Semie Moseley was born on June 13, 1935 in Durant, Oklahoma. His family migrated to California along a path similar to many “Bakersfield Okies”, first moving to Chandler, Arizona in 1938, and two years later in Bakersfield, California. In Bakersfield, Moseley started playing guitar in an evangelical group at age 13. Semie and his brother Andy experimented with guitars since teen-age years, refinishing instruments and building new necks.
Semie built a triple-neck guitar (the longest neck was a standard guitar, the second-longest neck an octave higher, the shortest was an eight-string mandolin).
Semie Moseley became a master luthier after he apprenticed with Paul Bigsby and later at Rickenbacker with Roger Rossmeisl, a German born jazz guitarist and talented luthier. During this time he mastered the art of the “German Curve” body style that was later employed on his Mosrite guitars. By 1956, with an investment from Reverend Ray Boatright, a local Los Angeles minister, Semie and Andy started their company, Mosrite of California. Semie, who built guitars for the L.A.-based Rickenbacker company, said to his co-workers that he was making his own product, and he was fired by Rickenbacker. The name “MOSRITE” comes from a marriage of these two names MOS (Moseley) RITE (Boatright).
After a few years of struggling in Los Angeles trying to turn Mosrite into a mass producing guitar building operation, Semie moved his small operation in Oildale, just outside Bakersfield, California. When they began, their production was all custom, handmade guitars, built in garages, tin storage sheds, wherever the Moseleys could put equipment.
Semie presented a double-neck to country guitar master “King of the Strings” Joe Maphis, a Los Angeles-area TV performer receiving some notoriety. Semie built fancy doubleneck guitars for Joe Maphis as well as young Larry Collins (of the Collins Kids) that were played on the Town Hall Party television show.
Guitars that Semie built were quite different, and original. They weren’t copies of Fenders or Gibsons – Mosrite guitars had many unique features including ultra-slim necks, zero frets, high output handmade pickups, custom built aluminum hardware, and double cut-a-way body shapes had the lower horn longer. Quite a different guitar. Ultra fast players like Joe Maphis and Larry Collins loved their playability for their “shredding” style in the 50s and 60s.
Semie and Mosrite struggled to survive in Bakersfield, trying to work their way out of the tin shed in Oildale. Other guitar guys like a young guitar maker named Bill Gruggett were attracted to the usual guitars Mosrite was producing and became an employee. Joe Hall a R&B musician, became an employee a different route. Joe sold his Gibson ES-147 and paid $400 in advance for a custom order with Semie Moseley. This was quite a lot of money in the early 1960s. When Semie did not deliver, Joe Hall wound up working with Semie, learning guitar making and later founding Hallmark Guitars with the help of Bill Gruggett.
In 1959, Andy moved to Nashville, Tennessee for a year to popularize the Mosrite name and sold a few to Grand Ole Opry entertainers, people, and to road musicians. Andy said: “And that’s how we kept the factory going at the time: custom guitars”.
Semie Moseley was a great guitar builder and innovator, but struggled as a businessman. Semie once made a deal with Bob Crooks to make guitars for Standel the amplifier maker, that claimed to have interest in a guitar line to go with their amps. This deal folded after ten units made for the NAMM show. These guitars are the early, very primitive models with a single cutaway that looked a bit like a Fender Telecaster.
Mosrite guitars became known as the most sought after boutique guitar in the world. They were about twice the cost of Fender Stratocaster. Early Mosrite guitars used Carvin pickups. Later Semie made his own pickups. Far superior to other bridge systems at the time the Mosrite “Vibramute” bridge system. All materials for Mosrite guitars were made in house during this time except for the tuners. The Mosrite “Fuzzrite” was the premiere guitar distortion device of the time. The Fuzzrite was used by many players of the era, most notably Jimi Hendrix.
Before the days of bouquet pickup makers and after-market parts. Calvin was one of the only companies then that sold guitar parts direct to the public – Semie Moseley used them until the early ’60s, when Mosrite could finally afford to tool their own pickups and hardware. Unfortunately, Calvin later stopped making these and even threw away the molds!
Semie eventually hit gold with a chance meeting with Nokie Edwards from the Ventures. Nokie, played Fender guitars, but loved the Mosrite models he tried. Soon the Ventures model Mosrite was born bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars to Semie Moseley as the Ventures was one of the most popular instrumental bands in the world. Mosrite and Surf music were forever associated after this. This deal finally had Mosrite mass producing guitars.
Sears and Roebuck, who had already owned the Harmony Company since 1916, offered to purchase Mosrite for over a million dollars. Semie passed on this lucrative deal because he claimed his name was on the guitars, so he just couldn’t sell the brand name away.
He and Andy also got into the recording business by establishing Mosrite Records. They signed Barbara Mandrell, a teenage daughter of Irby Mandrell, an Oceanside, California music-store owner who sold Mosrite guitars. They also signed guitarist Ronny Sessions and others.
Mosrite guitars were played by many rock and roll and country artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Ventures, The Ramone’s Tommy Tedesco, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Davie Allan, Kurt Cobain, Joe Maphis, Buck Owens, Larry Collins, Buck Trent, Nick McCarthy, the MC5, Iron Butterfly, Dottie Rambo. Arthur Lee Love, Fred Sonic Smith, Ricky Wilson, Kayama Yuzo, and Kevin Shields. Players like Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman, Roy Buchanan, Glen Campbell, Larry Gatton and Rick Springfield have had Mosrite guitars.
Semie Moseley was an innovator and was constantly coming up with improvements and upgrades, the competition simply produced the same products over and over. Due to Moseley’s lack of focus the company was never as profitable as his cookie cutter competitors. Semie was a visionary and he liked to get involved with the design and production of new models. Some of his ideas like the Brass Rail model never got off the ground simply because it was too expensive to manufacture, it was not competitive.
At the peak of production in 1968, Semie and his brother Andy, with their crew of 107 employees were making 1,000 Mosrite guitars per month which included acoustics, standard electrics, double-necks, triple-necks, basses, dobros, even mandolins.
Mosrite of California went bankrupt in late 1968 after they contracted with a competitor to market their guitars. After this, they tried to deal directly with stores, and they sold 280 guitars in 1969 before they came to the shop one day and found their doors pad-locked.
Two years after his bankruptcy, Semie was able to get back the Mosrite name, and in 1970 he started making guitars again in Pumpkin Center near Bakersfield. He moved his factory three times in the next 20 years, to Oklahoma City in the mid-70s, to the township of Jonas Ridge, in Burke County, North Carolina in 1981, and to Booneville, Arkansas in 1991.
Six months after moving to Arkansas, Semie Moseley became ill with bone cancer and six weeks later, in August 1992, he died.
Mosrite is one of the most copied guitar designs.
Semie’s daughter, Dana, is also a luthier and continues to build Mosrite guitars. The Mosrite company is owned by Fillmore. Today it does all of it’s American Manufacturing In Las Vegas, NV. Imports are strictly Japanese by one of Japan’s best guitar factories “Tokai”.