Stolen Surf-Rock Icon Is Returned to Museum

Times Staff Writer

After 5 weeks as a truly hot item--in the sense of being stolen goods--the electric guitar that Dick Dale used to pioneer surf-rock music has been returned to the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum.

"It's a little bit nicked for the wear, but it's back," Natalie Kotsch, the museum's founder and chairwoman, said Thursday.

Kotsch said a 25-year-old woman returned the instrument Wednesday afternoon after being assured that no questions would be asked. Dale had donated the guitar to the museum when it opened in July.

"She said the chap that had it couldn't even show it to anyone, and it would only be right if it would be back where everyone can enjoy it," Kotsch said.

The guitar was stolen in late January from the museum's former location at 312 Walnut Ave., since abandoned to the city's downtown redevelopment project. Kotsch said she is keeping the guitar--a white, generic instrument with a black crown painted at the top of the neck that Dale bought for $200 in 1955--"under lock and key" in her office for now.

It will go back on display when the museum opens this spring at a new location, 411 Olive Ave.

Reached at his home in Garden Grove, Dale was delighted about the return of the guitar he used on stage in the 1950s when he was forging the surf-rock sound at the Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa Peninsula.

Dale said he had heard from museum officials that his guitar had changed hands "about three times" before it came into the possession of the people who decided to return it.

Dale credited the extensive media attention given to the theft with helping to ensure the guitar's safe return.

"It made me feel like the Hope Diamond was taken. That made me feel special, like everybody came to my aid," said Dale, who continues to perform with his band, the Deltones.

"I'm going to go down and hug it and kiss it and hold it in my arms."

But after cradling the guitar once more, Dale said, he is going to let the museum keep it. "I'm sure they're going to protect it," he said.

While Dale's guitar is back, Kotsch's videocassette recorder and movie camera power pack, also stolen in the museum burglary, are still missing.

"That's OK. They make VCRs every day, but there's not another one of these in life," she said about the guitar.

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