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MORGANTON: Greg Curbow, 48, perfected art of making string instruments

By HOLLY CRENSHAW

Greg Curbow's guitars and basses were so flawless that it was hard to believe they were crafted by hand.

"People would think they must be machine-made because every instrument was absolutely perfect," said his wife, Margaret Sims-Curbow of Morganton. "So sometimes Greg would intentionally leave a tiny little spot on them. He'd call it their beauty mark."

Working out of a shop on a small farm once owned by his grandmother, Mr. Curbow fashioned sleek, curvaceous electric instruments that were coveted by musicians --- from big-name pros to lustful amateurs who simply wanted to get their hands on the best.

Mr. Curbow, 48, of Morganton died Saturday of a brain tumor at Peachtree Christian Hospice. The body will be cremated. The memorial service will be 3 p.m. Friday at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Blue Ridge. Cremation Society of the South is in charge of arrangements.

Mr. Curbow was at ease in the rough-and-tumble world of rock but approached his work with a surgeon's precision. "Everything has to be done to the thousandth of an inch," he said in a 1998 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.

After graduating from high school, the Atlanta native studied drafting and electronics before opening Midnight Music in Little Five Points when he was 23. He wisely kept the shop open late in the evening to accommodate musicians' schedules and built a clientele that included such well-known artists as Curtis Mayfield and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

In 1988, he was summoned to the Omni to perform emergency repairs for former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Mr. Curbow was hired on the spot as a guitar tech for the rest of Mr. Page's solo tour.

After months on the road, he went back to perfecting his instrument-building skills. He moved to Morganton and by the mid-'90s, Curbow String Instruments was selling 110 guitars and basses a year. Mr. Curbow also designed a widely produced Cort Curbow bass guitar, still sold in retail stores.

But instead of expanding, the company scaled back and started to focus on one-of-a-kind instruments made to the exact specifications of each customer. The luthier shop now turns out fewer than a dozen instruments a year that sell for thousands of dollars each.

"They're quite simply the best bass guitars in the world, and I've played everything," said John Prock of Monterey, Calif., who runs a music store there and owns eight Curbow basses. "Besides the quality being second to none, there's something magical about the sound of them. It's the sound I've always had in my head and nothing else comes close."

Mr. Curbow's aesthetic standards carried over to his love of cars. He pampered his two 1959 Pontiacs, a white Bonneville hardtop and a red Catalina convertible. He also doted on his seven house cats and shop cat, Greycie, who hung out all day as music blared in the workroom.

"The motto at the shop was, 'Perfection: It'll do, but just barely,' " said Doug Somervell of Brasstown, N.C., one of its two employees.

"Greg pushed all of us to another level. I really wasn't half-bad when I arrived --- I had built a lot of guitars and done a lot of repairs --- but I'm a much better craftsman now, thanks to him."

Survivors include a sister, Genevieve Curbow of Atlanta; and brother, Jay Curbow of Morganton.



© 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Aug. 16, 2005
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