You don’t need to search the Internet very long to find messages similar to this one:

Stolen from my trunk in Boston, MA: a brand-new Gibson Les Paul Classic, ebony w/ cream trim, nickel hardware, ‘1960’ on the pickguard… Please email if found… reward.”

If your guitar gets stolen, a harsh reality awaits: There aren’t many good options. But there are a few preventive measures you can take to improve the chances of a subsequent recovery, according to Ric Olsen, Gibson’s director of security and loss prevention. Three key suggestions:

1. Take photographs of your new Gibson. Keep the photos in a safe place, such as a lock-deposit box. Also save a written description of the guitar, along with your receipt and other purchase documentation. Record the serial number. Too often, Olsen says, the search for a stolen guitar is over before it begins simply due to a lack of available data.

“We’ve seen this time and time again, from the artists who are still out there making the big money to somebody who just got their first guitar,” Olsen says. “If you can’t show a picture of it to the police department and provide a serial number, they will be less inclined to go after it. The more information you have, the more they’re going to be inclined to go after it.”

2. Advise your insurance company. Let your insurance company know that you’re in possession of a newly acquired instrument and that you want it covered under your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. And just like with the police department, you need to be able to provide your insurer with multiple photographs and purchase documentation.

3. If your guitar is stolen, file a police report. “But go beyond the officer with whom you file the report,” Olsen advises. “Within a few weeks of the time you file the report, make sure a detective has been assigned to your theft case.” Another strategy, Olsen says, is to make sure your stolen guitar is indexed by the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The NCIC is a computerized database of criminal justice information, including stolen property.

Jason Davidson, Gibson’s customer service manager, says it’s also a good idea to cover your bases by reporting a theft to area music stores and pawn shops, and keeping an eye on local classified ads and auction sites. And like Olsen, he says it’s important to file a police report if your Gibson is stolen.

“One guy I dealt with a few years ago claimed that his Les Paul Studio was stolen by an acquaintance,” Davidson remembers. “He knew the guy that did it, but he could never prove that it was in his possession.”

Things got really interesting, Davidson says, when the alleged thief died soon thereafter in an automobile accident. The deceased’s girlfriend, knowing how much he loved the guitar, decided to put the Les Paul on display in front of his casket at his funeral visitation—there were even plans to bury the Gibson with him.

“The real owner of the guitar attended the visitation after he hears about this, and he sees his guitar on display,” Davidson continues. “He called the local police, but since it was never reported as stolen in the first place, they weren't willing to help him—so he
called us asking for advice on how he should go about getting it back!”

It’s a story, incidentally, that has a happy ending… at least for the guy who was trying to reacquire his stolen Les Paul.

“Luckily, he had the serial number and sales receipt,” Davidson says. “He did get the  guitar back after speaking with the family. But I can only imagine how uncomfortable it was for him to approach them about this.”