Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mosrite Guitars and Semie Moseley


When I was 13 years old, I used to hang around Dodd's Music Store in Covington, Kentucky. This was perhaps the hippest place for musicians to hang out. The proprietor, Jules Jacobs, kept up on all the latest rock instruments and stocked them before the other local music stores.

I can recall the first Mosrite guitars that came into his store. This had to be around 1965. 

In the store were two Venture models, a Joe Maphis model and a matching bass guitar, a double neck and a Venture's budget model. These were the greatest guitars I had ever seen up to this point in my life and perhaps one of the reasons that I love guitars.


Semie Moseley and his brother Andy Moseley were young evangelic Christians from Bakersfield California. It is quite probable that their faith lead the Moseley's to start building Mosrite guitars.




As a young man of 13 years, Semie traveled around California with his good friend and pastor, the Reverend Ray Boatwright.  Semie would play guitar guitar for the revivals and tent meetings while the Reverend preached. 

After a while, Boatwright eventually recognized that Moseley's talent lay more in woodworking. To reward him, he bought Semie his first band saw in the early 1950's.


It was around 1952 when Semie moved to Los Angeles and found work as an apprentice at the Rickenbacker guitar factory. It was there he learned building techniques from luthier Roger Rossmeisl. As a native of Germany, Rossmeisl was apprenticed to his father and learned the luthier trade. A trademark of Rossmeisl was the German Carve. This is a technique were the perimeter of the guitar is carved and beveled to give the instruments body a raised surface.

This carve is evident on Rickenbacker guitars, Mosrite guitars, and some of the Fender guitars that Rossmeisl designed in the mid-1960’s.


After his stint at Rickenbacker he gained employment by apprenticing with Paul Bigsby. Bigsby would be considered to have created the first solidbody electric guitar, but for the fact that his guitars actually had a hollow chamber. Bigsby also created the famous vibrato bar that is still favored today on many, many guitars.
You can see the influence of Rossmeisl and Bigsby in Semie Moseley's creations. The early guitars have a touch of Bigsby and the later creations show Rossmeisl's influence.




It was around 1954 when Semie created a triple neck guitar. This instrument included a guitar neck, a short guitar neck tuned up an octave and a mandolin neck.

The Moseley brothers took a chance and launched the Mosrite Guitar Company. The company name, Mos-Rite paid honor to Boatright, who purchased the equipment for the upstart enteprenuers. Semie and Andy began by building customized electric guitars These instruments were not like any other guitars. The had shapes and designs unlike any other guitars on the market.


Semie was just nineteen and had put together his first triple-neck guitar and was even repairing guitars for Merle Travis. He built a custom double-neck instrument for TV artist Joe Maphis, who was billed as the King of Strings. Maphis and his wife were stars on a locally produced, popular television show called Town Hall Party.  




Maphis had discovered a young brother and sister act called the Collins Kids. Teen-aged Lorie played acoustic guitar and sang, while her brother, 10 year old Larry Collins, played the electric guitar with lightening speed. 


Joe Maphis saw to it that Larry was provided with a double-neck guitar that was almost the twin of his own double neck Mosrite instrument. The difference was while Joe's guitar head stocks were both had 3 tuners on a side, built in the traditional Mosrite fashion,  young Larry's guitar came with six on a side tuners for both necks, which were similar to a Bigsby or Fender guitar.

Teenage Lorrie's Martin was modified by Moseley with the addition of a new bound neck with her name inlaid on the fretboard. The headstock was a six-on-a-side model that matched her brother's instrument and the guitar was topped with a new fancy pickguard.

Semie's talent lay not only in woodworking, but in all aspects of building electric guitars. He built all his own parts except for the tuners. 


He learned how to sand cast so he could build the guitar's metal parts, which included the vibrato bar. He also was adept in winding his own single coil guitar pickups.

Andy Moseley
The Moseley’s continued to struggle to make ends meet. They were building all the guitars by hand by themselves and selling them too. Word of these wonderful instrument reached session players. Andy traveled to Nashville and sold some guitars to Grand Ol’ Opry performers.


One evening California session player, Gene Moles, was displaying his Mosrite guitar to Nokie Edwards of The Ventures. Edwards feel in love with that guitar. He asked Moles to take him out to visit that guy that builds these wonderful guitars. Edwards came home his own Mosrite

Soon after the encounter, The Ventures hooked up with Moseley to build custom made Ventures guitars and basses.




Gene Moles on the left
“It was a beautiful guitar,” said Gene Moles, the Bakersfield session guitarist, member of Jimmy Thomason’s TV band, and assembly-line inspector for Mosrite guitars.

Mole's is quoted as saying  “It was a well-designed instrument. It felt good to a guitar player when he grabbed it. It had a narrow neck and a low profile, so you didn’t have to push down as hard on the strings to play it. 

And it had what we called ‘speed frets,’ where you could slide up and down the neck without getting held up on high-profile frets.”




But the client who turned Mosrite into a household name, at least among guitar enthusiasts, was Nokie Edwards, lead guitarist for the kings of ‘60s surf-rock, the Ventures. Edwards fell in love with the guitar, and by 1962, the entire Seattle-based band set their trademark Fender guitars aside and were playing Mosrites on songs like “Walk, Don’t Run” and the theme from “Hawaii 5-0.” The band, having signed a special distribution agreement with Mosrite, featured the guitar on its album covers.




Mosrite made at least 4 versions of The Venture's model that included a budget version and a six string/12 string double neck.







Mosrite 6/12 




In the early and mid 1960's, how many of us fledgling guitar players cut our teeth by learning the Ventures songs? The Ventures were huge during that era in the United States, however their following in Japan was phenomenal. And it exists even to this day.







By now Mosrite guitars were no longer being built in tin outbuildings. In the mid 1960's Mosrite employed over 107 employees and were building 700 to 1,000 guitars each month.

Sales of the Bakersfield-built guitar gained steadily over the next five years, and Semie did well for his family. His fortune did not affect his staunch religious convictions. He was raised in a Pentecostal family and carried on the tradition. He even managed to continue touring the country, playing gospel music in churches of all denominations.

Around 1966, Moseley purchased the Dobro Company from Emil (Ed) Dopyera, in an effort to broaden the company's line.  Gene Moles stated, “we  had Dobros coming out of our ears.” 

Mosrite soon came out with a Dobro style guitar called The Californian, which had the Dobro resonator and a Mosrite pickup. He also made a hollow body Mosrite named The Boatright guitar. This instrument used a European body that looked much like a Gibson ES-335, but the neck and all the parts (except the tuners) were made by Mosrite.

The Venture line by now had expanded to several different models. The Celebrity 1,2 and 3 acoustic models were also part of the line-up. Moseley also produced a guitar under the brand name, Gospel Guitar. This was a celebrity model, but the headstock was different from the usual Mosrite "M" headstock.

The Mosrite Company never actually made amplifiers. What happened was that 1968, when it appeared that all was going well, the Ventures contracted with a manufacturer to build an amplifier for them. They also requested that Semie allow the use of the Mosrite brand name to be used on the amplifiers.

This arrangement turned out to be unfortunate because the all the amplifiers this company built were defective. None of the amplifiers worked. The Ventures had sold every one manufactured to music stores. 

Due to the goodwill of the Mosrite name, Semie had to take control of the distribution company since he was profiting from selling Mosrite guitars to these dealers. He offered to compensate the dealers with a 10% discount on guitar orders.

Semie and Andy also branched off into the recording business with their label, Mosrite Records. They recorded primarily Gospel music.  An Oceanside music-store owner who sold Mosrites, saw to it that his talented teen-age daughter, Barbara, was signed to the label. When Mandrell broke her ankle, Semie pieced together an electric guitar from her crutch.

Then, late in 1968, within a short period of a few months, it all collapsed. Mosrite’s distribution arrangement with the Ventures came to an end after five years and was not renewed. 

Moseley had hoped to cut a deal with the Vox Guitar Company, which was owned by Thomas Organ Company, but that was not to be. Thomas organ outsourced their Vox guitars to an Italian accordion and guitar manufacturer.

Mosrite filed for bankruptcy on Valentine’s Day 1969.

Following the bankruptcy, the Moseley's tried to deal directly with stores, and they sold 280 guitars in 1969 before they came to the shop one day and found locks on their doors by their creditors.

Two years after his bankruptcy, Semie was able to get back use of the Mosrite name. Then in 1970 he started making guitars again.  

Since his agreement with the Ventures ended, the guitar he designed for them was rechristened  the Mark I.

One of the models he put together was collaboration with Bill Grudgett of Hallmark guitars. This was called The Brass Rail.

He moved his factory three times in the next 20 years: To Oklahoma City, Okla., in the mid-’70s, to Jonas Ridge, N.C., in 1981, and to BoonevilleArk., in 1991.

In the summer of 1981, Semie and his wife purchased some property in Jonas Ridge, North Carolina that had an old elementary school on the premises. 


By the fall of 1982 Moseley went back to building guitars. He and his wife continued traveling to churches and performing.  In 1983 the building and all of its contents, which included many new guitars that were made to fulfill a contract, the inventory, records and all of the Moseley’s personal belongings were destroyed in a fire.

I followed the story of Moseley in Guitar Player and Vintage Guitar Magazine during the late 1980's and early 1990's. It appeared that Semie was making a come back, building and selling new guitars. Some of the newer models, in my opinion, were fine works of art, due to their intricate carving and metal work.

Six months after moving to Arkansas it was discovered that he was ill with bone cancer. Just six weeks later, in August 1992, he died. Had his health remained intact, I am certain that Mosrite would have risen from the ashes.

Andy moved to Nashville and ran a recording studio.

All the Mosrite guitars that sold for up to $300 to $500 in the 1960’s are now being sought after by collectors and bring in tens of thousands of dollars. There are over 30 companies making copies of Mosrite style guitars.



When I was only 14, I was able to go to the NAMM convention and show, which was held in Chicago. I count myself fortunate that I was able to play an original Joe Maphis double neck Mosrite.

Those of you  around in the 1960's may recall a popular band called The Strawberry Alarm Clock .

For the uninitiated it was in the late 1960’s, that Psychedelic music became popular. This also was an era of drugs, sexual freedom and youth that tuned in and turned on. Music was written to provide a background for this lifestyle. Bands with bizarre sounding names made extremely loud noise through massive and powerful refrigerator sized amplifiers and sang songs that often featured really bad lyrics.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock was one group that was actually very good.  Their song “Incense and Peppermints” is still one of those classic songs no matter how hard you try, you can’t get out of your head because you've heard it since 1967 and still occasionally find yourself hearing  48 years later.

Somehow Moseley hooked up with the Alarm Clock and was commissioned to design as set of two guitars and a bass for the group. These guitars all had Mosrite style parts, pickups, vibrato and bridges, but also had the bizarre feature of being surrounded by a wooden frame.

After finishing the bodies, Moseley shipped them to famed California artist VonDutch. He was known for unusual auto pin striping and painted body designs as well as painted designs on surfboards. Due to his involvement the guitar became known also as The Surfboard Guitars.

Pictured here are the Strawberry Alarm Clock Guitars. One of these is housed at the Lemelson Center of American History in the Smithsonian Museum.


I would be remiss to end this story without mentioning Semie's daughter, Dana Moseley has taken up the Mosrite banner and is making and selling guitars that would make her Dad proud.

If you are in the market to buy a hand built electric guitar check out Dana Moseley's site first. She builds Mosrite guitars using the same methods her father taught her. Her guitars are amazing. 

This clip is from the 1965 TV Show "Shindig"





Semie Moseley sings and plays at the end of this video. He is an awesome singer and player


Semie's daughter Dana now builds Original Moserite guitars using her Father's techniques.





6 comments:

MSDos5 said...

Good piece
Random thoughts:
Univox looks like it knocked off some mosrites.
Two first wave punk bands used them Iggy and The Stooges. And The Ramones, Johnny Ramone supposedly got in a scuffle with Jeff Beck who told him that mosrite was the wrong guitar to play that type of music on. Could be a rumor though..

Ben said...

I love all the photos, I can remember Iggy and the Stooges playing these too.

Marc said...

The Univox Hi-Flyer was the first Mosrite knock off that I have run across. There are quite a few companies that make Mosrite style guitars.

Anonymous said...

Lou Reed was the one that told Johnny Ramone that he was "playing the wrong type of guitar for this type of music"..Johnny never liked Lou Reed after that incident.

Marc said...

If anyone has checked out the link to Dana Moseley's webpage, you can see that she offers a Johnny Ramone model. It was Ramone that brought some renewed popularity to the Moserite brand.

Thanks to all for commenting and reading the blog,

Marc

Jay Korman said...

The band Love endorsed Mosrite guitars on the album "Da Capo." Wayne Kramer of the MC5 also notably used Mosrite. There were a couple of others that used them but the names are escaping me at the moment.