Billy Corgan reunited with long-lost Smashing Pumpkins ‘Gish’ guitar

Nearly 27 years ago, the Smashing Pumpkins played to a sold-out crowd at Saint Andrew’s Hall in Detroit.

It was on that night that one of frontman Billy Corgan’s most prized possessions was stolen — his vintage early 1970s Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Corgan told Rolling Stone that very Strat was the instrument that “changed the way the band sounded and [how he] played.” Since June of 1992, the 51-year-old has been tirelessly searching for the guitar.

Almost three decades’ worth of rumours and replica guitars crossed Corgan’s path before he was unexpectedly reunited with his holy grail earlier this week.

It’s all thanks to Beth James — a mother of three, residing in Flushing, Mich — just over an hour northwest of Detroit.

Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins.

Corgan was recently contacted by James, who unknowingly bought his guitar at a garage sale more than a decade earlier. It was a gift for her children.

She accredited her admiration for the instrument to its unique paint job — which was crafted by Corgan himself after the guitar was sold to him by fellow Pumpkins bandmate Jimmy Chamberlin, in 1989.

Corgan admitted he didn’t like the creamy yellow colour because it reminded him too much of the likes of the late-Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple and acclaimed shred-master, Yngwie Malmsteen.

The Strat apparently was untouched and unplayed by her children, but James was inspired to reach out to the frontman during a spring cleaning session.

She had been told numerous times about its bizarre history by one of her close friends, Alex Heiche.

James assumed it was a replica and told Corgan the same after reaching out.

However, Heiche decided to reach out himself and was able to convince the singer that it might be worth making the trip over to Flushing just to check it out.

Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins performs onstage at the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas at The Forum on Dec. 8, 2018 in Inglewood, Calif.

It’s certainly a good thing he agreed.

Corgan reportedly recognized it as his original guitar after only a single glance. “That’s it,” he said after opening the Fender’s hard-shell case.

The only notable differences were that the blotchy paint job was a little more worn after nearly three decades.

Corgan also noticed a skull sticker on the back of the instrument. He admitted he wasn’t quite familiar with it, but assumed it may have been a decal he simply forgot about.

The frontman reflected on how it felt when chatting with Rolling Stone. “It wasn’t [just] like, ‘Oh, gee, my guitar just got stolen,’” he said.

“When it walked out of the back door of Saint Andrews, it felt like a great lost love. I was never able to find it.”

“I know that sounds strange,” he continued, “but today didn’t surprise me. I always felt the guitar would come back when it was time.”

Smashing Pumpkins’ (L-R) Billy Corgan and D’arcy Wretzky live at Rock Torhout Festival in Torhout, Belgium on July 4, 1992.

Corgan offered a US$10,000 reward when it was first stolen and even doubled that reward back in 2009 with hopes that the suspect would come forward.

“I just wanted the guitar back,” he added. “I wanted the person to cough the thing up and just kind of move on. Obviously that never happened.”

He added that had the guitar not have been stolen those many years ago, Smashing Pumpkins may have sounded completely different today.

“Strangely, because the guitar was stolen, I had to go out and buy new guitars,” Corgan revealed. “Those guitars became the sound of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie [and the Infinite Sadness].”

“I’m not trying to say the person who stole it did me a favor,” he continued, “but I was forced to innovate and it did send me in a different direction.”

James would not accept a reward from Corgan. She was more satisfied in knowing that it was returned to its rightful owner.

“It wasn’t about the money,” she told Rolling Stone. “I was just grateful that this was the right one and it’s his. It deserves to be back with him.”

Heiche asked Corgan to sign a guitar for her and he happily agreed.

“I’m literally gonna take [the guitar] somewhere, and get it fixed up,” Corgan revealed. “It’s a really valuable guitar to me. I’ll start using it.”

“The timing is sort of strange and suspicious,” he concluded. “So I’ll take it as a sign that it’s supposed to be part of what we’re doing.”

(L-R) Jimmy Chamberlin, Billy Corgan, James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky of Smashing Pumpkins at Rock Werchter Festival in Werchter, Belgium. July 5, 1992.

The Smashing Pumpkins was the first of major grunge bands not based out of Washington state.

After releasing their debut record Gish, in 1991, the Chicagoan four-piece became a huge conversation piece within the States.

Their almost-instant success brought the group major recognition among the rest of the grunge scene.

Corgan’s vintage Fender had much to do with the world-renowned Smashing Pumpkins’ sound that was first heard in Gish.

From the opening chord progressions of I Am One to the final strum of Daydream, it was that historical guitar that inspired the dreamy and psychedelic sound that ultimately put the band on the map.

You can find Rolling Stone’s exclusive feature here.

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