Billy Corgan’s guitar was stolen a few minutes after the Smashing Pumpkins left the stage at Detroit’s Saint Andrew’s Hall in June 1992. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman offered a $10,000 reward for returning his guitar, a Fender Stratocaster. Billy Corgan doubled the offer a year later.
“I just wanted the guitar back,” he said 27 years ago. “I wanted the person to cough the thing up and just kind of move on. Obviously, that never happened.”
The Fender Stratocaster was a special musical instrument for him. It was sold to Billy Corgan by his friend Jimmy Chamberlin in 1989. Corgan used it to record the Smashing Pumpkins’ first album, Gish. The guitar features a special paint job, which was created by Billy Corgan. This made it possible to recognize it.
“Somebody sent me a picture a couple of weeks ago of another one of my guitars, and I wrote the guy back and said, ‘How did you get my guitar?’ And he wrote back, ‘Oh, it’s a recreation.’ He’d literally gotten the same stickers, worn them down in the same way and scraped the paint so it looked worn. You could have fooled me.”
It was a negative experience but Billy Corgan believed that someday he would reunite with the stolen Gish guitar. And, in fact, it happened.
It’s all thanks to Beth James, a mother of three who doesn’t play guitar and lives in Flushing, Michigan, just over an hour northwest of Detroit.
Beth had been told about this guitar by one of her close friends. The friend had recognized it from an article online. Beth tried sending Corgan Facebook messages for about half a year without any result.
Her friend’s brother connected her to Alex Heiche, who founded Sound Royalties, a company that offers royalty financing to artists in need of quick money. Heiche convinced Corgan to make the journey over to Flushing just to check it out.
Corgan instantly recognized it as his ‘Gish’ guitar. “That’s it,” he said after opening the Fender’s hard-shell case.
“It’s an incredible story,” Corgan said. “And I’m really, really happy. It’s a happy day.”
Beth James bought the guitar at a Detroit yard sale and paid $200. “I thought it was painted cool,” she said. “I literally don’t know anything about the guitar. I actually told my husband I only paid $100 for it because he would have killed me if he found out I paid more.” The early 70s Fender Stratocaster stayed in her basement for the last 10 to 12 years.
The woman didn’t accept any money from Corgan. She was happy to return the guitar to its rightful owner.
“It wasn’t about the money,” Beth told the magazine Rolling Stone. “I was just grateful that this was the right one and it’s his. It deserves to be back with him.”
Alex Heiche asked Billy to sign a guitar for Beth and he did.
“I always felt the guitar would come back. And I know that sounds strange, but today didn’t surprise me. I always felt the guitar would come back when it was time,” Corgan said.
This guitar was all about the sound of Gish. It’s a part of the Smashing Pumpkins’ musical history.