More than 45 years after it was allegedly stolen by a baggage handler at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, one of Jimmy Page's most-prized guitars was returned to him by a well-meaning Twin Cities musician, a guitar dealer and a longtime friend.
Page bought the 1960 Gibson Led Paul Custom on layaway from a London music shop when he was 18 years old. The guitar was one of Page's first professional-grade instruments.
During the first Led Zeppelin U.S. tour in which Page dared bring 'Black Beauty' along in 1970, it was stolen at a Twin Cities airport, reports the Star Tribune.
Page ran ads in Rolling Stone, seeking the guitar's return "No questions asked," but to no avail. On later trips to the U.S., he made a habit of visiting vintage guitar stores hunting for his long lost instrument. In the '80s, Page's longtime friend, Perry Margouleff, told Page he would make it his personal mission to find 'Black Beauty.'
Margouleff told the Star Tribune he was "astonished" to finally be holding the guitar 30 years later.
The thief who stole the guitar went to some lengths to cover up the instrument's ties to its legendary owner, removing Page's unique modifications, but not the guitar's serial number. (Tampering with the serial number would have made the guitar difficult to sell to a dealer.)
In the early-'90s, the guitar was sold to St. Paul vintage guitar dealer Paul Westgor for $5,000. The seller claimed the guitar was Page's and that he acquired it from the thief's widow.
Unable to make contact with Page's camp or verify the guitar's origin, Westgor sold it to Paul Claesgens, an employee of his at the time and an active local musician.
Claesgens had no inkling as to the truth of the guitar's origin. He tells the Star Tribune all he knew was that it "sounded like the voice of God when you played it."
After touring and recording for years with 'Black Beauty,' in 2014 Claesgens took it back to Westgor's shop for repairs.
Westgor took the opportunity to examine the guitar more closely under a black light. He was also struck by a distinctive lightning bolt pattern in the 12th fret mother of pearl inlay. A black light revealed evidence of Page's decades-old modifications — screw holes where his extra toggle switches had been removed and covered.
He informed Claesgens that he believed the guitar was actually Page's. They agreed to try and give it back.
Page agreed to trade Claesgens a comparable Les Paul Custom — a 1959 model valued at around $45,000 at the time — in exchange for his long-lost guitar.
Claesgens entrusted Westgor with the guitar and he drove it from Minnesota to Texas, where it was prepared for the trip to London with Margouleff.
"When I brought the guitar to his home, he was just so happy," Margouleff recalled of Page's reaction. "It was an incredible emotional moment. We sat and had a cup of tea and discussed the events of getting the guitar back for a good 20 minutes before he opened the case. He just couldn't believe it."
Page then called Westgor to thank him.
The guitar later appeared in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Play It Loud" exhibit.
Page reportedly writes about the prodigal guitar's return in his upcoming book, The Anthology, coming this fall.
It's doubtful Page has plans to part with 'Black Beauty' again anytime soon. But given the $4 million sale price of David Gilmour's iconic black Stratocaster last summer and the $6 million price tag of Kurt Cobain's MTV Unplugged Martin acoustic-electric this past June, Page's guitar is surely worth millions.