle was involved with stealing the van. We were like, 'yeah, sure kid.' But he sent us these anonymous pictures of our gear in basements-- foot pedals where you could see our crew guys' writing on the sides, and somebody's sneaker on top. These kids were destitute. They'd been kicked out of their homes, living in a car in L.A. We said, 'we'll give you a few hundred dollars each for them.' It did happen.
Sonic Youth guitars are recognizable-- and don't sell well-- because they're heavily modified. The band has long destroyed their guitars' value by stripping them down to their essential elements, ripping out extraneous electronics, switches, and the tone knob ("an immediate tell-tale sign" of a SY guitar, says Ranaldo). All of their gear is catalogued with descriptions and photos on their website.
Ranaldo said he hopes he can one day recover his sunburst "Jazzblaster" prototype, which also went missing in 1999. "I'm just so curious as to what ever happened to the rest," Lee said. "It was a massive amount of gear to see only these few guitars come back. I would love to one day know the real story."