Remember that line from the old song, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all…”? In some ways, it’s a summation of the life of Semie Moseley.
In fact, if it hadn’t been for his serendipitous relationship with The Ventures, he might have been one of those obscure guitarmakers we have to scramble to identify. And we might not know anything about this circa 1971 Mosrite Stereo 350 Model. Not that we know that much about it, anyway!
In ’52, Moseley began his career doing piece work for Paul Bigsby. Following a tiff with Bigsby, he began building his own guitars, and at some point in ’52 or ’53 began making necks for Paul Barth at Rickenbacker. It was there he met Roger Rossmeisl, the German luthier, and was introduced to the German carve, a relief around the top edge that characterized many of Moseley’s guitars thereafter, including the Ventures models.
Moseley continued building his own guitars while at Rickenbacker, which made Barth suspect he was copying theirs. So he was dismissed.
In 1960, Moseley moved to Bakersfield, California. There, an evangelist named Ray Boatright, with whom Moseley traveled and performed, encouraged him to go into business, and supplied him with tools from Sears; Mosrite – a blending of the names Moseley and Boatright – was born.
Among Moseley’s early gigs was a challenge to design a guitar for Bob Crooks, who built Standel amplifiers and wanted to get into the guitar business. He asked Semie to design a guitar like a Fender Stratocaster… but not like one. Moseley took a Strat, flipped it over, and traced it. Voila! What became the Ventures guitar had arrived! Some 25 or so Mosrite Standels were built circa 1962, including one for a local guitarist named Gene Moles, who showed it to Nokie Edwards (of the Ventures), who stopped by to get one. Semie offered to give it to him, but Edwards insisted, and paid $200. Moseley was on his way! He reached a licensing agreement with the Ventures’ management and began producing Ventures models in ’63.
In ’67, the Ventures deal ended – and Semie’s tribulations began. Not adept at the business aspect of running a guitar company, things began to unravel for him, and in ’69 Mosrite went bankrupt. Sears bought the name but never used it and by the following year, Semie had scraped together enough money to buy it back.
In late 1970 or early ’71, he returned to making guitars on a limited basis, designing new models like the Bluesbender and Stereo 350.
The Stereo 350 21406 NM was probably an early example of this fine guitar. Its serial number (A0060) probably means it was the 60th one produced. The “NM” likely means “natural mahogany” since the body is mahogany and the finish is natural. The neck is bolt-on maple with a tongue that extends into the body, under the neck pickup. This is interesting because this was also done on Japanese-made Acoustic Black Widows of the time, and Moseley reportedly built a couple hundred of those. The angled fingerboard end and neck pickup angle are typical Moseley. Atypical is the slab body (without the German carve). The pickups are humbuckers.
The pickup selector and controls are pretty standard, but what makes this guitar special is its output wiring. There are two jacks; one is a normal monophonic output, but when the little slider is in the right position each pickup has its own jack for output to two different amps, two channels on the same amp, or different effects chains. This may very well be the earliest example of this, at least on a production guitar.
The Stereo 350 was technically in production from 1971 to ’75, but how many were actually made is unknown. Probably not that many, since these don’t come around that often. In 1972, Moseley developed another novel guitar, the Brass Rail, with a “rail” of brass down the neck to give added stability. This sounds remarkably like Dave Bunker’s “tensionless neck,” but whether or not he got the notion from Bunker is unknown. In ’73, Moseley introduced a one-pickup monaural version of the Stereo 350, which is no doubt scarcer than its stereo sibling.
Moseley continued to have health and business problems throughout this period, but things started looking up again in ’74 when he signed an exclusive distribution deal with Pacific Music Supply Company, one of the early pioneers in the mail-order music business. It lasted, at most, a year before Moseley entered a period of wandering and uncertainty. In ’76, he moved to Oklahoma City and tried to get back into business. But difficulties kept arising. He entered into an agreement with Bud Ross, of Kustom amplifiers, to make guitars. Some were built but were ignominiously stuck in a warehouse when Ross sold his company and the new owners didn’t know about them. Unbeknownst to Semie, he’d signed over everything to Ross as collateral – including his brand name – and it was claimed by the new Kustom owners when Moseley couldn’t pay their note.
Moseley moved back to California and tried to start again. By ’81 he’d managed to get his brand name back due to non-use, and headed to Jonas Ridge, North Carolina, where he met with limited success. By ’91, he’d relocated to Arkansas and gotten a state grant that looked like it would finally get him back on his feet.
Moseley passed away in 1992, at age 57. He may have had his share of bad luck, but by the time he’d gotten to this Stereo 350, he had learned to make a pretty good guitar, full of interesting ideas!
This article originally appeared in VG‘s January 2008 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.