Printer-friendly version

A way to recover YOUR stolen Strad!

December 17, 2010 at 6:26 PM

Hello all,

As many of you might know, a precious 1696 Stradivari worth 1.4 million Euros was recently stolen from a sandwich bar in London, quite possibly the most costly snack stop of all time. At the time of this writing, it has not yet been recovered.

Yesterday I was interviewed on the subject by The Strad magazine, knowing that I have been researching this, and they asked my opinion as to how a stolen violin can be most easily located and thus recovered. A GPS system built into the case perhaps, or maybe an EPIRB transmitter (Swiss watchmaker Breitling makes one built into one of their chronographs), or something else? 
The GPS idea is fascinating with all that space-age technology, but GPS doesn't work inside a building because the receiver cannot pick up the satellite signals from the sky through bricks and mortar. An EPIRB transmitter, or emergency beacon, requires first that someone activate it to start signaling, something a castaway on a desert island will probably do as soon as he finishes the last bottle of rum, but a gesture a Strad thief is likely to put off indefinitely. 
Accordingly, I hereby announce my modest contribution to this discussion, which may be the cheapest, simplest, most fool-proof solution so far suggested, and that any six-year-old can operate. All you have to do is take a small, inexpensive cellphone (think Nokia Classic or similar) and hide it away in the case, switched on stand-by in silent mode.

If the violin is stolen, the cellphone hidden in the case will continue to remain in contact with the mobile phone network for days, signaling it's position. The case can thus be tracked by the police in real time (they do it all the time for missing or abducted persons, everyone these days carries a cell phone) and the chances of recovering it are much higher, especially if a reward is offered. In fact, I don't think that the first thing a thief will do is take the violin out of the case and admire it: rather, he will try to distance himself as far as possible from the crime scene and get to a safe haven. And I would imagine that, knowing the value of the stolen Stradivari, he will try to protect it to make sure it doesn't get damaged. So, the violin will most likely stay in the case, at least until the thief reached his hideaway, at which point the police can close in.
The average cellphone has a battery life on stand-by of close to a week, which should be more than adequate time to recover the instrument even if the battery is partially discharged. A tri-band cellphone (900, 1800 and 1900 mHz) will work in most parts of the world, from Milwaukee to Beijing passing through Paris and Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.
The best solution of course remains to keep the Strad under your control at all times, but this isn't always possible and perhaps my suggestion can be useful.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!


From Emily Liz
Posted on December 17, 2010 at 7:10 PM

Have you seen "Study in Pink", the BBC's marvelous new adaptation of Sherlock Holmes set in 2010?

(spoiler below)

A victim plants a mobile phone in her murderer's car, and Holmes is able to trace the whereabouts of the murderer after he deduces the victim's password.

From Michael Divino
Posted on December 17, 2010 at 9:02 PM

 A clever solution!

From Michael Pijoan
Posted on December 18, 2010 at 6:59 AM

 If these become commonly used, then thieves will probably carry an extra violin case with them, switch the cases and ditch the one with the tracker device in it.

From Dimitri Musafia
Posted on December 18, 2010 at 12:57 PM

Perhaps. Until then...

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on December 18, 2010 at 6:48 PM

Dmitri - maybe you could design a case which has the equivalent of the phone you describe built-in and "hidden" into the construction, all that would be visible to naked eye would be a tiny socket so the user could recharge it every week or so with a standard recharger, perhaps an unlabelled LED "low charge" light indicator inside one of the compartments to remind them to do so...

Sure, it would cost a bit - but if I was the owner of that stolen Strad, or insurance company - the outlay of maybe a few thousand would currently appear a more than worthwhile investment.  Of course the other benefit is that even if the violin does get removed from the case before it is tracked down, there might be forensic detail left behind which can be lifted when the case is found.

 Oh and of course, case manufacturers wouldn't actually mention this stuff in detail on their website, just something discreet like "Tracking security available for £xxxx extra"

From Dimitri Musafia
Posted on December 19, 2010 at 11:50 AM

Thanks Rosalind - actually, I have already come up with a solution, I just didn't want to blare it out on this site because I don't think it's good taste on my part.

Simply stated, I will be offering some case models with a hidden compartment where one can stash a cellphone. Any cellphone. Especially here in Europe, people buy new ones all the time, meaning that their drawers are full of old ones. All those people who now have iPhones certainly have an oldPhone somewhere. I personally have two brand-new Nokias that I've never used, because they came with a telecommunications package deal my wife signed up for. Perfect candidates for the violin case!

That way the cost of this kind of protection would be just that of paying for the hidden compartment option, and eventually a new SIM card, no need to spend thousands! I like to keep it simple. 


From Rosalind Porter
Posted on December 19, 2010 at 12:12 PM

That's cool Dmitri!! 

I can see the newspaper story already:  "Prize winning young violinist with borrowed Strad forgot to recharge secret tracker phone in case..."  

Maybe musicians simply shouldn't be allowed outside without supervision!?

P.S. I LOVE my case!

From John Cadd
Posted on December 19, 2010 at 12:48 PM

A bigger robbery is the way instrument prices have spiralled so high for whatever reason. Know what I mean? Say no more.

From Karis Crawford
Posted on December 20, 2010 at 4:20 PM

That's a great idea.  Too bad it wouldn't work in Kenya!  I had my violin stolen (and recovered, after a long, harrowing, exciting story I won't tell here) but I can tell you the first thing those thieves did was clean out the case.  They took out over $100 worth of music and burned it!  Thankfully they were not musicians and didn't know what the violin was (they thought it was a guitar for a baby).  They left the rosin, shoulder rest and humidifier but took everything else.  If I had a cell phone hidden in there they would have found it and that would have been the first thing they would have sold!  The police aren't very handy here, either, so unless you know someone who works for the phone networks and is willing to risk their job to do a little illegal phone tracking, you would be out of luck!

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine