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Joe Ely Reunited With Stolen Guitar After 27 Years

Joe Ely
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Singer Joe Ely has been reunited with a long-lost friend after nearly 30 years apart. In an unbelievable turn of events, the Texas music legend was reunited live on stage with a custom-made guitar that was stolen from him 27 years ago.

Ely, whose genre-defying career has touched on country, Tex-Mex, honky tonk and even rock music, never expected to see his beloved guitar again after it was stolen from an equipment truck while he was in San Francisco in 1986. Designed and built especially for the musician by Austin guitarsmith Ted Newman-Jones to resemble a pool table — with felt-colored paint and pool-ball inlays  — the instrument was irreplaceable.

But a few weeks ago, the unexpected became reality when Ely’s management was contacted by Matt Wright, a musician in Merced, Calif. who had unknowingly bought Ely’s guitar in a pawn shop more than 20 years ago. Wright had only recently become aware that the guitar was stolen after some postings of it online resulted in someone contacting him about it. He decided to return his prized possession to its rightful owner.

Wright brought the guitar to Ely’s gig at Slim’s in San Francisco last Tuesday (March 12) and gave it back to the grateful musician, who was astonished to find his beloved instrument was in the exact same condition as when it was stolen — including a broken hinge on its case.

“We were all exhilarated, we were dancing around and passing the guitar back and forth,” Ely tells Pop & Hiss (quote via RTV Channel 6 News). “It was amazing.”

Incredibly, after such a long odyssey, the guitar had come almost literally full circle. Ely adds, “After he told the whole story onstage, we figured out where the guitar had been stolen, and it was only about three blocks from Slim’s.”

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