The Mosrite guitar ...early history

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Deke Dickerson
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The Mosrite guitar ...early history

Postby Deke Dickerson » Fri Dec 12, 2008 1:06 am

Hey there Listers...thought I would start throwing up a few pics of my Mosrites.

I know that 99% of Mosrite obsession is based around the classic 1963-1968 Ventures model, but I've always been into the earlier, 1950's hillbilly-rockabilly custom creations. They sure don't turn up much, and the few I've managed to snag I'm mighty proud of.

The first one I'm going to post a photo of is an instrument from about 1959 or 1960, right as Semie was moving from his last L.A. location in Granada Hills to his first one in Bakersfield. Supposedly there were about 20 of these made for a local music store in San Fernando. I've seen about 5 examples of these in the flesh, including a double-pickup version with a cream-cover Carvin AP-6 next to the bridge (these have Carvin Ap-6 pickups in them, but submerged under the pickguard with the cover long gone). There was even a doubleneck version of this variant that some guy was trying to sell on ebay as Joe Maphis' personal guitar (it wasn't) for 50 grand (no bidders).

Okay, here's where I start to ramble and go off on a tangent. Here's Semie's chronology as I have come to understand it. There were lots of times Semie went off and toured with some gospel group and didn't make any guitars for a period, but here's where these guitars were made and when:

1952-1953 Semie did piecemeal work for Paul Bigsby (pickguards, inlay, poss. some necks). Semie was living with Reverend Boatwright in Norwalk, CA (various accounts including R.C. Allen)

1954-1955 Semie made his first few guitars, all while working for Rickenbacker and still living with Rev. Boatwright in Norwalk, CA. These first few guitars included his own custom tripleneck, and the doubleneck guitars for Joe Maphis and Larry Collins. (this according to F.C. Hall and Larry Collins)

1956-1958 Semie was working and I believe living at a music store in downtown Los Angeles, doing repairs and making his own guitars on the side, and doing customizing work. (this according to R.C. Allen and Del Casher)

1958-1960 Semie lived in Granada Hills in the San Fernando Valley and built guitars in a small shed. (this according to Terry McArthur, who apprenticed for Semie during this time)

1960 Semie moved to Bakersfield and lived with church people while trying to establish some guitar foothold. The earliest Bakersfield guitars are a major step back from the L.A. guitars, very simple and crude.

1961-1963 Semie established a "shop" on Panama Lane east of Bakersfield, in a tin shed behind fiddle player Jelly Sanders house. Semie and Andy Moseley lived in the shed and made guitars, enlisting local kids and guitar enthusiasts like Bill Gruggett and Joe Hall to do sanding and piecemeal work. This is where the first Ventures-style guitar emerged, first as a Standel prototype guitar, then as the "Joe Maphis Model" guitar which was then virtually swiped intact to become the Ventures model guitar. (this according to Bill Gruggett, Joe Hall, and a number of other Bakersfield musicians who remember coming to "the shed.")

1964-1968 The Ventures boom. Semie establishes a factory in downtown Bakersfield and Mosrite becomes a household name. After numerous bad money management decisions the factory and all assets are seized, and the tooling, machinery and leftover guitar stock is sold at auction.

1968-early 1970's Semie roams around California, making guitars from the leftover parts stash that he had. This is the origin of the "Mark I" guitar, and new models like the Bluesbender and the Brass Rail. Some were made in Bakersfield with Bill Gruggett, some were made in various other locales in California.

197??? Semie moves to Oklahoma and begins making the ill-fated "Sooner" models. Short-lived.

1976 Semie begins making the reissue of the Vibramute Ventures model for export to Japan.

197??? Semie moves to Jonas Ridge, North Carolina and establishes a small "factory" there. Hundreds of guitars are made in Jonas Ridge. A factory fire in the early 1980's wipes Semie out yet again.

198?? Semie gets an offer from the Arkansas State Board of Commerce to move his operation to Arkansas, take over a vacant Wal-Mart, and employ many luthiers and guitar makers left over from the Gretsch/Baldwin operation there.

Like I said, I'm more knowledgeable on the early years, so if somebody wants to help with exact dates post 1968, that'd be great. Back to THIS particular guitar....

This guitar is cool from a number of different standpoints, most notably it was the first single-neck electric instrument he ever "mass-produced." Everything else up to this point were one-off creations. The style of construction is very much taken from Bigsby, with a solid rail going from the neck joint to the tailpiece, surrounded by hollow "wings." Some unique touches on this guitar include the clear lucite nut and the solid black armrest (a nod to his earlier fancy inlaid armrests) and the early Bigsby-style strap "hooks."

On the other hand, this guitar was the first of what I would term the "starving Semie" guitars. There was a period where Semie was pretty hard up, basically the late 50's until the Ventures deal happened, where Semie made guitars out of whatever he could. Some of these guitars are really rough from a standpoint of woods and craftmanship, and this one falls in that category. For instance, the logo is spray-painted on, it has cheap tuners, the bridge is a simple wood bridge, the jack was mounted onto the flimsy pickguard with no reinforcement (and as such, every one of these I've seen has been broken and reglued). Semie was basically broke during this period and these guitars reflect this.

Well--it's a cool guitar nonetheless. Hope you enjoy the pics. One thing I would like to add without sounding like a paranoid weirdo is that THESE PICTURES ARE COPYRIGHTED AND FOR THE FORUM'S VIEWING PLEASURE ONLY. I paid a photographer for these photo sessions and I intend to use these photos in an upcoming book I'm working on so they are not to be copied and reproduced. Thanks!

Deke

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Re: Guess I'll start throwing up a few pics...from Deke

Postby Deke Dickerson » Fri Dec 12, 2008 1:26 am

This is a good example of the sort of customizing work that Semie was doing in the 1950's. This particular guitar started out life as a 1953 Epiphone Emperor, but when Semie got ahold of it, it became something else altogether. I'm going to throw out a date of 1957-1958, only because that's when he did a similar custom job for Joe Maphis' 1958 Super 400 with humbucking pickups.

The first thing Semie did was half the guitar. Seriously, this is a thin-line Epiphone like the ones that Gibson began making in the late 50's, but Semie did it by cutting the guitar down from it's original depth to a much slimmer depth like an ES-335.

Semie thinned the neck down, made a primitive custom vibrato using half of the original Epiphone Frequensenator tailpiece, and added a custom pickguard and armrest. Of course the famous Semie three-color sunburst paint job was applied, which has now faded quite a bit.

What's NOT original about this guitar are the pickups. This guitar more than likely either had the stock Epiphone pickups or the Carvin AP-6 pickups that Semie was using during this period. When I got the guitar, the pickguards had been routed for later (1960's) Mosrite pickups. I put in 3 no-logo 1963 style pickups with an output of 6.5K ohms to match the Carvin style pickups, but they are not what this guitar would have had originally.

In addition, the "Customized By Semie Moseley" is not original, nor is the pinstriping on the headstock. At some point this guitar had a nasty neck heel break and was repaired very badly, so the painting on the headstock is covering up a very bad repair. Ouch.

I have no idea who this was made for originally. I thought for sure that with the inlaid "heart" on the pickguard and armrest, that it must have been made for Town Hall Party star Freddie Hart, but when I met Freddie, he said it was not his.

Some might consider this guitar pure junk and only good for firewood kindling, but I think of this guitar as a real "objet d'art." Sort of like owning a guitar that Salvador Dali chewed up and spit out.

Hope you guys enjoy it, and remember these photos are COPYRIGHTED and not to be reproduced. Thanks!

Deke
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Re: Guess I'll start throwing up a few pics...from Deke

Postby Deke Dickerson » Fri Dec 12, 2008 2:21 am

As near as I have been able to ascertain, the very first Bakersfield guitars looked like this. They are identifiable by the weird aluminum foil covered pickups. The bass that Artie has hanging up at Front Porch is very much this style. They are cruder than the first guitar I posted, but they are obviously later because a few more ideas have been fleshed out for the first time, like the zero fret.

This picture is of a guitar that belonged to Jay Rosen. This image is copyrighted by jay rosen. Both guitar and amp are sold, so I heard...

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Another crazy git-box from Deke, this time the 58 doubleneck

Postby Deke Dickerson » Fri Dec 12, 2008 12:36 pm

I finally found some pics this morning of the '58 doubleneck that was on ebay a few years back as "Joe Maphis' personal guitar" (it wasn't) and "The first Mosrite Doubleneck!" (it wasn't) The guy wanted 50,000 dollars for it, I assume it is still for sale... :D

The penciled date of 10-58 in the cavity matches my info about the run of guitars for the San Fernando music store, I believe this guitar was made in Granada Hills. It's a Mosrite, all right, but compared to the custom guitars Semie was making for Joe Maphis, Larry Collins, Bob Regan and a few others, this one is plain jane and really, really crude....but, cool!

Deke
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A 1950's 3/4 size Mosrite guitar...

Postby Deke Dickerson » Fri Dec 12, 2008 12:46 pm

Here's a guitar that I remember seeing at Norm's Rare Guitars in Reseda in the early 1990's. At the time Norm wanted $800 for it, and because the guitar was a 3/4 size guitar, I didn't feel like it was worth coughing up that much money. (CHOKE) Oh well, live and learn!

Supposedly this guitar was either made for (take your pick) Jody Maphis, Larry Collins, a child of a preacher friend...all good stories but nobody knows the real story.

It turned up in Vintage Guitar magazine a while back as part of Mike Campbell's collection (from Tom Petty's band). This makes sense as Tom Petty and Mike Campbell have been paying Norm's Rare Guitar's rent for the last 25 years with all the guitars they buy from him. Of course, the person in charge of maintaining Campbell's collection identified it as a "Univox Mosrite Copy." I recognized this guitar right away from my memory of it being at Norm's.

Probably 1956-1958. A custom hand-made creation, one of a kind. It's no coincidence that when Hallmark made the Deke model guitar it looked very similar to this one....guess it stuck in my mind, ha ha!!

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The birth of the Mosrite Ventures guitar shape...a history

Postby Deke Dickerson » Fri Dec 12, 2008 11:50 pm

Okay, one thing that's been bugging me on this list is the constant reference to the Ventures body style Mosrite as the "Mark 1." To me, its just not exactly right. Let me explain a brief history of the guitar that we all know and love...

As best as myself or anybody else has been able to ascertain, the body shape that is most often known as the "Mark 1" or the "Ventures-style" body was developed around 1961 or 1962 when Bob Crooks of Standel wanted Semie Moseley to build some Standel guitars for him.

Now, Semie had already built some guitars for Standel around 1959 or 1960. They are basically like the Mosrite guitar I posted on the list a couple days ago, but you can tell they are slightly later because Semie learned he had to put the jack on a separate plate or the whole pickguard would break! Here's a photo of the first Mosrite-made Standel (from the Hallmark history pages, guitar and image owned by Bob Shade)
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A year or two later, as the legend goes, Bob Crooks of Standel wanted a different kind of guitar. He suggested to Semie that he take the shape of a Fender Stratocaster, flip it over and trace it. Semie supposedly did just that, and then he added a little Salvador Dali fairy dust, and the famous shape that we know was born.

The only problem with this fairy tale story? There have never been any guitars from this era 1961-1962 with the Standel logo on them turn up...ever. It's possible that the first one was made as a Standel prototype, but that has yet to surface. What have turned up are a couple of these, which may be Standel prototypes, but I have also heard that these were "mistake" guitars where a young kid working for Semie accidentally sawed the "M" off the top of the headstock. Nonetheless, we can probably surmise that if a Standel prototype existed, it looked something like this. (thanks to Adam Tober for this shot, again taken in Japan at a music store on his cell phone)
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Are you confused yet? Well, to make it even more convoluted, these 1961-1962 prototypes are not to be confused with a production model Standel guitar from about 1965-1966 that was a direct COPY of a Mosrite (the one seen here is a rebranded 1965 Standel guitar with the Hallmark logo)....seen here....this one's mine...
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If for some strange reason you're still reading this...try to focus...this is guitar geekiness at its apex...anybody with a "real life" is free to go on with their "real life" at this point...ha ha

Around 1961 or 1962, the "Mosrite Joe Maphis Model" single-neck and double-neck guitars made their debut. This is really where the "mark 1-Ventures style" guitar came from. it is not a "Ventures prototype" as they have been called, and it was not a side line to the Ventures model. Joe Maphis, the famous country picker, was promised his own signature model guitar, and these guitars were the "Joe Maphis Model" guitar.

Here's a flyer that promotes this early model. Note the examples in this flyer have wood pickup covers. I have seen the Joe Maphis model guitars with wood pickup covers, "dog-ear" handmade pickup covers, and the well-known pickup with the rectangular surround as found on all Ventures models. I have seen about 5 or 6 of the Joe Maphis model singlenecks, and 3 or 4 of the Joe Maphis model doublenecks.
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Here's a 1963 example of the Joe Maphis doubleneck. Note that it has all the features of the first Ventures model--polished aluminum "Guild" Vibramute with flip-up mute, same pickups, Guild knobs, pickguard, etc. etc. (this one used to be mine, but I sold it to Jay Rosen last year to buy another amazing guitar, it's for sale if you want it....www.jayrosen.com)
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What happened next is that Nokie Edwards, guitarist for the hit recording group The Ventures, played a Joe Maphis-style model that belonged to Gene Moles, a buddy of his in Bakersfield. Nokie borrowed the guitar and the group liked the design and how it sounded. The group had been wanting to market a signature guitar and bass of their own, and they decided to ask Semie Moseley if this guitar could be the Ventures model guitar.

Semie Moseley jumped at the chance to have a hit rock & roll group endorsing his guitars. The group had a ton of capital to infuse the company with, and so for the time being Joe Maphis got shafted--his signature model was put on hold. As many of us know the Joe Maphis model name was ressurected in 1966 for a completely redesigned singleneck, doubleneck, and bass.

The next thing you know, the "Joe Maphis model" guitar is now "The Ventures" model guitar. The first few guitars shipped in late 1963. They were exactly the same as the Joe Maphis guitar, but the headstock now said "The Ventures" and they looked like this:
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Now, if anybody else here on the list can supply me with better knowledge of the facts, I would appreciate it. But as near as I can tell, the first time the Ventures model guitar was called the "Mark 1" was in the 1966 Mosrite literature.
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Shortly thereafter, the Ventures and Semie Moseley parted ways and the same guitar was still called the "Mark 1" in the catalog and advertising (1967-1968) but there was no reference to the Ventures.
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So maybe I'm just being a nerd about this, but it seems weird to keep calling the guitar the Mark 1 when it was only known as that towards the tail end of its original production run. But I guess it does have a better ring than the "Standel-Joe Maphis-Ventures-Mark 1" style body shape! ha ha.

As before, I appreciate any corrections, comments, compliments or criticism. Please do not copy or use these images as most of them are my copyrighted images, except where I've made note.

And I hope the Mosrite geeks have enjoyed this thread.

Deke

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The very, very first MOSRITE guitars...

Postby Deke Dickerson » Sat Dec 13, 2008 12:25 am

The last thing I'll post this evening is a couple of photos of the very first guitars that Semie ever built, the first guitars to ever carry the famous "Mosrite" name.

As I mentioned, Semie began working for Paul Bigsby around 1952-1953, and after that association ended, he worked for Rickenbacker and studied under Roger Rossmeisl around 1954-1955.

Jay Rosen turned up this guitar a while back and put it in his yearly calendar. This image is owned and copyrighted by Jay Rosen.

Many people who have viewed this don't believe this really is a Mosrite, but I truly believe that this may be the earliest Mosrite guitar in existence. There are too many things that point to it being a real Mosrite circa the embryonic 1953-1954 era. First of all is the headstock, which is the Bigsby-esque headstock shape that Semie used for the first few years. He changed it to 3-on-a-side around 1956 because so many people kept thinking that they were Bigsby guitars.

Now, before looking at the next photo--check out that Semie created a 6-in-line headstock using the left and right hand tuners from a 3-on-a-plate Kluson tuners. See the space in between the D and G tuners?

The second thing that indicates to me that this is the genuine article is the trussrod cover. Although it is crude and has an almost child-like "mosrite" inscription on it, check out the shape--it's an almost complete ripoff of the Rickenbacker truss rod cover!

The third thing that makes me think this is the real deal is that it has a pickup (unknown if its a Carvin, perhaps it's a Gibson P-90 since it has Gibson knobs and tuners possibly stolen from a Gibson?) suspended in a floating one-piece pickguard assembly, like the 1958-1959 Mosrite that I posted on this forum the other day.

This thing is incredibly crude and shows little of the finesse that Semie later proved himself capable of. But I'm sticking my neck out here and saying this is the earliest Mosrite guitar known to exist.
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Now, compare the "Johnny" guitar above to the earliest known photo of Semie with his custom made tripleneck guitar, circa 1953-1954. The most striking similarity is the headstock shape.

By this point Semie had learned the art of the German carve from Rickenbacker shop foreman Roger Rossmeisl. He had also started using the Carvin AP-6 pickups as his main pickup, and started making his bridges and tailpieces by hand.

Note also that this guitar, like the first incarnations of the Joe maphis & Larry Collins doublenecks, were blond wood with 6-on-a-side headstocks, like the Bigsby guitars that Semie had seen while working for Paul Bigsby.

Now, remember what I said about Semie using the left and right side of a 3-on-a-plate Kluson tuner set to make his 6-on-a-side? Look at the picture of Semie with the tripleneck and see the space in between the D and G tuners....the same tuner configuration as the "Johnny" guitar....a feature I've never seen on any other guitars....

Also note that the "Johnny" guitar and the Semie tripleneck upper and lower necks have the same tiny 3-dot pattern in the fingerboards. I think these two guitars were made right around the same time, at the very beginning of Mosrite.

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This tripleneck guitar went through many "updates" and Semie was still playing it in the 1970's, but the story I heard is that it eventually met its final fate in the car accident that nearly killed Semie. Anybody else have a different story about the final resting place of Semie's tripleneck?

By 1956, Semie had switched to the 3-on-a-side headstocks and 3-color sunburst finishes that we now associate with Mosrite guitars. But these were the first!

Deke

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Bill Woods' early oddball Mosrite guitar...Bakersfield?

Postby Deke Dickerson » Sun Dec 14, 2008 1:09 am

Here's a photo of Bill Woods and his very early oddball Mosrite. I think this one must have been done right about the time that Semie hit Bakersfield...1959, 1960....it still has the Carvin pickups....but it has the look of the early Bakersfield guitars, with the zero fret and the like...

Bill Woods was a bandleader in Bakersfield who is most famous for bringing up Buck Owens in his band in the early 50's. He played fiddle and piano with Merle Haggard, released tons of great obscure country & rockabilly records, and knew Semie quite well.

One story which Bill Woods always told, and I believe him, was that he was the one who came up with the idea of the red, white, and blue paint job for the Mosrite. As the story goes (and chime in if anybody else has better knowledge) Semie had painted up a few Mosrites with tri-color paint jobs for the jobbers to show the different music stores the paint schemes available. Bill Woods saw this and suggested Semie make a red, white and blue model "to be patriotic." Later Buck Owens had Semie make him a red, white and blue Mosrite acoustic, and Semie was to make a Buck Owens model acoustic, but Buck ultimately went with Harmony and had them made on the cheap, taking the red, white and blue paint job as his own creation.

Bill was so put out by Buck taking his idea he had his original Mosrite painted red, white, and blue sometime in the 1960's. It is now owned by Marc Lipco and can be see in a glass case at Alan's Kern Pawn Shop in Bakersfield. it's not for sale, of course, or I wouldn't be telling you about it. ha.

This one is a bit of an oddity, like the "Buckaroo by Moseley" guitar. The headstock throws back to the earliest Mosrite headstocks but is in more of a "hook" shape. Suffice it to say I think this one was a one-off and Semie never made any other ones exactly like this.

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Bizarre Semie-made custom Tripleneck...the hits keep coming!

Postby Deke Dickerson » Sun Jan 11, 2009 3:08 am

So here's another weirdo story for you all...

I found this album a long, long time ago called "Angels Unaware" by The Young Trio. On the cover, a truly bizarro custom tripleneck guitar. It didn't look like any other brand I had ever seen. But there were elements to it, like the German carved body, and especially the vibrato, that said "mosrite" to me.

Anyway, the album was from Visalia, CA back in the 50's and listed the guitar man as "Reverend Charles Young." When i had a chance to go to Visalia I went by the original address....gone, of course. Then I went to the music stores and asked...nobody remembered Rev. Young. Then I went to Kinko's and made a simple flyer with the photo saying "Anybody who knows Reverend Charles Young please pass on this phone number" and I put up the flyer at the local Wal-Mart. Yes my friends, this is what an obsessed guitar nerd does with his spare time.

Well, a few weeks later, my phone rings and a voice on the other end proclaimed himself to be Reverend Charles Young, calling from his ministry in North Carolina. An old friend had seen the flyer and passed on my number to the Reverend.

The Reverend confirmed that Semie Moseley did indeed make the tripleneck for him, based on his own design, around 1959 or 1960, when Semie was based in Bakersfield and doing a lot of gospel work and guitars for preachers (always a lucrative side business for Semie). The Reverend said he still had the guitar, but that it had been updated and was currently at a shop in Asheville, North Carolina being repaired. He promised to send me some photos.

That was around September 1st, 2001. i remember it vividly because after September 11th happened, Reverend Young wouldn't ever take my calls again. When I toured through North Carolina, TWICE I went by his church looking for him. He's kind of a local star in the area, there are even Reverend Charles Young billboards up on the highway there, but I never could get any recent photos of the guitar to get a better idea of what all was involved with this crazy beast. All I have is this photo. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Compare the vibrato to the early ones on Joe Maphis' doubleneck, and also the late 50's guitars I posted on another thread. Beyond that--it's really weird. Never seen another Semie guitar with pickups, pickguards, switches like this one. Anybody on the list who might have a memory of this one, let me know!

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Bob Regan's Mosrite Special doubleneck has surfaced.

Postby TerryTNM » Tue Jan 27, 2009 2:15 pm

I have heard of this find for almost a year. Bob Regan, west coast picker billing himself as "the fastest guitar player in the world" had at least 2 custom guitars built early on by Semie Moseley. The one I have personal knowledge of, a super fancy triple-neck was finished and delivered in the summer of 1959 just before Semie left for Bakersfield. The second, I had only heard rumor about from Deke Dickerson. A probable early 60's custom built doubleneck. It has finally surfaced at Andy Moseley's home in Nashville. A restoration that was started but never completed then tucked away and forgotten. I took some photos of this at the CAAS show this last summer where Elaine Frizzell had brought it to me as a friend of Andy's for possible restoring. We haven't reached any agreement yet but I'd sure like to get it in my shop.

Just thought there would be some who'd like to see an original in the rough.

-Terry

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