The company produced an estimated 15,000 handcrafted instruments including 12,000 bass guitars, between 1975 and 1982. The guiding principle of the company as envisioned by Curlee was that the guitar company should build a quality instrument at an affordable price for the user.
In addition to making U.S. based instruments, the Curlee brand was also licensed to IMC, a Texas based company that was importing Samick guitars manufactured in Korea and Japan.
The Korean manufactured S.D. Curlee guitars were sold under the Hondo brand name. Thus making S.D. Curlee one of the first US based manufacturers to approach using foreign companies to produce copies of it's brand. This set the trend for Fender, Gibson, Guild, Gretsch and other US based musical instrument manufacturers to outsource production of their lower cost lines overseas.
At a time when companies such as Alembic made natural wood finishes popular, S.D. Curlee was all about the wood. Bodies tended to be walnut and necks were maple. The finish was usually clear and not overly polished allowing the wood to show through.
All of the models shared the same basic, almost symmetrical shape (inspired by the Gibson Les Paul double cutaway Junior).
Curlees featured state of the art hardware; Gold Grover tuning heads, Badass II bridges, a brass nut and high output DiMarzio's.
All of the basses, which the company was mainly known for, used a 32½" medium scale neck. Later models introduced a German Carve body and silver hardware.
The models were:
- Standard 1 (1 P-bass DiMarzio, mahogany body, maple neck, originally equipped with a Gibson like humbucker located near the bridge
- Standard 2 (identical to the above but 2 pick ups)
- Butcher (body made of butcher block maple)
- Curbeck (body made of walnut, maple stripes)
- Summit (body and neck made of laminated walnut)
- C-30 (violin shape, walnut/maple body, maple neck) probably the rarest Curlee bass produced
- Yankee (active electronics ,walnut body, maple neck, small upper horn/lower bout inclination, ...sort of an 'updated'version of the Curbeck ) - released in the early 1980s. The Yankee was advertised with three different pick up configurations; 1 P-bass (Yankee I), 2-Pbass (Yankee II) and the rare Yankee II-J including 1 p-bas (bridge)/J-bass (neck). Most Yankees have a 2 p-bass pick-up set up (Yankee II).
S.D. Curlee instruments are well made and bargains in the vintage market, selling for $400 to $800 which is twice was they cost new.
As we progressed into the 1980's guitar designers were thinking of new ways to increase sales. Natural wood instruments were no longer in vogue.
The popular guitars and basses were now made with heavily coated polyesther finishes in flashy finishes. You could barely tell if they had any wood in the body. Some were even made with resin bodies and necks.
Amplifiers of the era discarded tubes in favor of solid state versions.
The S.D. Curlee company was forced out of business in 1982. Randy Curlee then went to work for Yamaha. He died in 2005.