Museum Displays a Legendary Bass Guitar with a Remarkable Story
Fenimore Art Museum Displays a Legendary Bass Guitar with a Remarkable Story
One of the most legendary basses in rock ’n’ roll history is on display through September 2, 2019. The bass, named “Dragon,” was designed and meticulously crafted for Jefferson Starship bassist Pete Sears in 1977 by local luthier Thomas Lieber. From 1974 to 1977, the D Irwin Guitar company was comprised of the luthier duo of Doug Irwin and Tom Lieber.
The “Dragon” bass is constructed from rare hardwoods and has a distinct, silver dragon design inlay on the body. Its cocobolo top was cut from the same piece of wood as Jerry Garcia’s famous “Tiger” guitar, which was also built by Irwin and Lieber. It also shares the same earth and eagle design inlay on the headstock. In 2002, the “Tiger” sold at auction for $957,500, which was believed to be the highest price ever paid for a custom guitar at auction.
The “Dragon” acquired its claim to fame in 2013 after a story appeared in Rolling Stone magazine. The article explains the instruments mysterious disappearance that began over 30 years earlier. In June 1978, the bass went missing during a riot at the Lorelei Festival in St. Goarshausen, Germany. Just before Pete Sears’ band, Jefferson Starship, was scheduled to perform, the show was canceled. Chaos erupted and audience members stormed the stage. The band members escaped the mayhem unharmed, leaving their equipment, including “The Dragon,” behind.
Over 30 years later, on April 1, 2013, a German musician named Klaus Wilm responded to a post left by Lieber on a Grateful Dead forum asking readers if they had seen the bass. Wilm told Lieber he bought the bass in the early 90s from a musician in the Netherlands who claimed it once belonged to a member of the 1980s band Golden Earring. With this information, Lieber contacted the original owner, Pete Sears, and after some tense negotiations, the guitar was returned home. Lieber received the instrument to perform any needed restorations.
“Klaus was a very good steward of the bass for the last 15 of the 35 years the bass was missing,” said Lieber. “It’s remarkable we found the bass and a gift that it’s back in Pete’s hands. Both Pete and I often wonder what the dragon bass was up to the first 20 years it went missing.”
The “Dragon Bass” will reside at Fenimore Art Museum through September 2, 2019. The instrument complements two other guitars on loan from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of the current exhibition Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits, on view through September 2. Visitors can see iconic photographs of the most popular musicians of the 80s and 90s including David Bowie, Tina Turner, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Prince, Cher, Madonna and many more, as well as stage costumes, cameras used by Herb Ritts, videos, and contact sheets–all telling the story of the photographer’s creative workflow.
Thomas Lieber will speak at Fenimore on Saturday, June 15, during a special evening program focusing on “The Art of the Guitar.” During this exceptional evening of art, story, and sound, Lieber will discuss the art of creating custom electric guitars for such musical legends as Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead and bassist Pete Sears of Jefferson Starship. Hear live demonstrations of his guitars as he describes how each custom model produces a unique sound. Also hear a talk on the guitars featured in Fenimore’s highlight exhibition, Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits. Afterward, join Mr. Lieber for cocktails and a buffet on the museum’s terrace overlooking Otsego Lake. (Registration required. See website for cost and details.)