Jason Thalman and his Les Paul Custom guitar prior to its theft
| February 21, 2024 |

Interview: The Story of a Marine’s Stolen Gibson Les Paul Custom and Its Long Journey Home

We speak to Jason Thalman, the U.S. Marine who became a TikTok sensation when he was reunited with his stolen 1981 Gibson Les Paul Custom

You may have caught the viral TikTok video about this storied guitar. In a beautiful twist of fate, a 1981 Gibson Les Paul Custom guitar stolen decades ago from the back of Jason Thalman’s truck is now back where it belongs. Who says inanimate objects don’t have adventures? This is one that Tolkien would be proud of.

Thalman, a U.S. Marine passionate about music, experienced heartache when the guitar was taken from him. After years of consistently searching, he found the instrument listed for sale, but suspicious circumstances prevented recovery. After that massive disappointment, his daughters Izzy and Elise secretly started their quest to reunite him with what has always been his dream guitar.

We communicated at length with Izzy, Elise, and Jason Thalman about how all this went down, and they’ve generously provided us with some great photos to help tell this amazing story.


to all the people who helped us pull this off, thank you 🥹❤️ #gibsonguitars #guitar #guitartok #fyp

♬ Daughters – John Mayer

Izzy begins, “Funnily enough, we were both searching for it at the same time, but I actually found the guitar. Elise, I believe, had bought plane wifi on a flight home to Arizona from Illinois and had been looking online, as we both did pretty regularly. I had been scrolling in bed in the dark at like 9:00 pm, flipping between different online guitar consignment stores and eBay. When I saw the thumbnail, I knew immediately it was his.”

It’s at this point the sisters shared their fervent text exchange, where they compared notes on what they knew about the guitar and whether the facts at hand seemed to confirm the great news or not. It turns out they had found the stolen and sorely missed guitar, and now the mission shifted to getting it back where it belonged.

Elise adds, “I was actually on a plane on the way to Illinois from Arizona when I was scrolling through Google looking through guitar ads as I did about once a month. Prior to Izzy texting me about the guitar, I had found one that was really similar, but the serial number did not match. It was a coincidence we were looking at the same time. When Izzy told me she found it, I instantly was in tears on this plane, with my heart racing. We both determined we were going to find this guitar for his 50th birthday on his 49th birthday.

Jason Thalman reunited with his long-lost Les Paul Custom guitar
Jason Thalman reunited with his long-lost Les Paul Custom guitar

“Izzy shared the story pretty well; we had been searching for a while. Luckily, we had lots of information to help with our search. Izzy handled reaching out to the seller as I was out of town. Both Izzy and I have pretty strong detective skills, which comes in handy often.” 

When asked how organized the search effort was, Elise shares, “I’d say it was pretty organic outside of when we discussed it at my dad’s 49th birthday and the day we found it. Over the years, I’ve probably looked through thousands of guitar listings in my free time in hopes of finding it.”

Realizing the guitar was in their orbit again, Izzy narrates the beginning of the reacquisition process. “I then hopped out of bed and booted up my computer. Drafted a big, long message to the seller of the guitar with photos and stuff, just begging the guy to sell me the guitar.

“It was listed for $4,300, and I put $4,000 down on my offer. I woke up the next morning to an email that my offer was declined and that the guitar was no longer available. My heart sank, but I eventually did get in contact with the seller and he let me know that he had immediately taken down the listing so that we could privately coordinate getting the guitar back. 

Left to Right: Lauren, Jason, Isabelle (Izzy), and Elise Thalman

“Eventually, we were able to settle on a price of $3,000 so that the seller would break even with what they had bought it for. It had been bought and sold probably quite a few times over the course of 26-27 years, and we didn’t really have any legal leverage to get it back for free.

“Thanks to many awesome family and friends, including my dad’s girlfriend, his best friends, my grandparents, and even friends who may have never even met my dad, we were able to pool together the money and get it back.

“As soon as April 15th, 2023, the guitar had been safely delivered to our house and was in Thalman hands for the first time in 26 years.”

A surprise reunion

Keeping this wonderful discovery a secret was difficult. Many factors were in play, and the temptation to immediately tell their father the guitar would be his again was real. Other family members were in on the hush-hush birthday surprise and the fundraising to buy the guitar from the proactively helpful seller—no Smaug-heart here, folks—who did not take advantage of the family’s strong sentiment to bring it back home.

Kudos to that benevolent person who elected to take a grand less than offered to help usher this tale toward a happy ending and some justice.

Izzy says, “It was super challenging! There were so many times over the course of the year that we had it that Elise and I wanted to tell him. But the whole point of finding it in the first place was that it would be a 50th birthday gift for our father. That was our intention in finding the guitar and getting it back with him, [keeping him] totally oblivious to what was going on.

Jason Thalman with his Les Paul Custom
Jason Thalman with his Les Paul Custom, the first time around

“We had lots of family and friends sworn to secrecy, and [I] even had a nightmare where my grandma had told him about it [laughs]. We had even all blocked my dad from seeing our social media stories so that we could get people involved without him knowing.”

When asked about how often their father reminisced about the guitar over the years, Izzy relates, “Surprisingly, not really to my memory. Maybe once or twice—more so after he had found it listed online in 2020 and had been unable to get it back.” 

More on that detail later from Jason. Izzy continues, “Dad had probably been looking online forever, but that was when Elise and I really got involved in looking for it. It had been so close, and yet so far then, and Dad felt like he missed out on his one opportunity to get it back. When Elise and I found it, we knew we would stop at nothing to reunite him with the guitar.”

When asked about what kind of music their father introduced them to, Izzy says, “I like a lot of different types of music, but when I think about the music that I hold the nearest and dearest, the music that I truly derive meaning from, I think about the music my dad introduced me to.”

Jason Thalman’s Les Paul Custom in a period-correct chainsaw case
Jason Thalman’s Les Paul Custom in a period-correct chainsaw case

Apparently, Metallica is a family destination band for the Thalman clan. Izzy confesses, “All three times I have been fortunate enough to see Metallica with my father, we have all cried our eyes out. I don’t think words can adequately describe how much music means to us. Whenever life had us by the thong, we found comfort in knowing that we would always have each other, and we’d always have this love for music that we shared.

“I think I probably have dozens of stories connected to the music I listen to that date back to silly little parts of my childhood, and I think I can speak on behalf of Elise and our older sister Lauren when I say we were really lucky to have a dad who loved music and loved sharing it with his kids.”

Jason’s point of view adds a lot of detail and depth to the story—the man has a great memory. We thanked Jason for his service and noted that the love from within his family clearly kept this noble quest alive. It’s a tale with some twists, however.

He begins, “First and foremost, I come from a very tight and close family. My family is the foundation of who I am. I have said repeatedly over the years the only thing I know I didn’t screw up in life was raising my girls. Lauren, Isabelle (Izzy), and Elise are true and shining examples of what great parenting does. 

“My daughters and I are extremely close; their love of music stems from the influence I have had on them over the years. From taking Lauren to her first concert at nine—we saw Dropkick Murphys and Big D & The Kids Table at the Congress in Chicago—to drives to my parent’s house when they were little [see Izzy’s Spotify playlist “Driving to grandma’s in my dad’s car circa 2009”], we have always had a special musical bond. None of them were born knowing what my guitar meant to me, nor did they ever get to experience what joy it brought me—they obviously know now.”

Jason and Elise Thalman
Jason and Elise Thalman

The birthday party video shows a shocked man who clearly was not expecting to see his long-lost instrument inside that case. Izzy, Elise, and the other partygoers were clearly pleased at his dismay and emotional reaction. 

Thalman tells the story of how his guitar went missing and how he felt getting it back again. He says, “Shocked is an understatement. It’s not a topic I like to discuss because that guitar was the world to me (obviously prior to having kids), and to have it taken from me was devastating, and that is putting it lightly. My then-wife, now ex-wife, and I were in Snohomish, Washington, visiting her parents—and keeping details out of it—I had left my guitar in the back of my truck, which had a cover on it, and woke up the next morning with her mother’s car bumper-to-bumper to mine. 

“I ran outside to look in the back of the truck, and the only thing missing was my guitar. Her mother’s car was also broken into and had the stereo missing, and some other items. I was gutted. We filed a police report with the Snohomish Police Dept but were told at that time it was unlikely that I’d ever see it again. 

Izzy and Jason Thalman at their first Metallica show
Izzy and Jason Thalman at the family’s first Metallica show

“Now remember, that was prior to the internet being a huge thing. Fast forward to 2020. We were mid-pandemic, and like I had a few times a year, I decided to scour the internet to see if this time I could locate my guitar. Lo and behold, I found it on consignment in a guitar shop in Seattle (which will remain nameless), and I reached out to the Snohomish Police Department to track down my police report. 

“Come to find out that the Snohomish Police Department no longer existed, and that it was merged into the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department, and that all records were purged in 2014. The officer that I had corresponded with told me that if I could find the paperwork, he would drive to the guitar store and acquire the guitar, but Lord only knows what I did with the paperwork, and both our hands were tied.

“As a last resort, I contacted the guitar shop owner and pleaded my case—provided details, pictures, and the like, and he agreed to pull down the listing online and said he would reach out to the owner of the guitar and see what he could do about putting me in contact with the existing owner. 

“What was strange at the time was that the listing had my guitar as 81721609 for the serial number when it was actually 82721609, which gave me the impression that someone knew it was stolen and was trying to mask that fact. After that, it was crickets. After multiple calls and emails, I was left ‘on read.’ Any and all hope at that time was gone. Twenty-three years of being without it, it was just another day in the life.

“The fact that my girls were able to track it down again, words cannot begin to express the emotions that I felt seeing it again, holding it again, and most of all, playing it again. It is 100 percent exactly the way I remember her (yes, the guitar is a she, and she is stunningly gorgeous and perfect in every way!) I am still in a state of shock two weeks later. I genuinely don’t know how to express my feelings about it.”

The Thalmans helped support St. Baldrick’s Foundation in 2014 for cancer awareness, raising $6,400
Inspired by a grandmother, the Thalmans helped support St. Baldrick’s Foundation in 2014 for cancer research, raising $6,400—you can, too!

The incident and loss stuck with Thalman. He says, “I never cooled off; it has haunted me since 1997. One of my biggest regrets in life was not taking it out of the truck. But as Elise said, their life would have been greatly altered had I not had the guitar stolen from me. Things in life happen for a reason, whatever that reason may be; regardless of how devastated I was at the time, it is back in my possession, and that is all that matters.”

After being reunited with his Les Paul, he eased into playing again, knowing his chops were rusty. He says, “Not gonna lie, I was timid at first. It had been years since I really picked up a guitar and played like I wanted to play. I have had a couple of acoustics since, but nothing more than putzing around here and there. I could never bring myself to buy another electric—once you have perfection, it’s hard to replicate. 

“What is genuinely unique about this guitar is that it was set up for me. I purchased the guitar from a shop in Yuma, AZ, called Blues Oasis when I was stationed at MCAS Yuma when I was in the Marines. When I first laid eyes on the guitar, I knew it was going to be mine. Brent, the owner of the shop, let me put it on a payment plan (as I was a broke Marine at the age of 20, and $1,400 was a lot of money at the time), and after buying it, he said he would set it up for me. 

Jason Thalman in 2023—Pantera opened for Metallica in Phoenix, AZ
Jason Thalman in 2023—Pantera opened for Metallica in Phoenix, AZ

“Now, I have no idea if he was feeding me stories, but he said he was the luthier who had set up all of Vince Gill’s guitars, so I thought that he knew what he was doing. And boy, was he correct; he replaced the stock nut with a bone nut and dialed in the action so that the guitar practically played itself. It took my playing to a completely other level. I had never played as good as I did when owning that guitar the first time, and [now I’m] hoping that I arrive at my previous destination. 

“The first thing I played was some scales and chord progressions and delved into Greta Van Fleet’s Black Smoke Rising as I am obsessed with their entire catalog. I just need an amp, as I have been playing it raw for the time being.”

Identifying features

As noted by Izzy and Elise, the guitar had probably changed hands many times, though it seems a period-correct chainsaw case was put to good use protecting the instrument. Jason says, “The guitar seemed relatively unharmed, a little more wear than I remember, but all in all, she was exactly as I remember. Couple of tiny chips in the finish along the edges, as to be expected, but at the end of the day, still a classic! First thing I did was replace the strings; that was a must.”

Thalman points out the strongest markers of the identification process. He says, “There are three very distinct characteristics that tell me that this is my guitar.”

  1. The brown tail sticking out of the bridge
Detail of the Les Paul Custom of Jason Thalman
  1.  The “M” in the woodgrain near the bridge section
Detail of the Les Paul Custom of Jason Thalman
  1. The missing finish along the neck after Brent replaced the original nut with the bone nut. “He offered to fix it, but I told him it added character to the guitar’s story.”
Detail of the Les Paul Custom of Jason Thalman

Like many victims of crime, negative emotions and a lingering sense of loss can form in the aftermath. Jason Thalman lost some motivation from the gut-punch-theft of his guitar as anyone would have. He says, “From 1997 to 2003, I hadn’t picked up a guitar. I couldn’t bring myself to play at all. I got an acoustic in 2003, and despite sounding amazing, it just didn’t fill the void my Gibson LPC did. I tinkered around but never really played like I used to. 

“There is something about this guitar; it is a piece of me. We have stories and memories you can’t just replace or replicate. I’ve honestly never wanted another guitar; this guitar was, and now is again, my guitar. There is a symbiotic bond that is indescribable, and in the short time I’ve had her back, I am getting my guitar mojo once again. I have played at least an hour a day just trying to get my chops back.”

On the brighter side of things, now that his Les Paul is back home, friends are reaching out and reconnecting with him. He says, “What’s crazy, I have a lot of musician friends. Whether serious or novice, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of musicians. The reactions to me getting my Gibson back have been unreal; whether it be from new friends or old, everyone has been blown away by how this all unfolded. 

“I have texted with some old friends from my Marine days who I used to play with, and they have been blown away. A lot of people I played with back in the day are more than familiar with this guitar. Prized possession is an understatement.”

Words of advice

Thalman turned the loss into motivation to keep a sharper eye on the guitar going forward. He knows how miraculous it is to get not only one but two chances to get back a prized possession and is determined not to lose it again.

With solid advice for others to avoid his experience, he continues, “Not to sound morbid; I will die with this guitar in my hands, and it will be buried with me in my grave. It will never leave my possession again. I made that mistake once—never again. The best thing I could advise is never let it leave your sight, don’t leave it anywhere you don’t 100 percent know and trust those around you.

“Document every last detail about the guitar, including the serial number and special markings. I know this guitar inside and out and have pictures from 1996 and earlier documenting all the little details. I know someone mentioned to me burying a tracker underneath the pickguard or somewhere on the guitar to be on the safe side, but it’s never leaving my house. You’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands before I lose sight of this guitar again.

The Jason Thalman birthday celebration
The Thalmans at the birthday celebration

“Last, I just want to say that I owe it all to my daughters in tracking this guitar down and getting it back, but what has seemed to be left out of the story is that my girlfriend fronted them the money to get it back in their possession and it’s not easy dropping $3,000 at the drop of a hat, but she financially helped make this happen. Not to mention all of the people who chipped in to pay for the guitar so that April (my girlfriend) didn’t have to shoulder the financial burden herself.

“A lot of people contributed to make this happen, and without all of them, this wouldn’t be a thing, and I wouldn’t have my guitar back. I have felt a part of me missing for 27 years, and now I feel whole once again. This guitar is absolutely the best guitar to ever leave the Gibson factory; that is a fact and one that I don’t take for granted.”

Be bold and discover your dream Gibson Les Paul—but be sure to keep a watchful eye on it.