Nearly every guitarist has a yarn about the one that got away. While most end with some degree of regret and longing, singer-songwriter and guitarist Buck Curran’s tale about his 2009 Stefan Sobell Model 1 is more uplifting.
Curran had been fixated on Sobell guitars ever since seeing fingerstyle great Martin Simpson perform on a Butterfly Model 1 back in 1991. Years later, after spending time with a few Sobells that didn’t work out for him for one reason or another—including a stint owning Simpson’s Butterfly—Curran decided to commission a custom Sobell.
Curran is also a luthier—he worked for Dana Bourgeois from 2002–2009—and he had specific ideas about what he wanted in a guitar. The instrument would have a top made of bearclaw-figured red spruce that Curran had handpicked in Maine, along with a particularly nice set of Madagascar rosewood back and sides from Sobell’s prized tonewood reserves. Curran requested that the back be made from four joined pieces, rather than the customary two, for improved stability. He went with Sobell’s Sicilian Model 1 shape, which splits the difference between a 000 and a dreadnought, and eagerly awaited the instrument’s completion.
Unfortunately, the challenges of being a full-time musician and family man during the Great Recession ended up making it impossible for Curran to take delivery of his completed dream guitar in 2009, so with great sadness he asked Sobell to sell the finished instrument. As it was based on Curran’s particular specs, Sobell had a hard time finding a buyer, and the guitar remained slumbering in his workshop for years.
One day out of the blue, in June 2015, Curran received an email from the luthier Paul Hostetter, who had just visited Sobell’s shop and played the Model 1, telling him how great it was—and that he ought to do whatever was needed to own it. When Curran was in a position to buy the guitar a couple years later, he was keenly disappointed to learn that it had already been sold. He then lost track of the instrument, but kept searching for it until April 2021, when it surfaced at Blue-G, a boutique shop in Japan. The guitar was priced out of reach, but Curran had the good fortune to secure it through a last-minute investor in a crowdsourcing effort, and after 12 long years, it was soon in his hands.
Now that he has it, how does it sound? “It’s super responsive—notes just fly out of it. It has huge, complex fundamental tones with plenty of gorgeous overtones,” Curran says. “I feel incredibly fortunate to finally have this guitar, and I’m looking forward to recording some improvised guitar instrumentals with it as soon as possible.”
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.