Mosrite of California is a brand I hold very dear to my heart although I don't really "collect" or get involved in the Mosrite world much any more due to "serious collectors" taking all the fun out of it. Like a lot of other brands, one of the things I loved about Mosrite was the inconstancies and weird anomalies of trying to work out what went where. Like other brands, no one thought that anyone would care in 40-50 years weather they changed a screw here or serial numbers didn't line up. They were just selling guitars.
Unlike a lot of players my age and older, I got into Mosrite through the Ramones, not the Ventures who had the most famous signature model Mosrite made. When I started playing guitar, I wanted whatever it was that Johnny Ramone was playing. I didn’t know just how rare that guitar was.
By mid 1965 Mosrite was expanding at an extraordinary rate thanks to the deal signed with the Ventures in ’63 essentially allowing the band to be the exclusive distributor for Mosrite guitars. Semie had set up the factory in Bakersfield in mid ’63 with the money from the Ventures deal and had started production of the Ventures model guitars and basses. Guitar sales were exploding thanks to bands like the Ventures and of course a bunch of young boys from Liverpool who played on the Ed sulivan show and started a revolution quite literally the next day.
The Ventures model was originally designed and built for "King of the Strings" Joe Maphis and was the model in the now famous “reverse” body with German carve, with a set neck and bound body which first appeared around mid/late ‘62. It’s a very popular misconception that most or all bound body, set neck Ventures are ‘63’s. In fact, only 5 of these guitars left the factory that year in December with the bulk of around 200 leaving in early to mid ’64. The Ventures model was selling well and production was streamlined by using faster manufacturing techniques like bolt on necks and no body binding. Hardware was also updated to die cast vibratos and knobs.
It was in early ’65 that Mosrite first considered a “student” model guitar like the Les Paul Jr or Fender Mustang. Ventures models were expensive and their price was prohibitive to younger players. Andy Moseley, Semie’s brother suggested and helped design a simple “slab body” student model with no binding, simple pick ups and hardware like the brilliant little folded steel vibrato only seen on this model, and no famous German carve. This guitar was named the Ventures model II.
This model seems to have been introduced around May ’65, although I have seen German carve II's with body date stamps earlier and both versions definitely ran concurrently for a few months throughout '65 as they were phased in as Semie was almost instantly disappointed with the slab body model as a Mosrite. It had none of the hallmarks of a prestige brand like Mosrite and Semie pulled the pin on production fairly quickly. The number of these guitars made vary from 25 to 250 throughout Mosrite experts. In my opinion, and in light of more recent info (thanks to this thing called the internet) there are most likely approx 100 of these made before it was replaced completely by a German carve version with "improved", full size Mosrite pick ups and standard Ventures hardware like the fantastic cast Moseley vibrato.
There's a couple of reasons why I have come to this conclusion. First, I have a Mosrite serial number listing of over 2500 Mosrites and I now know of about 40 of these slab body guitars out there in the world. Second, my serial number listing shows most of these slab body serial numbers falling in "spurts" with German Carve models after the initial couple of batches. I have seen 3 German carve MK II's with serials in the 060-075 range which falls within the slab body numbers, so some were probably being released together, maybe to gauge sales or at Semies insistence ? There are patches of slab body Mk II serial numbers inter dispersed above this going up to about 130-150 and not counting "transition" models (see part 2) the first "proper" German carve Mk II I've ever seen was serial 145 (body date stamp ??,1965), but there could be lower numbers around. Personally I think two batches were made with more being made as the German Carve version became the "standard" model, probably to use up leftover parts.
I also believe a lot of the slab bodies were sent to Texas to be sold in local guitar shops. A few, including the 2 I own were from Texas and had been bought new in small shops in the area and several have turned up sold at one of the big Mosrite dealers there. I think Semie sent these guitars away from strong Mosrite markets to “dump” them so as not to, as he saw it, ruin the Mosrite name. One of the serial numbers around 125 was purchased new in the san Fernando valley in late ’65 so this last batch may have been sold to more local shops in with the new German carve model?
So, with approx 100 of these guitars out there, John Cummings, a New York construction worker walks into Manny’s guitar shop on 48th and Broadway with his friend Douglas Colvin on January 23rd, 1974 to buy a US made guitar that wasn't common (he wanted to make his mark) and walks out with a blue slab body Mosrite model II for $50. John knew the MC5 and the Ventures used Mosrites and figured that was good enough. Johnny and Dee Dee, as they were to become were going to start a band, record an album, and go back to construction work and mail delivery. Of course, that didn’t happen.
The Ramones went on to be one of the most influential bands to ever walk this earth and Johnny’s use of a Mosrite Mk II became stuff of legend. What’s even more incredible is that when Johnny’s blue Mk II, exactly the same as this one here, along with all their gear was stolen in Chicago in June, 1977 he went out and bought ANOTHER Mosrite Ventures model II in white !!!!! One of the rarest production models of a rare brand and he finds 2 of them, well, actually 3 by this stage. There is photo evidence of Johnny owning a sunburst slab body for a very short period in late '75 and/or early '76 which was probably stolen shortly after.
After owning 2 of these slab body Mk II’s, and making exact clones of them I realized that the Ramones would not have sounded the same without this guitar. You plug one of these into an old Marshall, try (and I mean try) and strum with fierce downstrokes at a frightening rate and you hear those early Ramones albums and live bootlegs. This guitar IS the Ramones sound. That together with just how insanely easy they are to play makes me believe that Johnny never would have developed his speed downstroke style with a guitar he had to wrestle with.
These guitars really are “toys” compared to most other Mosrites so I can see why they weren’t Semies favourite model. They are very light, have very thin necks (even for a Mosrite) and have no binding of carves anywhere. The pick-ups are so simple it’s ridiculous, but they sound great.