Alan Price was bummed after his gig, and his night was about to get worse.
His rock band, Number One Contender, had opened for then-heavy metal group Souls Harbor at Hilton Head Island’s Monkey Business that spring 2008 evening, and the musicians loaded their gear into two trailers towed by two vans that left about two minutes apart, drifting down dimly lit U.S. 278.
“I hated my performance that night,” Price said recently.
It was just one of those shows where he wasn’t feeling it, never got in a groove. Musicians have nights like that. Price wanted to put this one behind him.
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A clean slate.
Make the next one better — a chance for redemption.
And his instrument of redemption would be his new Gibson Vintage Original Spec 1957 Les Paul, a “beast” in Price’s words — a black, custom reissue, serial number 7 2110, he’d acquired just three weeks earlier.
A guitar he’d spent a couple of grand on at a time when he finally had some, if not enough, money — when he finally felt worthy enough to play it.
The six-string electric he’d idolized as a boy.
A dream guitar — one that was about to vanish.
Price, riding in the second van, got a phone call and heard the jarring news: friends in the lead van reported their trailer’s door had flown open and their gear had spilled out in the road, near one of the island’s traffic circles.
Price arrived at the scene. The musicians scurried to pick up their gear. The Les Paul had disappeared.
“Like somebody just kidnapped his child,” said Souls Harbor’s Doug Marshall, who was there that night and recalled Price’s mood.
“I mean, that was his baby. ... I mean, it was devastation for a while — he couldn’t sleep,” Marshall continued.
“He was on a search to see if it was anywhere.”
Price checked pawn shops.
He scoured eBay.
He assumed it was stolen.
Month after month, whenever he attended a live show, he’d weave through the crowd toward the stage if he saw a guitarist wielding a black Les Paul.
Oftentimes he could tell immediately it wasn’t his. Sometimes it looked similar, and he strained to glimpse a serial number on the back of an instrument’s headstock. On occasion he’d ask a musician for a guitar’s number, an awkward request.
He visited online guitar forums, searched Myspace and, eventually, posted pictures of his Gibson and its serial number on Facebook.
“It’s coming back home eventually ... ,” he posted in January 2014.
“It’s been over 8 years but I still have hope in humanity that the thief or the current owner might see,” he wrote in January 2017. “It was a dream guitar for me and $2000 that I couldn’t afford to lose. The guitar is worth substantially more. Come home, darlin.”
And last month — after receiving a call from a friend who thought he saw the guitar in a Virginia pawn shop — he decided to try one last time.
“It feels terrible to have something taken from you,” he wrote at the end of his post on Dec. 27, “especially this beast.”
His phone rang 30 minutes later.
On the line was fellow musician and guitar-repair guru Scott Evans.
Evans owns John’s Music store on Hilton Head, and he was about to blow Price’s mind.
In November, Evans said, a man came into his shop and sold him a black Les Paul. Evans liked the guitar so much he had it fixed up and kept it for himself. But when he saw Price’s post a couple weeks later, he recognized some striking similarities.
Evans called his stepson and asked him to check the serial number.
It was a match.
He phoned Price.
Price, who still plays with bands and runs a recording studio in Charleston, drove to the island on New Year’s Eve to reclaim his Gibson.
Evans gifted it to him, free of charge.
“Grabbing it, it was like my DeLorean from ‘Back to the Future,’” Price said. “I immediately shot back to the ... last time I held it. It was emotional.”
Both men marvel how something that was missing for a decade can turn up a couple of miles down the road.
Evans wonders how many times the guitar changed hands: the seller had previously purchased guitars from John’s Music, Evans said, and surely had no idea he was unloading Price’s Les Paul.
“We’re all working musicians and we all are intertwined somehow, and we all kind of look out for each other,” said Marshall, the last original member of the now-acoustic Souls Harbor and a Beaufort resident.
“And this (story) is a good example of that,” he said.
Price won’t have to wonder anymore if the guitar is buried in a stand of sawgrass when he drives onto the island.
He won’t have to worry if it was ruined by the rain.
And he will finally have his shot at redemption, the next time he plays “the beast” during a live set.
The search is over.
“It was just a piece of the dream that was taken away,” he said.