By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s connections to famous musicians extends well beyond Prince and Bob Dylan.

Decades ago, Jimmy Page of Led Zepellin had his 1960 Les Paul custom guitar stolen after a concert in the Twin Cities.

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Page, a rock and roll hall of famer and one of the most famous guitarists of all time, was devastated and offered a handsome reward to get it back.

Forty-five years later, he did. WCCO’s John Lauritsen shows us how two St. Paul men happened upon a legendary discovery.

A “Guitar God” Jimmy Page’s star was skyrocketing well before he founded Led Zeppelin.

“He worked with The Who. He recorded on the song “Downtown.” He recorded songs for the James Bond movies,” said Nate Westgor of Willie’s American Guitars in St. Paul.

Behind Page’s success was his 1960 Les Paul custom guitar — known as Black Beauty. The last time Page had it in his hands was at a Met Center concert in April of 1970.

“He pulled out this guitar for the last song, “Whole Lotta Love.” He put it down and he never saw it again,” said Westgor.

Page was devastated. Throughout the ‘70’s he took out ads in Rolling Stone Magazine, asking people to help find Black Beauty.

“He wanted it back at any cost,” said Westgor.

Fast forward to 1993 — Paul “Bleem” Claesgens is working at Willie’s when a man walks in with a guitar and hints it may have once belonged to the rock legend.

“Nate looked at it. We had some other folks look at it. And we were like, no, it’s not,” said Claesgens.

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The problem was it was missing two distinctive drill holes. So Claesgens played the Les Paul for the next 20 plus years — sometimes using it as more than just an instrument.

“You’d be through the first, few songs and then here come the beer bottles so it was also a shield,” said Claesgens with a laugh. Claesgens plays in the band Brass Elephant.

Finally, in 2015 the guitar needed some repairs. That’s when Claesgens and Westgor found those hidden drill holes with a black light — they had been lacquered over.

“Once I saw those two holes, I was like, ‘oh my God’ — the hair stood up,” said Westgor.

Using a connection with the Rolling Stones, they got in touch with Page’s people who agreed to give Claesgens a new guitar for Page’s old one.

They decided to make the exchange in Dallas. So Westgor drove down from St. Paul with the guitar — giving it first-class treatment along the way.

“On the way down there I slept in hotel rooms that had two beds. Jimmy Page’s guitar had its own bed. God forbid I get up and step on it,” said Westgor. “I’ve never driven so careful in my life.”

Back in the rock legend’s hands, there’s no doubt Page has a “Whole Lotta Love” for Westgor and Claesgens. And they couldn’t be happier.

“It was the right thing. Just the right thing to do. I try to go through life and do things in an honorable way,” said Claesgens.

“That’s what this story is about. A guy just doing the right thing,” said Westgor.

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It’s estimated that Jimmy Page’s guitar is worth between $3 and $5 million.

John Lauritsen