Friday, 5 July 2013

S.D. Curlee Liberty Bell bass

To me, the name S.D. Curlee evokes three piece through-necks, DiMarzios, Badass bridges and wood finishes like my Mum's coffee table. This Curlee bass from 1976 does not disappoint. I remember seeing the ads for them at the time and, although they've never really appealed to me, I never forgot them. This is the kind of guitar I associated with big, hairy armed, denim clad rockers who, for some reason, wore midriff revealing girly tops and hairstyles like Roger Daltrey or Jimmy Page. Probably because that's the kinds of band I used to see a lot at that time, Strider, Strife, Stray, Savoy Brown, Bob Story, lots of bands whose names began with "S" (star?), and Rory Gallagher, The Enid, Caravan, Colloseum II... Yes, I was weird. Anyway, what I mean to say is, these are men's guitars, designed for hard rocking, tough talking, shit kicking, mean, SOBs. Sorry, came over all American then. Must be the Curlee effect.

This odd shaped bass is a little out there but not all that over the top really. It's supposed to be in the shape of the Liberty Bell. Like the Airline Map is supposed to be in the (art deco styled) shape of the US of A.

The seller says:
Made in the famous Matsumoku guitar factory. Amazing vintage Bass; all original electronics and pickups--works great, and have not been modified. Controls are volume/tone/tone and a pickup selector switch. Has 2 made in USA DiMarzio split coil pickups, and even still has the Dimarzio sticker on the back! Minimal fretwear, and the fret edges are nice and smooth. Brass nut. 32" scale with 1 5/8 inch nut. Weighs approximately 8.5 pounds. This bass sounds AWESOME! Has a huge tone, and can really thump!

And a couple of paragraphs from the S.D. Curlee website
Enter Denny Rauen. He was a young guy working for a construction company that ran the building SD Curlee was in, a player and ceramic artist with a natural ability for how things work. The workshop was battling a spindle sander they couldn't get working... "If I fix that sander, will you hire me?" He got it working in about 5 minutes, was hired, and within a year and a half he was in charge of the workshop. Denny tweaked the basic Dritz design, retooled everything, designed more jigs and systems and got it into smoother production. 
He designed the "Liberty" bass in 1976 to get some attention. (That's the Curlee bass that looks like an old telephone. Keep in mind this was the '70s and a bass shaped like a melting liberty bell wasn't all that far out.) They took some hand made versions to a NAMM show and... surprise, there was Hondo with dozens of them from a Japanese factory. Randy Curlee had licensed the design to Hondo. The flipside of this, though, is he was one of the (if not the) first to license and purchase overseas copies of a company's own designs for a lower line - a business model now followed by most big guitar companies and many independents.
I don't know if that corroborates the sellers claim of it being Matsumoku made or not. I couldn't find any reference to Hondo having guitars made by them. I'm sure someone out there knows. US made SD Curlees seem to have carved logos whereas this has a decal. so might mean something. I wonder if the Hondo made guitars were branded Hondo or S.D. Curlee...

David in sweaty Barcelona

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  1. A man's bass! it's because of the simple law about energy ;less can't produce more. If you've got good pickups and tight adjustment between the body and the neck you get huge sound. Add brass saddles and you get even more ringing tone BUT heavy instrument. Just a matter of training...and motivation! The neck reminds me of Shergold basses though they weren't through body necks

  2. This super-sturdy bass looks like it could be a real friend if the shit hit the fan in a bar fight.

  3. Here's a couple more paragraphs from SD Curley's new site which support the sellers claims about it's Matsumoku origins and also illustrate that the relative cost of a premium guitar hasn't changed all that much. This was an expensive guitar in it's day.

    The USA made instruments say USA under the burned-in SD Curlee logo. The ones that have "Int'l" are "International" models made at the Matsumoku factory in Japan. Great quality and generally held up very well over the years. Hondo handled this deal as well as offered their own Hondo versions which were also Japanese. The "Aspen" were lower quality (you can tell by the covered tuners) Japan. Inexpensive black P pickups. The Global and SD Curlee Design series were Korean. Very early Korean. These were the inexpensive guitars and basses.

    New SD Curlees of this era generally sold for $500 - $1000, right in line with the USA Gibsons and Fenders of the time. Keep in mind in the '70s you could also buy a 4-bedroom house for what a pickup truck costs now, median household income was fifteen grand a year and gas was under 50 cents a gallon. $500 then is 3 or 4 grand now.

  4. just to further illustrate that... This guitar was on for $450 (about €350) and didn't sell. I hope it comes back on. About a year ago I was following an, excellent condition, 1959 3/4 size Gibson Melody Maker which went for £850. About three years ago I was bidding on a 1958 Fender Jazzmaster in mint condition with original paperwork. It sold for about £3800. I know who bought it and they are still trying to sell it on (so it was pretty much at it's limit). The point is there are still bargains out there to be had. For players instruments, it's even better as they aren't usually subject to fashion fluctuations unless someone famous starts playing one. The Fender Starcaster (as played by Jonny Greenwood) is a good example. The Peavey T range is also overdue for a raise in their cult status as are Ibanez Roadstars/Blazers. It really is hard to imagine these Curlees reaching the same status but, as I say, it only takes a star or cool player to play one and they can achieve some of their old glory. We just need a revival of PubRock, CockRock or BeerBarBlues to get these instruments in front of the punters again.

    1. I think we've had a similar conversation about Cimar's before....

      While the Starcaster once was a bargain.... Times are sadly changing. They frequently have demands for 4000+ on eBay and heaven help you if it's a RARE!!!!!!!!!!! Colour. There was recently a black Starcaster on eBay Australia, it was clearly heavily crazed (likely bad storage and improperly cured finish) for 5000 aud (about 4500 US). It was clearly in need of work, but the price never came down with several relistings. The other problem is sellers are getting far more cocky, charging extortionate prices for ANYTHING just to get a quick buck. Even if everyone hates it, or it is simply unrecognised, someone's gotta be dumb enough to buy it. The On-line stores are the worst, BIN with no best offer and the price is usually 4 Grand Plus.

      But the Peavey T's! Oh the Peavey T's! I watched a T-60 Bass in america (with orig hard-case and everything) barely scrape up to 178$, while one in Aus sold for 52-$, and in both cases this was a steal. Buy Peavey's, just do it, they will go up in value very soon, which will be a pity. Where are the poor to go for their decent gear at pawn shop prices?

      Time was the poor little kid could go buy a knackered fender amp and guitar and take over the world, maybe even a knackered SG if he was all fancy, but forget about it now. 1100$ for a fender princeton!!???!! NO. And don't even start on all Japanese Guitars....

      We now have too many collectables and not enough guitars, this seems backward to me.

      Wait.... Everyone still hates Yamaha's! Excuse me, I'll be on EBay.

    2. Everyone hates Yamahas? Not at Guitarz, we don't!

    3. Unfortunately you guys are just crazy enough to look at anything that rates a 10.5 (out of 5) on the weirdness scale and go "YES! I must have it in my life!"

      Guitarz contributers and readers are not necessarily sitting comfortably on the bell curve of guitar ownership.

      Still, love a good Yammie, they make you fall in love with them, and never let them go.

    4. I love Yamahas. In very few years we'll see what some of the Pacifica series will do on ebay!Years ago one of my friends lent me this sg shaped but Lespaul thickness (I don't remenber the model) It was one of the best guitars I've ever played (And I've played a lot!). Same thing for Peavey; Old ones sound and feel really good,like vintage fenders etc...!

  5. Speaking of early Peaveys, between 1980 and 1992 I had THREE Peavey T-40 basses in a row (they kept getting stolen!). All three were natural satin "kitchen table" finish with rosewood fingerboards (apparently a rare combination; most natural T-40s had maple boards), although the pickup design and body contouring varied slightly between each bass.

    Extremely heavy (I was younger at the time!) and with the most versatile passive tone circuit I have ever seen; two huge humbuckers that looked like Rickenbacker "toasters" but the size of a Fender Tele bass humbucker, a pickup selector, phase switch, and separate volume and tone/coil fade control for each pickup. I swear you could get this thing to sound like a Fender, a Rickenbacker or even a string bass or a tuba. Which I often did, since I played with a trad jazz band at the time.

  6. SD Curlee went back into production a few years ago. They are now made in the beautiful Texas hill country. When I was a kid I thought they had a very cool look and yes they were heavy!. I hope to own one (new or old) someday. Here's the site:

    1. They do come up on Ebay very occasionally but I've been waiting quite a while since the last one. I set up the notification maybe two years ago and I regularly get false alarms of people selling adverts but this has been a bit of a bonanza as it's pretty weird looking too. I think the asking price is pretty OK but you'd have to want one. If you think of similar "small shop" guitars of the period, Dan Armstrong plexi's for example at about £1500 or more, These are nice, still affordable little treasures.



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