A bass well known in rock ‘n’ roll history will be on display at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown through Sept. 2. The bass, named “Dragon,” was designed and crafted for Jefferson Starship bassist Pete Sears in 1977 by local luthier Thomas Lieber. From 1974 to 1977 the D Irwin Guitar company was composed of the luthier duo of Doug Irwin and 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 Tiger guitar, which was also built by Irwin and Lieber, according to a media release. 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 bass acquired its claim to fame in 2013 after a story appeared in Rolling Stone magazine. The article explains the instrument’s mysterious disappearance that began more than 30 years earlier. In June 1978, the bass went missing during a riot at the Lorelei Festival in St. Goarshausen, Germany. Just before 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.
More than 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, the release said. Lieber received the instrument to perform any needed restorations.
The Dragon complements two other guitars on loan from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Fenimore exhibit “Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits.”
For more information on Fenimore Art Museum’s 2019 exhibits and programs, visit FenimoreArt.org. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.