S.D. Curlee basses and guitar was founded by three men (Homer) Sonny Storbeck, Randy Dritz and Randy Curlee around 1975 in Randy Curlee's Matteson Illinois music store.
The guiding principle of the company as envisioned by Storbeck, Dritz and Curlee was that the guitar company should build a quality instrument at an affordable price for the user. The company began by building 100 instruments, 75 basses and 25 guitars) for the 1975 NAMM show.
These were truly handmade instruments.
Shortly after the 1975 NAMM show, Randy Dritz left the company. Around 1977 the S.D. Curlee’s changed the pickups to DiMarzio “Hot” P-Bass models.
The big problem for the company was the fact that there was only one actual luthier running the company. The other partners were business men. This really put a kink in ramping up production to meet sales demands.
|Denny Rauen today|
He offered to fix a sander that was in need of repair for the company and was offered a job. Within a year and a half he was in charge of the work shop. He was able to upgrade the tool and jig designs to be more efficient.
|1976 Liberty Bell Bass|
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.
|SD Curlee guitar|
The surface-mount Badass II models were first made in 1978. Badass bridges that were sunk into the body were first used in 1979. The number of instruments that were actually produced is hard to pin down.
Denny Rauen recalls that the numbers were exaggerated for publicity sake. The monthly output was in the neighborhood of 25 instruments.
The serial numbers on the basses and guitars were somewhat erroneous due to the company’s embellishment of production numbers and the fact that there was a bin of numbered plates that were randomly used, but there was no real record.
Also the control cavities shape was altered. By 1980 the SD Curlee logo was replaced to one that just read Curlee.
They had planned on using poplar and painting the instruments.
Those of us that can remember that era, the 1980’s brought an influx of very well made imported instruments. This was the era of pointy guitars/basses and heavy metal.
Denny Rauen went to work for Dean Guitars and designed the Dean Baby series. He also worked on their multiple radius fingerboards. Lately he has a career as an independent luthier based out of Milwaukee.
Jack Blades of Night Ranger went from using to SD Curlee bass guitars to Hamer bass, which looked amazingly similar to his Curlees. Some of 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
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). The basses were available as fretless instruments.
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.
SD Curlee guitars and basses have been resurrected and are currently being built at the Wingfeather Workshop in Wimberley Texas by Birdsong Guitars. For much more information visit SD Curlee USA.