You can tell this story by the numbers. It took a burglar 15 minutes to steal the valuable 1965 Fender electric guitar from Harry’s San Jose home three-and-a-half years ago.
The theft destroyed a legacy of nearly a half century, when a blue-collar father stretched all his resources to buy the instrument for a 12-year-old kid.
When the story came full circle this summer — and ended happily — it involved an Afghan immigrant named Tamim, who came to this country 37 years ago.
Linking it all was a serial number: L63708, which means much to guitar fans. It reveals the instrument was produced by Leo Fender before he sold his business to CBS that same year.
The guitar was a Lake Placid-blue Stratocaster, and it was the color that made it rare. While it wasn’t in mint condition, Harry figured it was worth $20,000 or so. (In pristine condition, the guitar might be worth between $30,000 and $50,000.)
(I’m not using Harry’s surname or that of Tamim. I don’t want to set Harry up for a new burglary. But both men attended a recent block party in my neighborhood.)
Harry’s father bought the guitar new in Tempe, Arizona for $365 — nearly $3,000 today — for the then-12-year-old Harry, who had been inspired to play guitar by seeing Ricky Nelson on TV.
“That had to be several weeks of wages for him,’’ Harry recalls now. “The more I think about it, the more I’m stunned.”
Beginning as a Stanford graduate student, Harry played the guitar for decades in a band called the “Geoffrey Luce Band,’’ a made-up name that — by his account — was a useful in persuading girls to come up and talk with the musicians.
All that changed on the night of Dec. 8, 2013, when Harry got hungry while his wife was out of town. He drove out to get a few tacos, and that’s when the burglar, or burglars, struck.
Even now, Harry wonders at it all: There was no forced entrance, no broken window, no ransacking. In fact, he didn’t realize immediately that the guitar was gone.
The next morning, when he confirmed with his wife that she had not moved the guitar — and that her laptop was also missing — he realized that the worst had occurred. “I told my family, it’s like something had died,” he told me.
So Harry launched into his best digital effort to recover the Stratocaster. Every quarter, he sent an email reminder to a list of pawn shops and guitar specialists, reminding them it was still not recovered.
He put a notice on screamingstone.com, which helps musicians recover stolen instruments. It bore the serial number and his phone number.
The years went by, and Harry lost a slice of his hope: He took an insurance settlement that did not cover the full value of the Stratocaster. He bought a new and different electric guitar, a Fender Telecaster.
Then, one night last June, he got a voicemail from a man with a heavy Afghan accent. “I was at a garage sale, and I bought a blue electric guitar,’’ he said. “I think it’s yours.’’
It turned out that Tamim, who has a spot at the San Jose Flea Market, had Googled the serial number of the guitar. Up popped Harry’s phone number. Tamim was honest enough to call.
The two men quickly agreed on terms: Tamim had paid $150 for the guitar at the garage sale Harry paid him $1,000, double the reward he promised on Screaming Stone.
(Because Tamim visits 15 or more garage sales in a weekend, Harry says, the Afghan merchant could not remember the address, though it was off Blossom Hill Road near the San Jose-Los Gatos border.)
To Harry, what mattered was getting the back the guitar, which still had the same strings as it did when it was stolen. What had been dead was suddenly alive again. “My sister choked up when I told her,’’ he said. “My niece started crying.’’
Harry insisted that Tamim come to the block party last Saturday night, where the Geoffrey Luce Band was playing. And he gave the Afghan man a heartfelt memento: A “Guitar Hero’’ hat. With a blue guitar.