Oh, man, you were so excited! The big tour! Your chance to be a star! You and your band head out on the road looking for fun, fame, and riches. Well, at least fame. Well, at least fun. You’re having a blast out on the road and then it happens. You find the street diamonds by your van or your trailer door is open. You’re no longer a guitarist because you no longer own a guitar. You get mad.
It’s not your fault that someone stole your shit. We live in a cruel world. You can take some steps to curb thievery, however… so actually, it is your fault. What can you do if your gear gets… taken? First, call Liam Neeson and have him throat-punch a mess of thieves until he recovers your stuff. If he’s busy, though, here are some other options to curb theft and retrieve your precious.
1. Lock Up Your Shit
Obvious right? But there are many ways to lock stuff up. You could, for instance, lock up your iPod inside your car sitting on the dashboard. Sure, there’s a window in the way. There’s also a key for that window sitting on the side of the road. That key is a rock.
This is where we lock our shit up: in our van, under the loft, protected by doors with more locks. I can’t take credit for this design. The previous owner built it and it works brilliant. Even in our old van, I would wait until everyone exited the vehicle and dutifully put their loose bags and electronics under the loft, away from prying eyes. If you really wanna go all out, you can get window grating for your car. Then you can feel like you’re metaphorically in the back of a police cruiser on the way to a prison of poverty from touring, which literally you are.
This is a Masterlock shackle lock. It’s nigh impenetrable, which is why you see it on so many utility vans carrying expensive tools. These can be mounted to the doors of a van or just used on a trailer clasp. They cost more than a simple padlock, but your Gibson Les Paul costs more than a simple guitar.
Sometimes, even an entire trailer can be stolen. There’s no way I could stop a really determined thief, but sometimes just making it more difficult is a deterrent. Forget the simple safety hooks, lock those chains onto your trailer. There are also wheel locks for the tires and pin-locks available for the tongue coupler. No, this hasn’t suddenly turned into a BDSM blog. Perv.
2. Parkour Parking
You’re already cautious about the neighborhood you’ll be headed to when the dread-locked dudes wearing butt flaps and snorting stomped-on blow offer you a crash pad. That, or you’re staying anywhere in the Bay Area. It’s why you need to park like a martial artist. Sun Tzu requires you back that shit up.
This particular Motel 6 that we stayed at in Metha, Arizona was filled with meth headth… don’t mind the lithp, I got a contact high from all the thpeed I thaw in that plathe. They might be able to cut my lock, but do they also have the wherewithal to cut down a tree?
Even in a nice place, a good block to the back of your van or trailer will make it more likely you’re going to have an instrument to play the next day. Most motels, when not full, don’t give a shit if you take up multiple spaces to back up a trailer. If you’re crashing at a place in suburbia, or even urbia, it’s good to ask your host to back a car up and block the doors. When possible, make sure your vehicle is under a street light and / or on a street with a lot of traffic. Failing that…
3. Sleep in Your Van (Down by the River)
Sure, everyone knows staying in your van is probably the surest theft deterrent there is. As soon as someone comes a knockin’, they’ll (likely) leave once the van is a rockin’. I’ve personally deterred at least one potential theft this way. Putting someone in the van has the added benefit of forcing the band member with the worst sleep apnea to go so the rest of you can get some shut-eye.
Last time I stayed in Houston, I stayed in the van. A fellow at the place we were staying asked if I wanted to borrow “a piece.” A piece of what, I asked? Oh, how naive I am. After I figured it out, I declined the offer based on the shady legality of possessing a hand cannon and the statistics bearing out that I would be the one who got shot. But one could carry, like I do, a “tire thumper“. The name is trucker code speak for “a murder tool that cops can’t confiscate”. It’s still asking for trouble. Staying in the van is fine, until it isn’t and someone gets hurt. That’s reality. One guy is protecting thousands of dollars worth of gear from wanton criminals.
If you find this to be unsafe, like if you’re staying next to a house in Baltimore that was used as a set-piece for The Wire, you can always get-the-fuck-outta-Dodge and sleep in a well lit truck stop. Another option is to…
4. Sound the Alarm
Okay, those blue-shirted geek squad assholes are going to look at you like you’re an idiot when you bring in your ’89 Ford Econoline with rusted-out fenders and duct-taped bumpers to Best Buy. What they don’t know is that you’re a guitar god and you own a vintage Fender Strat that is worth more than what they make in a month. A car alarm protects not the vehicle, but what is in the vehicle. And a 110 dB siren sure beats someone screaming “HELP!” when the vandals arrive.
Less a viking to defend your treasure, a car alarm and installation really doesn’t cost that much. About $150-200 will get you just that at any reputable dealer. Best Buy is one, though I’m not getting advertising dollars for saying that. I wish I was (contact me on my About Page, Best Buy). The point is, it’s readily available and a mere fraction of the cost of your gear.
“But what about my trailer, because I’m a shit-nugget question-asker who wants to ruin your blog with sound logic?” Well, dick hole, I got you covered, too. There are plenty of trailer alarms available. Most of these are REALLY fucking expensive. But for under $50, you yourself can install an easy sensor-alarm to go off when the door is opened.
Available from places like Amazon, these easy-install alarms are at least a way to piss off a would-be thief. But the best way to piss them off is…
5. Get Your Shit Back
Only about 3% of stolen music gear is ever recovered, according to a stat that I swear I read somewhere but am unwilling to research again for a footnote. So, hope is not great. But we can do something about that. The first step in recovering stolen gear is knowing what gear was stolen. Seems easy, right? Then go ahead and show me the list you’ve dutifully made over the years with all your gear and serial numbers on it.
“But,” I hear you thinking, “am I supposed to use a pencil and paper like some kind of ANIMAL?” No way, it’s the 21st century, d00d! Enter Gear Track Dot Com. I found them after doing research when I thought about making a great site like this, and some asshat had already made it. So, now all I get to do is recommend the website.
Sign up for Gear Track and you can enter your gear on a really easy form, including serial number, ownership history, value, and even photos of your exact gear. You can list distinguishing marks, like the crack on your Jackson headstock from when I purposely knocked you off-stage and the crowd didn’t catch you (sorry, Sean). Once your gear is all entered, it’s super easy to log-in and change its status to “stolen”, because you forgot to follow all the preceding tips I laid out in this blog… jerk.
Gear Track sends out automated emails and Facebook posts listing recently stolen gear. It also allows you to download a .cvs spreadsheet listing all your gear and details you’ve entered. This bevy of information will come in handy for police reports, or even insurance, should you be so lucky to convince some insurer that your “Big Muff” was lost through theft and not by careless shaving.
That spreadsheet list of your items is doubly-handy right after a theft. You need to get your ass on the phone to the police, but more importantly, local music shops and big-box chain stores. Sure, Guitar Center is an awful place to go where a cacophony of bad guitar solos assault you from all sides. It’s also a nation-wide music dealer that buys used gear. When you call and report a local theft to them, believe it or not, they care enough to send out a notice to store managers. Sometimes things get recovered. Sometimes thieves get caught.
If it seems like I’m pushing this, it’s because I am. I think Gear Track could be a great tool, but it will only work if everyone knows about it and uses it. It’s almost like herd immunity for theft. Posting stolen gear on social media is important and it can help. But if every artist, pawn shop, and used-dealer start using Gear Track, it could become a seriously effective tool for crime fighting.
EDIT: I was asked by someone to post better pictures of the locking mechanisms on the loft in our van, but the person’s email was returned as undeliverable. So, I’ve just decided to put the photo I have here: