PORTLAND, Maine — Toby McAllister needs a favor. If you own a Gibson Les Paul Jr. electric guitar, take a look at the serial number. It might be the one he’s searching for.
McAllister, a local musician who got a taste of the big time more than a decade ago with Sparks the Rescue, sold the guitar in a restaurant parking lot while desperate for money in 2013. A gift from his father, he immediately regretted the move. He’s been hoping to find the instrument for years. Now, with help from a pawn shop, he’s located the serial number. McAllister is hoping it’s just the thing to help bring it back to him.
“I feel like this is definitely progress,” he said.
McAllister formed Sparks the Rescue while still in Poland Regional High School in 1999. The power-pop punk ensemble went on to record several albums and travel the world on the Warped Tour, sharing the stage with bands like The All-American Rejects and Sum 41. In 2009, Sparks the Rescue won the “I Want My Music On MTV” competition. Two of their best known songs include “We Love Like Vampires” and a cover of Lady A’s “Need You Now.”
McAllister said the band definitely tasted success but that doesn’t mean they were rich. It was quite the opposite. In those days, he was touring eight months out of the year. It was an expensive undertaking and he was perpetually broke.
“Before leaving on tour, I would always look around for stuff I could sell to get money for food and cigarettes,” he said.
In 2013, McAllister sold the guitar to one of his fans for $500, in a Denny’s parking lot on Congress Street in Portland. He autographed the back for her and wrote the band name in silver Sharpie, sweetening the deal.
McAllister immediately began to lament the deed.
“I probably blew it all in two weeks,” he said.
The simple, one pickup guitar had been a gift from his father, given at the start of his professional career.
“It has a lot of sentimental value,” he said. “I feel so guilty and regretful for selling it.”
By the time McAllister got back in touch with the fan in 2014, she’d sold it to York County Trading Co., a pawn shop in Sanford. Someone bought it there, in a cash deal, the same year. That’s where the trail went cold — until this week.
That’s when the shop was able to locate a copy of the original pawn receipt, including the guitar’s serial number: 03394300.
“I already have it memorized,” McAllister said.
He’s taken to social media to try and get the word out. Now living in Mechanic Falls with a wife, new baby and a dog, McAllister is still a well-known musician. He’s still playing with Sparks, as a solo act and with the Jameson Four. McAllister’s current fans are helping with the search.
“I shared this on a Sanford page I’m a part of,” one fan wrote on Facebook.
“It would be so cool if you found it,” wrote another. “Shared in hopes that you do.”
Though he sold it for $500, McAllister hasn’t given much thought as to how much it’s worth to him, now.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I just want the chance to make an offer.”