The Guess Who had driven in their bus from Winnipeg to Nanaimo, B.C., to play a single church-basement gig – it was early days for the band; 1967, Randy Bachman figures. They were already on stage when a young musician walked in, carrying a brown case. "Every guitar player knows what a little brown case is – it's a Les Paul," Mr. Bachman says. It was a 1959 Les Paul Special with a Bigsby vibrato. The band was already into its first song, but the guitar case guy motioned to Mr. Bachman, suggesting he could take the guitar and play it onstage. In return, Mr. Bachman handed him the Mosrite guitar he had been playing.
"And at the end of the night, I went to give it back to him and he said, 'You mean, you don't want to trade?'" Mr. Bachman recalls. "I said it's not a fair trade, so I'll give you all the money I have in my pocket. So I gave him some money and the Mosrite guitar and that was it. And then it went on to become my favourite playing guitar."
Mr. Bachman played that Les Paul on songs such as These Eyes, No Time and the band's gigantic hit, American Woman. "That wonderful sound of American Woman, you hear it on the radio – it's that guitar," Mr. Bachman says. "It's just a fat, buttery, smooth sound. It's quite amazing."
Now, the guitar that gave the Canadian hit American Woman its distinctive sound, and which has been on loan to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the past few years, has left the United States for Canada.
A week ago, Mr. Bachman was performing in Cleveland, got the guitar back and had it shipped to Calgary. This week, he reunited with it at its new home: the National Music Centre. The guitar will be on long-term loan to the NMC's facility, set to open to the public in spring, 2016 – and which has been named Studio Bell after a 12-year, $10-million donation from Bell Canada announced on Thursday.
"It's great to have a home for it in Canada, because up until now, there's been no trophy room for us Canadians ... to put our tools of our trade and the things that help us achieve worldwide rock and roll domination for our 15 minutes of fame," Mr. Bachman said after performing at the NMC site on Thursday.
"It's probably the most famous Canadian guitar."