Safe and sound: GearTrack helps recover stolen instruments

Guitars on display at Sherwood's Music. Photo by Hayley Benton
Guitars on display at Sherwood's Music. Photo by Hayley Benton

Every musician’s worst nightmare is to lose a favorite instrument, and it happens all the time. Thieves can and will nick anything from a lone guitar to an entire trailer full of instruments, and recovery is often a long and difficult process. But there’s hope: GearTrack, a website with roots in the Asheville area, aims to make it a little easier to recover those missing instruments by creating a massive, searchable database and encouraging musicians to properly organize and document their gear.

“My father-in-law had a banjo stolen at a bluegrass festival and went through this whole rigmarole of getting it back,“ says Molly Nagel-Driessen, who co-owns the company with her sister-in-law, Bridget Driessen. “He finally found it through various ways on the Internet. The idea for the site came from that experience.”

GearTrack users create listings (with serial numbers and photographs) for their instruments. Used instrument retailers can punch in serial numbers and determine if anything that comes into the shop is flagged as missing or stolen. The site also shows instruments with similar serial numbers to help facilitate recovery. Users can directly contact each other anonymously to help locate missing instruments. “Used retailers have been very receptive,” Nagel-Driessen says.

The most important part of recovering a stolen instrument is having that instrument well-documented. GearTrack can be used to catalog anything music-related and serialized. “The big part of my goal is to let people know the usefulness of the site but to also let them know that they need to have their serial numbers and their photos — descriptions, distinguishing markings — they just need to know those things before theft occurs,” Nagel-Driessen says. The site is free for up to five instruments and always free to list stolen gear.

Unfortunately, theft occurs often. When Bret Rifkin’s North Asheville home was broken into, thieves made off with a collection of guitars, speakers, laptops and other small electronics. “I heard about GearTrack through another musician friend,” Rifkin says. “My hope with using the site is that it will pop up on GearTrack as stolen, if a reseller or someone were to ever Google my instrument’s qualities. This could then allow the finder to contact me or the police for a chance to get my instruments back.”

“I really want for the site to be perceived as a tool not just for recovery, but for educating instrument owners about some of the things that they need,” Nagal-Driessen says. “The most common story I hear is: ‘Oh, I wish I had written those things down.’ I want folks to know that they need those details.”

GearTrack’s tips for protecting and recovering gear:
• Take it inside — Vehicle break-ins are one of the most frequent thefts.
• Insure it — Don’t assume your instrument is covered under your homeowner’s policy. Instrument insurance is more affordable than you think.
• Document it — Keep serial numbers and detailed photographs of your gear stored separately from the gear and other valuables.
• Mark it — Place a hidden identifier inside your instrument somewhere thieves are less likely to look.
• Recover it — If something does get stolen, file a police report, including your documentation, post fliers, check online used retailers, reach out to music communities and create a listing on GearTrack.

Info at gear-track.com

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About Jesse Farthing
Jesse Farthing can be reached at jefarthing@gmail.com.

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