Where’s Shaw Taylor when you need him?

Shaw Taylor in 1976.

If you’re a musician, especially a working one, it won’t have escaped your notice that there has been a rise in the theft of musical instruments over recent months and years. I’ve been very lucky in that I live in an area largely unaffected by crime, rural Norfolk, and what crime we have is often related to the nature of the area (which is about as rock n roll as Mary Poppins!). This is for example, what constitutes a ‘Police Chase’ round our way! This report reveals the breakneck pace and daring of the police response.

But it’s come to our attention again due to the misfortune of Pat McManus and his band, who have had a number of instruments stolen from their van in the Bradford Area. Here’s the list:

Squier Classic Vibe Precision bass guitar. Fiesta red
Vintage V4 P-bass guitar white. RW Fingerboard
Vintage Icon V74MR “Jaco” fretless bass guitar
Xvive tuner
Xvive chorus
Xvive overdrive
Boss OC2
Xvive pedal board
Alto mixer
Shure SM58 microphone
Fischer IEM pack
LD IEM pack uhf
Marshall headphone practice amplifier
Fender Deville combo amplifier. 4×10. Black speaker cab
PRS custom 22. Red flame top Electric Guitar
Black Gibson Les Paul Supreme. Sunburst. Electric guitar Very distinctive back
Vintage V6 HMRSB “Stratocaster style” sunburst electric Guitar
Martin 00015 acoustic guitar
Hughes & Kettner Redbox DI/Cab simulator
Pedal board 1 (Diego board)
Blackstar Dual Overdrive
Boss RC3 Looper
Boss DD3 digital delay
Boss pitch shifter
Boss harmoniser
Bad Horsie wah wah
Dwyane ’69 booster pedal
Pedal board 2 (silver flight case)
Analogue man overdrive
Biyang delay
Bad Horsie wah wah
White electric violin
Antonius Cremona violin
Pearl Throne Shaker, with modified connections

As you can see, they have been comprehensively ripped off. However, Pat being of the old school, and a determined character, not a gig has been missed. Also, the generosity of other musicians to him has been noted on his Facebook page, where he has been quick to thank those who have offered him help and gear. (We’re a pretty good bunch us musos, nothing like the image people have of us at times!)

Unfortunately Pat is not alone. Over the last year my Facebook feed has been littered with the unfortunate tales of musicians ripped off by a mixture of different criminal activities. I think we have to be pretty clear about this now:

This is Not Random or Opportunist Criminality – it is an organised criminal business.

These criminals know where there are going to be touring bands. They follow them to hotels, or case out the gigs to see what gear goes in and out of the venues. And with this being organised crime, very few stolen instruments are ever recovered. This is almost certainly because the market for this gear is not the UK – it is removed from the country very promptly and sold in markets where they will raise a premium price with the least potential chance of being identified as being stolen. Pawn shops and dealers have been known to be crooked in the past (and one was caught in 2012) but this is thankfully very rare, and the vast majority of dealers in the UK are as straight as you’re likely to find anywhere in the world. In fact, many will help musicians by keeping a lookout for opportunist thieves looking to shift gear.

So what can we say. There does seem to have been a spate of these thefts in London and the surrounding areas (some of these being thefts from musicians cars parked at home after the gig which have been left loaded). Another hot spot seems to have been in the North.

Unfortunately, insurance is expensive and in some cases unobtainable (or sets an unreasonable security standard, inapplicable to typical situations). One option is to try to remove all the irreplaceable items from vehicles – take guitars and small instruments into Hotel rooms with you, as I have always done with my guitars when travelling. But the truth is that’s easy for me to say, because I have always travelled light. Two guitars is my usual carry out. Amps get left in the van, so does PA and Lighting. But certainly removing high value instruments raises the risk/reward ratio for the thief.

The other option is simply to leave the best gear at home – take cheaper guitars on the road, and certainly nothing with any sentimental value. But that feels very defeatist, and as a luthier I certainly want to see the guitars I build being toured and used.

In short, I think this is a crime which is largely unstoppable. Determined and organised thieves will not be deterred by alarms and other devices. I hope the police are going to take this seriously, but I have a feeling that it’s being treated as a low priority offence. After all, there is a hierarchy of victims, and I don’t suppose long haired rock n roll musicians  feature very highly on that list. Bikers have had a similar rough deal over the years, and the rise in instrument theft has been mirrored in the rising theft of motorcycles. It’s rare we hear of one of these being returned to its owner, or the Police being able to offer anything more helpful than a crime number for the insurance company. Most musicians don’t even have that. We have become a ‘soft, high value target’. Organised crime is simply one step ahead of the law. So it’s largely up to the law abiding to try to protect themselves as best they can.

So, as Shaw Taylor used to say – Keep em Peeled.

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