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Jim Cleary, of Old Mystic, is happy to have his 1963 Martin guitar back in his hands. | (Angela Algiere / The Westerly Sun)

Old Mystic musician and classic Martin guitar reunited

OLD MYSTIC — Jim Cleary said he was in a comfortable place last Friday, sitting on his chair in the sunniest spot in his front yard near North Stonington Road and waiting on the delivery of his prescriptions. His beloved guitar and dog Molly were next to him when he got up to answer the phone in the house.

When Cleary, a 64-year-old musician, returned, his 1963 vintage acoustic guitar, which had been in its case, was missing, along with about a half-dozen 1800s-era silver dollar coins left to him by his father. He said he was upset but reacted quickly, calling a local pawnshop out of concern the guitar could be headed there with someone wanting some quick cash. He then called Stonington police to report the theft.

It turns out that Cleary’s vintage Brazilian rosewood Martin guitar was brought into Spindrift on State Street in New London for “appraisal” over the weekend. Cleary had not heard about Spindrift, or owner John Van Ness, whom he credits with the return of his classic guitar, estimated to be worth thousands of dollars.

Van Ness said he persuaded the two men who had the guitar to leave it at the store for a more thorough evaluation. The guitar case and the instrument itself had Cleary’s name on it.

Part of the appraisal process, Van Ness said, is to get detailed photos of the instrument. Knowing Cleary had apparently reported his stolen and this one was a match, Van Ness said he called Cleary and Stonington police officers, who had been advised of the theft.

Cleary easily identified his beloved guitar by markings he had made inside with a red marker as a youth, and identified a badge on the case that read: “Property of Jim Cleary.”

The owners of the guitar shop also had the name, address and phone number of those who left the guitar. Stonington police said they were investigating the matter.

As Cleary spoke of the incident recently, he tuned up and played a little on the guitar he had saved for and purchased while working at Caruso’s Music in New London when he was 14. He taught some lessons then, getting about $4.50 an hour and finally having enough to buy the coveted guitar. He said he played until he got hardened blisters, a good sign he was practicing enough. Playing hard is what he’s been doing lately, he said, in an effort to muster up some gigs. Things have been tough for him, unemployed and disabled, his music and his dog are his companions. Cleary, an Army veteran, said he was concerned about problems with his house, which is in foreclosure and needs significant repairs, including a new furnace. But music keeps up his spirits and having his guitar returned so quickly was nothing short of miraculous to him.

Cleary says he’ll continue playing, even though he says Molly doesn’t appreciate his Bob Dylan version of “Corrina, Corrina,” and often high-tails it out of the house when he begins to play.

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