Thursday, May 13, 2010

S.D, Curlee Basses and Guitars

S.D. Curlee guitars was founded by Randy Curlee around 1975 in Matteson. The name S.D Curlee came from the three original designers, Sonny Storbeck, Randy Dritz and Randy Curlee.

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.

         Hondo version

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.
Although they were not neck-thru instruments, there was a large brass neck plate that extended well into the body. The necks were bolt-on style.

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.

Some of the companies high end models featured a branded logo instead of the typical decal.

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)

      • Liberty

      • 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).

The basses were available as fretless instruments.

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.


h. linton said...

Wow! Someone actually knows about S.D. Curlee. I was a personal friend of Randy Dritz [haven't seen him since '94] and was there when they put this company together. To this day I can't understand all the hoopla around nitro finishes when it seems any finish is going to impede the tone of a guitar. My P-bass, which Dritz modified for me, had the finish stripped off and Watcos Danish finishing oil applied. BTW - I'm pretty sure that all or most of their instruments - at least their early ones - only had oil finishes. Randy was big into Watcos.

Anonymous said...

I have Standard 2 bass, mahogany body., twin Dimarzio P-bass pickup,gold Grover tuning keys, brass bridge, brass back plates as described above. Hasn't been played in years, always stored in the case at room temperature, probably 1978, definitely SD Curlee made in the USA. Would like to sell, please contact me if interested.

Nate said...

Hello, Im researching my SD Curlee guitar, and i just thought i'd mention; you have said Samick was importing guitars from Korea and Japan. in fact, Samick was only in Korea. They didnt open a plant in Japan until 1990.
As far as i can tell, Hondo was contracted to produce some SD Curlee guitars, which were made by samick out of korea

Lars said...

Way back in 1974 I sold my old Fender P to get money enough to buy the bass that made my heart go BOOM at the moment I got it in my hand and my ears. It's a Curlee Standard with one DiMarzio humbucking pickup and oil finish. It wears production number 1212. I haven't played anything else since that day! Nothing compares! And it still goes BOOM! Feel free to listen at

Anonymous said...

I have a "Yankee II" a crazy lil' guy!
lots of fun and built to last, another fine example of a well made and thought out boutique instrument.

virginia88 said...

How Can I date my S.D. Curlee 6string guitar? It's a branded logo USA sweet. The only number I see is on the unique handmade looking brass bridge. Would love to know.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i'm from Belgium. Owner SD curlee guitar. Series number 0020025. Bought 1981.
Di marzio pick ups. super distorsion on bridge and single coil on neck.
Very good instrument.

John Klink said...

I picked up a nice Harmony brand 6 string double cut-away guitar that looks like the S. D. Curlee walnut with 2 maple inlay stripes. The signature on the face says "design by S.D. Curlee. It is in good shape and seems to play well. I have asked Harmony about this and not gotten a reply. It does not show up in any of their catalogs. Any ideas what this is? The repair man who made some adjustments told me he does not believe this is a composite instrument. He is familiar with Harmony and Curlee guitars and he has never seen this. Any ideas?