1966 Mosrite Mk V. My first real Mosrite.
Growing up in Brisbane had it's advantages. I still think it's one of the best, if not THE best city in the world to live. Generally speaking it's friendly, comfortable and relaxed, and we have a great music scene. Always have. It did however also have it's disadvantages in that we didn't really have any great culture or alternative outlets until the early eighties. We had a good record shop in Rockinghorse Records and there were some small alternative venues but generally speaking we didn't have any great guitar shops. Our guitar shops got whatever was at hand with rare sightings of something very cool for too much money, and would be filled with locally made gear (especially amps) that was generally great quality but we didn't want local stuff, we wanted that other stuff.
You never saw Mosrites for sale in Brisbane. The first time I saw an actual one was in the window of a new guitar shop in the Valley. There were three I think (I'm getting pretty senile) and they were just imported by a guy in Toowoomba who bought in a shipment of (numbers vary depending on sources) about 20 guitars directly from the US. Years later these guitars were allegedly still sitting in a house unsold but leads (inc a TV reporter who had a done a story on them) had proven fruitless and to this day I have not seen them turn up on the local market ? Maybe they eventually went back to the US or Japan ? Maybe they're sitting in a garage ?
When I first wanted a Mosrite I did the usual thing you did before the internet. You went shopping. As I frequented the local shops my next plan was to hit the bigger shops in Melbourne and ask around. I had seen a couple advertised in promo magazines that Sydney guitar shops produced and known of people in Sydney and Melbourne who had bought them but when I did the rounds when I was on holiday one year nearly every shop just looked at me blankly when I asked "do you have any Mosrites?"
This was going to be harder than I thought. Especially since the Mosrite I wanted was the Ventures Mk II like the one Johnny Ramone played. Before internet, and living in Brisbane it was pretty hard to find out much info at all about Mosrites, especially what turned out to be one of the rarest production Mosrites ever made.
Some sort of relief came in the mid/late 90's when my then girlfriend (now wife) and I decided we were going to elope, get married by Elvis in Vegas and go to Mexico for two weeks for our honeymoon. This of course meant stopping in LA where I was sure I was going to finally find a Mosrite.
On the way back we had a couple of days in LA and I dragged her around guitar shops for both of them. There were Ventures models on Sunset but they were $4K + and I couldn't afford that. At least the guitar shops knew what I was talking about and some of them were a wealth of knowledge to a fledgling from Brisbane. I quickly learned that I wasn't going to get a MK II and I probably couldn't afford a Mosrite.
On the last afternoon I was visiting a little shop called Jimmy's Guitars on Sunset Blvd and I got talking to the guy behind the counter. They had a Ventures on the wall and it was beautiful but WAY OUT of my price range. I mentioned I was from Australia (like he couldn't tell) and was after a "cheap" Mosrite. "I've got a little blue MK V out the back" ........
He went out and bought back this old hardcase (original Mosrite) and opened the lid. I was in awe. The look of that blue Mk V just stunned me. It wasn't the model I wanted, in fact I didn't even know of the Mk V at the time as I thought that version was a later Mk II (which it is) but this was a Mosrite.
It was in good condition and had some chips and scratches. It needed a set up and new strings. The output jack barely worked. It was going to get "fixed up" and put out in the shop for sale next week. I was leaving tomorrow morning !!
He said he'd sell it to me for $700 cash. I told him I'd have to run to a bank to get some money out. He was closing in 30 minutes. This was a Mosrite !!!
I ran to a bank, to be told I couldn't get money out on the card I had. I went back to the guitar shop, crushed. I told him I couldn't get cash from the bank, thinking that was it. He said "I'll do card if you do the 3% charge" .......... $21 ........ yeah, I can do that.
I caught the bus back to the hotel with an old hardcase and a grin on my face. I didn't know much about Mosrites then, but this was a Mosrite, and it looked great. The neck was SO small it was crazy. Perfect for my tiny hands. It was thin and light. Perfect for me. It was blue.
When I got back home to Australia I took it to pieces and checked any indications of what it was and what year it might be. This was my first real Mosrite. I'd seen pics of neck date stamps in neck pockets and numbers stamped on necks but I had no idea what this really was and when it was made ?
There it was in the neck cavity. FEB 19, 1966 #0018, which I found out later was the "batch number" for the production line.
I played this little guitar so much. I just loved the way it felt and looked, and it was a real Mosrite. By this stage I had some cheap Japanese copies and anything that looked remotely like a Mosrite but it was pretty obvious playing this that this was a quality guitar.
As I learned more and became stupidly obsessed with Mosrite I found out that this model was indeed a "student" model and was a "cheaper" version of the famous Ventures model. As I started to collect Mosrites once the internet opened up endless possibilities of finding them cheap (at the time) I realized that even their student models were high quality guitars using the same timbers and (mostly) the same hardware but like all Mosrites, nearly everything was made in house so quality was fairly consistent, especially through these mid sixties years when Mosrite was at their biggest.
So, what's it like ? Well, it's small with a VERY thin neck and typical 24.5" scale, although the neck on the Mk II/V is set into the smaller body much further than the Ventures model, giving it a sense of short scale and feeling considerably smaller. It feels like a toy compared to it's bigger brother. The neck changed (slightly) in late '65 with the end of the fretboard going from a rounded end to a square end but the profile stayed essentially the same. The thin and light body has a less exaggerated version of the famous German Crave as Semie insisted after dropping the "slab body" Mk II because it looked "too cheap" for a Mosrite, even a student model.
The pick ups are different to the Ventures model although made into the same covers. These have the flat top covers with no pole pieces exposed and used the same magnets/wire etc as the the bigger brother but simply wound around the magnet with a simple, cheap bobbin rather than the more time consuming bobbin to accommodate pole pieces. While still being fairly high output, and being built into the same covers, they sound different to a Ventures pick up. I actually LOVE the Ventures pick up (on par with my all time favourite, the P-90) and I also love the sound of these. They're a bit noisy, but then so are all (except the humbuckers) Mosrite pick ups. They have great bite and attack and plenty of output for big clean tones that can push the front end of an amp just slightly.
The vibrato is the standard Moseley (pre patent number) unit which replaced the very simple folded steel unit on the original Mk II and is my all time favourite vibrato. It's such a simple, elegant design, like everything Semie did. It's based on the famous, previous version Semie made called the Vibramute which was essentially a hand made aluminium (originally) and then rough sand cast version before these were die cast for faster production. It requires no routing and works SO well for feather light pitch bends in the typical surf/instrumental style. The bridge is a cheaper version of the classic Mosrite roller bridge and works surprisingly well if you don't go crazy on the bar.
All the other hardware, like the vibrato is typical Ventures model for the time. The knobs are the low "top hat" knobs used on all Mosrites in '66 after the spun knobs were phased out in '65 but the metal switch tip kept the spun (with two lines) Mosrite look until it was replaced in the early 70's with a tall plastic tip and made a come back later. Strap buttons are also Mosrite made like all models had.
The only hardware Mosrite bought in was the Kluson tuners, which these student models mainly had the plastic button versions (I replaced these and put the originals aside) and the pots and jack which were generally CTS and Switchcraft. Original pots were 350K which is a strange value but nearly all Mosrites used them. I have replaced these with 500K and put in a new switchcraft output jack. Everything else is original.
This little German Carve model in Mk II and Mk V (same guitar) configuration ran from late '65 to mid '69 in almost unchanged form except for the aforementioned neck/fretboard end and the scratchplate changing shape slightly to accommodate neck change. This version got the Pat # Moseley vibrato along with the rest of the vibrato equipped guitars in late '66. The Mk II and Mk V ran concurrently for some months despite being the same guitar with a different logo and I would estimate that probably approx 1200 were made before finishing up in '69 so it's one of the more common production Mosrites. The truss rod cover moved to the headstock along with all Mosrites in '66 and the Ventures logo was dropped in '67 along with the bigger brother after the Ventures deal finished and these just retained the Mosrite of California logo on the headstock but was referred to a a Mk V. There were also a handful of Mk V's made with a Gospel logo on the headstock which probably would have disappeared into Mosrite obscurity if not for the fact that Kurt Cobain managed to find and abuse one in Nirvana for a short period.
The other interesting (if you're a nerd) thing about this actual guitar is it is serial number B708 (body date Feb 19, 1966) which was, when I was still stupidly Mosrite obsessed a few years ago. the lowest serial number MK V I had ever come across. The Mk V started serials at "about" B700 with all previous numbers being allocated to slab and German carve Mk II's. It's all typical Mosrite with serial numbers of the last slab body Mk II's showing body dates of Dec '65 (although the bulk were made in July) and serial numbers of German Carve Mk II's all showing Dec '65/Jan '66 dates. There seems to be BIG gaps in serial numbers and a period from Aug to Dec where very few, if any, Mk II's were actually made ?
When I bought this guitar, the guy at the shop told me he had bought it off the original owner, who was a good friend and customer, who bought it new from a guitar shop in LA in (about) Mar 1966 where it was the promo guitar and was told it was THE ONE in the Mosrite promo flyer at the time ? I have no way of verifying this and it doesn't really matter to me but the one in the promo material of the time is exactly the same colour (mine is a factory "refin" over a sunburst) and one of the first made.
Despite the numbers made these are still reasonably hard to find and have started fetching more money as the Ventures models start to cost more than players can afford. While I do love this little guitar, and have real sentimental attachment to it, they are a student guitar not unlike a Mustang or LP special, although more expensive new, but it's hard to justify the prices they (and I include the Fenders and Gibsons) are now going for. While they feel and sound like a quality guitar, they aren't as impressive as a nice Ventures model or, for my money, a nice 70's Mosrite.
I own other MK II and Mk V models now but really, this one is special. It was my first real Mosrite I bought after obsessing and failing for years to get one, and I bought it on my honeymoon so ...... well, it's a keeper.