This artwork was created by Rev. Brian Berry, February 2010.
Semie A. Moseley (1935 - 1992) was an innovative luthier and the founder of the Mosrite guitar company.
Originally from Oklahoma, Semie began his guitar building career in the early 1950’s working with Paul Bigsby in the Los Angeles area. Legend has it that Rev. Ray Boatright helped young Semie get started with his business by buying the woodworking tools he needed. The Mosrite name comes from combining Moseley and Boatright. This would be approximately 1952-1954. While working with Paul Bigsby, Semie customized guitars for various celebrities such as Joe Maphis, Larry Collins, and others.
Once Semie started the Mosrite company he began making custom guitars for Joe Maphis, Little Jimmie Dickens, Larry and Lorrie Collins, and many others. Keep in mind that young Semie was only about 17-18 years old at this time! By 1956, at the age of 21 years, Semie had built his first triple neck guitar.
Between 1952 - 1960, Semie made hundreds of custom guitars including many “crazy” looking examples. Around 1960 Semie moved to Bakersfield, California. He set up shop in a friends barn outside of town on Panama Lane. This was the “Tin Shed” era. He was very broke and his friend let him use the shed, rent free. It was about the size of a one car garage. It was so cold in the winter that he would burn scrap wood in a steel barrel to keep warm.
(NOTE: I will insert pictures and text from a discussion on the Mosrite Forum of the chronology of the places where Semie built guitars from the early 1950’s through the 1990’s. I’ll do this on the next revision.)
The first single neck Joe Maphis models were built in the “Tin Shed” with the help of Bill Gruggett who would go on to become the manager of of the Custom Shop at Mosrite. These single neck Maphis guitars eventually became “The Ventures” models. Bill Gruggett left Mosrite and went on to make his own wonderful guitars under the Gruggett name.
Around 1963 Semie loaned one of the single neck guitars to Nokie Edwards for a recording session. This act would set Mosrite history into place. It can be said that Nokie Edwards and The Ventures made the Mosrite Company and Semie Moseley famous. The Ventures models are the guitars that would get Mosrite into mainstream music stores. Nokie Edwards was the lead guitar player for The Ventures. By late 1963, everyone in The Ventures was playing Mosrite guitars. It was at this time that they recorded “Walk Don’t Run” and “Hawaii 5-0” on Mosrite guitars. On the back of one of their albums they had "Guitars courtesy of Mosrite Distributing Corporation". That was enough to start the ball rolling and soon they had orders from dealers. This was the start of Mosrite's heyday. Initially building 20 or 30 guitars a month, the orders kept coming in and eventually Mosrite was well on the way to being a credible American guitar manufacturer.
At the peak of production in 1968, Semie and his crew of approximately 107 employees were making about 1000 guitars a month - acoustics, standard electrics, double necks, triple necks, basses, effects pedals, amplifiers, even Dobros (which Mosrite bought in 1966) and Melobar slide guitars which Semie was making for the Melobar company.
So far, no one can say with certainty when Mosrite came out with the Celebrity models. I believe the first Celebrities were made in late 1965. These are set neck examples with large F holes. My reason for believing 1965 is looking at various timelines of when certain hardware was used in Mosrite production. For example, the early Ventures models had aluminum “Vibramute” tremolo systems. These were used until about October/November of 1965 when Semie switched to a “Moseley” tremolo system that looked similar to the Vibramute.
Moseley Full Tremolo, Circa pre 3/1/1966
I’ve only seen two Celebrities with the Moseley Full Tremolo system. They were very low serial numbers. That would make the earliest Celebrities with tremolos being made in late 1965. The previous Celebrities would be with the trapeze tailpiece. The Moseley “half” tremolo received its patent on March 1, 1966. This is the tremolo that is most commonly seen on Celebrities and therefore, most Celebrities were built after March 1, 1966.
Moseley half tremolo, U.S. Pat. No. 3,237,502 granted March 1, 1966
Late in 1965 Mosrite switched from the smooth spun knobs to low profile “hat” knobs with the M logo on top and a “V” on the Volume knob and a “T” on the Tone knob. I’ve never seen a Celebrity with the smooth spun knobs. In 1967, the “V” and “T” were removed and the knob became taller. It retained the “M” on top however. Also, sometime in 1966 the “Circle R” was added after “mosrite” on the pickup covers.
Based on my research, studying the photographs of hundreds of Celebrities I am of the opinion that production went about like this. Late 1965 Semie made short runs of Celebrities with various design features as well as prototypes. Prior to mid 1966, when he received his tremolo patent, he makes a long string of Celebrities with the trapeze tailpiece. The real “Hay Day” of Celebrity production was between 1966 and 1968. This is when most of the Celebrities we see today would have been made. No Celebrities were produced between 1969 and 1972. Production resumed in 1972 to 1974. This run of Celebrities are quite different from the mid ‘60’s guitars with many different design features to be discussed on other pages. I’ve confirmed this “theory” with one family member, two former employees and will try to get confirmation from others who were there. I believe total production of Mosrite Celebrities to be between 5,000 and 10,000 examples. See the Serial Number page for a break down.
Celebrities are characteristic by their hollow bodies, bound F holes, zero fret, single coil pickups and speed frets until the 1970’s when humbucking pickups and larger frets were used. The necks are thin and fast as with all Mosrite guitars.
The earliest Celebrities had tiny clay dots for fret markers. Semie imported bodies from Europe and Japan and attached his necks as well as hardware. The body parts came in “Tops”, “Backs” and two pieces for the sides. Since the Tops and Backs were the same for the various models the Builders only needed to change the width of the “sides” to make a body for a Celebrity-I versus a Celebrity-II. The same bodies were used on the guitars and basses. The early Celebrities have larger F holes. On May 11, 1964, Semie Moseley applied for a patent on his tremolo invention. His claim was that his tremolo allowed the guitar to remain in tune while operating the tremolo. This patent was approved on March 1, 1966 as Patent Number 3,237,502 consisting of 12 claims.
This pickup used on Celebrity-I’s and II’s. Note that there is no “circle R” after “mosrite”.
Back side of the same pickup.
In 1966, a “circle R” was added. It is interesting to note that guitar A0679 has one of each! Hey, what ever it takes to get the order out the door! As I collect data I believe that Mosrite made Celebrity guitars from 1965 to 1974 with the bulk of producing Celebrities being from 1966 to 1968. I’ve never seen a Celebrity that I would say is before 1965 and so far one has not surfaced beyond 1974. Of course, that is not taking into consideration the “Parts-Rite” guitars. Sometimes a Celebrity will pop up with no serial number at all and a bit of a mish mash of parts. Typically these are former employees that had a bunch of guitar parts for one reason or another. I’ve been told by former employees that they received a box of guitar parts when payroll couldn’t be met or when the company was shutting down.
Pickup with logo and “circle R”
This is another image of the same tremolo. Note that it does not have the patent number which would date this piece before March 1, 1966.
Note that in the photo on the left we can see the patent number above “MOSELEY”. This would date this piece after March 1, 1966.
Here is another piece to the Mosrite puzzle. This seems to be the precursor to the Moseley half tremolo. It is a Vibramute half tremolo. Ed Elliott, a former Mosrite employee and a great luthier told me that Gene Moles who was the Quality Manager in the 1960’s had a hand in making these Vibramute half tremolos. It is not yet known how many were made. The guitar pictured to the left is from my collection and is a very early piece indeed. Note that this Celebrity does not have the roller bridge, even though it has the tremolo.