Billy Corgan Just Found His Stolen ‘Gish’ Guitar in Flushing, Michigan
Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan was reunited with his beloved 'Gish' era Fender Strat after a 27-year search.
The year was 1992. Billy Corgan had just finished playing a set with Smashing Pumpkins at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, when a roadie informed him that someone just walked out the backdoor of the venue with his guitar. Billy was devastated. It was his first Stratocaster, and he had some sort of unspeakable connection to it, as he explained to Rolling Stone:
It instantly changed the way the band sounded and the way I played. When it was stolen, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, gee, my guitar just got stolen.’ It was the guitar that affected the way I played and I was heavily identified with the guitar.
It sounds crazy, but every guitarist knows that magic that happens when you connect with a particular instrument. Sometimes, that magic is impossible to replicate. Billy Corgan found that very much to be the case with the 1970s Fender Strat, which he had originally purchased from SP drummer Jimmy Chamberlain for $275 in 1990.
After the incident at St. Andrews, Billy offered a $10,000, no-questions-asked reward for the guitar's return. He also tried to find a replacement that had the same feel and sound as his beloved Strat, but was unsuccessful.
Literally, one guitar would be great and one would be not so great. It’s like trying to find the Holy Grail of guitars. I always felt I had that guitar. So when it walked out of the back door of Saint Andrews, it felt like a great lost love. I was never able to find it.
The guitar, which can be heard a ton on the band's 1991 debut album 'Gish,' features a custom paint job from Corgan himself. This was one of the things that helped him positively identify it when he visited Flushing, Michigan to be reunited with his "lost love."
The guitar made it's way back to Corgan via Beth James, who had picked it up at a yard sale in Detroit for $200... over a decade ago! That's right -- she had no idea the lost treasure that she had found. When going through things to sell recently, she came across the guitar. Beth herself did not play, and her daughters had not taken up the instrument either, so the guitar was about to head to the secondary market yet again, when a friend recognized it from an article. The rest is history.
After a few attempts, James was finally able to get in touch with Corgan. Due to several false alarms and close calls in the past, Corgan came to investigate the find for himself on Tuesday, February 6th, 2019. According to those in the room, Billy froze while looking upon the instrument, before simply exclaiming, "That's it." He recognized not only the paint, but some old cigarette burns on the neck that always bothered him.
“I’m literally gonna take it somewhere, and get it fixed up ... And I’ll start using it. It’s a really valuable guitar to me. And I mean, the timing is sort of strange, and auspicious, and so I take it as a sign that it’s supposed to be part of what we’re doing."
The "strange timing" he refers to is because he is currently recording the follow-up to the 'Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1,' which marked his first recordings with fellow guitarist James Iha since 2000. Vol. 2 is reportedly very guitar-driven, so it looks like his baby found its way home just in time.
Corgan intended to pay James the $20,000 reward (he has doubled it since the 90s) he had most recently been offering for the guitar's return, but she didn't want the money. While it's unclear if any money ended up changing hands, we do know that he signed a guitar for her.
This guitar has a certain magical mystery to it. It changed the fortune of my life. So that’s why I felt it would come back to me. It was like the talisman or something, like in Lord of the Rings. It was meant to come back to me.