All photos courtesy of Jesse Caron
The epidemic of tour van thefts in St. Louis
became frighteningly common knowledge for many musicians around the country in 2014.
Thieves would steal from vans in Midtown
, in gated hotel parking lots
and in the midday sun
. Venues, anxious of the dangerous reputation St. Louis was receiving, hired guards for their lots. Even then, a watchman could leave for the restroom and return three minutes later to an empty van. Sometimes the thieves drove away with the vehicles, sometimes they left them gutted, sometimes they even left the instruments, taking personal electronics and wallets as their only booty.
After a string of three burglaries in two weeks, St. Louis police, generally unable to help in this situation, apparently began to take measures to catch the perpetrators. They talked about using bait vans or tracking electronics to follow the thieves
, and in general improve communication between venue owners. They said they had “strong, solid leads” on the perpetrators.
This was in the fall of 2014. For around six months, the van burglary spree subsided, but then it returned in full force in the summer of 2015
. To be sure, the police, on their own, can’t do very much to combat these burglaries, and artists have little hope of finding goods once they’ve been stolen
Jesse Caron, owner of Gigbox.
But St. Louis' Jesse Caron, owner of the company Gigbox (“a kind of dollar shave club for musicians,” as Caron describes it), has come up with a solution: a tuner pedal with GPS tracking capabilities.
The concept of this product, the Smrt Roadie, is relatively simple, and already successfully utilized for electronics.
"The GPS tracker will be built into the tuner, and provide pin-point precision on where that pedal is," says Caron.
The “find my phone” iPhone app works essentially the same way: If you lose the product or it is stolen, you can sign into a website or an app and see where the product is on a little map. The importance of the GPS pedal is how it expands tracking capabilities to precious gear, the linchpin of a musician’s livelihood.
The pedal, which Caron hopes to have available in prototype in a few weeks, will cost $149.95 retail, which is a fair cost for both a high-end tuner and a form of gear insurance. The GPS will be charged whenever it’s on a pedal board, and when off the board the battery will last up to ten days — more than enough power for any band on tour.
The goals of the tuner are two-fold, with one hopefully leading to another. The first is to simply find stolen gear, Caron says, “before it ends up on eBay six months later.” Caron has been working with local authorities, who he says are willing to retrieve gear if it is tracked with the Smrt Roadie. Police just need to know where to go. Caron sees a future in these products expanding to guitar cases with embedded trackers as well, increasing the likelihood that police can retrieve stolen gear.
The secondary goal, though, is to hopefully deter some of these crimes. Thieves may be more wary of hitting touring vans if there’s a possibility they will be followed afterwards.
But to achieve this later objective, people need to start using the tracking pedals. Caron will launch the product on Kickstarter and begin putting the pedal on trial uses with bands touring in St. Louis.
“We want to deal as local as we can,” he says. Bands in the city can reach out to Caron to potentially test the product once it comes out.
“But it’s not just about cleaning up St. Louis,” he adds. “It’s about cleaning up the nation.”