Bakersfield Guitars

I was involved (during 2021) with a book called Bakersfield Guitars - An Illustrated History, a really fun coffee-table book, written by Willie G. Moseley, with input from Bob Shade. I wrote the book’s introduction, plus Willie pulled some quotes from this Q&A that he and I did. It’s mainly about Mosrites.
If you love electric guitars, you’ll love this book. 
Here’s the unedited Q&A - again, LOTS of gear talk here:

Questions for Marshall Crenshaw RE Bakersfield instruments

• Were the Ventures and Mosrite the first “band/brand” association you recall? The point is, aspiring teenage guitarists in the ‘60s would have been aware of certain players who used certain brands and models, but Mosrite Ventures models actually had the band’s name on the headstock… and I’m a little over three years older than you…

I saw the “(The) Ventures In Space” album at a friend’s house when the album was new, looked on the back cover and got a real shock. That album cover instantly created a buzz about Mosrite/Ventures guitars in one fell swoop, let’s say, and with me for sure. I was into guitars since forever, started sending away for catalogs when I was still in grade school. There were certain acts, like Bo Diddley, Chet Atkins, Johnny and The Hurricanes, and The Ventures, that would always be holding instruments on their album covers, which I’d stare at, and with The Ventures of course it was always Fenders until that one album. For my money, “(The) Ventures In Space” is one of the all-time great Rock albums, and a real forward-step for the band, sonically and musically. 

They definitely were the first Rock band that had their own brand of guitars, the only band that had the clout to make something happen with a guitar brand in ’63-64, because to a lot of kids back then they were synonymous with guitars...

• When did you start paying attention to other Mosrite players (like maybe Joe Maphis)? Details?

Sometime in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s I started to rediscover and reconnect with the ‘50s Rock and Roll that I’d heard as a child, became re-obsessed with it. One day around this time I was at a record-collector Expo somewhere in the Detroit area and in one room a guy had a projector set up and was showing episodes of “Ranch Party,” with Larry and Lorrie Collins, Joe Maphis, et. al. Those Mosrite double-necks really blew my mind. I’d seen pictures of them in a Carvin catalog that I had, but what I didn’t know right then was that I’d heard Joe Maphis playing his double-neck on some records that my cousins had in the ‘50s, like the first Ricky Nelson album, and on some Four Preps’ records that I liked. (Right now, take a minute and find a track of theirs on YouTube called “Stop, Baby.” I loved that solo when I was little.)

• Did you note or try out other Mosrite models back when the brand was viable? When, and what models did you like or not like?

In fact I bought myself a Mark V in 1966, the first guitar that I ever bought with my own money; that was the model that I could afford (I had a paper route.) It was cool for a while, but then a couple years later a friend turned me on to the first Paul Butterfield album, Mike Bloomfield, etc. So I went down that road, eventually traded the Mark V for a ’69 Les Paul gold-top (which got stolen the summer after I bought it).

• Did you become aware of other brands (Hallmark, Gruggett, Standel, etc.) made in Bakersfield, back in their day (late ‘60s)?

Standel, yes. There was a Detroit music store, Meyers Music, that was a Standel amp dealer (but I don’t know who they sold them to because I never saw any bands using any). As I mentioned above, I did send away for a Carvin catalog back in the day. I know it’s not Bakersfield but there’s a connection of course. Carvin used to run ads in the back of comic books, electronics magazines etc., right next to the ads for GRIT newspapers...

• You would have been in your mid-teens when the “Detroit sound” exploded. To what extent did you pay attention to Fred Smith’s Mosrite that he used w/ the MC5 (and I think he had more than one but primarily used a white Mark I) and Dave Alexander’s Metallic Blue Mosrite bass he used with the Stooges?

I loved The MC5 and lots of the other Michigan bands; there was a real explosion of them of course, during the mid to late ‘60s. When I first saw The MC5, Fred was playing a Gretsch Tennessean, and I even think that I saw him play a White Falcon once (maybe he borrowed it from a music store). As I said, I’d already stopped playing my Mark V, wasn’t into Mosrites anymore when I saw Fred Smith with his. But he certainly made it his own, didn’t he?... And Dave Alexander’s sound on the “Funhouse” album, how could you beat it?... A Mosrite bass through a Marshall stack - if I was a young bass player right now that would definitely be my rig right there….

• In the development of your own career and style, however, I’d almost bet that the Ventures were more influential than the Detroit players. Comment

No, I wouldn’t put it that way. You might not know this but I played guitar with the then-surviving members of The MC5 on their US tour dates in 2004. I don’t want to say that I “filled in for Fred,” but I guess you could say that…Wayne Kramer and I have been friends since 1981. And it was a big deal to me to play that great body of work of theirs. I didn’t do myself any favors hearing-wise on that tour, but it really was fun. I was tempted to take a Mosrite on the tour, probably should have…

• Other Mosrite players who might have directly influenced you?

I guess it’s mainly Joe Maphis. As I said, my cousins had the first Ricky Nelson album, and as you did back then, it would just get played again over and over all day long. On Ricky’s cover of Carl Perkins’s “Your True Love” there’s a really wild double-tracked solo with the 6-string and octave necks. And of course Joe is on “Waitin’ In School,” and “Stood Up.” This is all stuff that I just never get tired of. Joe’s solo on “You’re There,” by Skeets McDonald is another favorite. I just love the sound; it has a real SNAP to it. You can always tell it’s him on a record.
These days there’s a guitar player named Toulouse Englehart, a real genius/mad-scientist type. He does a lot of virtuosic stuff on acoustic 12 and 6 strings, but when he plays electric he calls himself the “Mosrite Maestro.” He made a great album called “Martian Lust” that’s a must-have for any Mosrite fan.

Really, at this point whether it’s Phil Baugh, or Ricky Wilson from The B52s, or Leroy Bonner from The Ohio Players, or Eric Brann from Iron Butterfly, on and on, I like anybody that plays a Mosrite.

• What about the irony that the foundation of the fabled “Bakersfield Sound” was the twang of a Fender Telecaster instead of “local” instruments?

Nothing wrong with Fenders of course, but yeah, that is a question mark. Are you aware of the Mosrite Records label? I have a Mosrite 45 called “Big O,” by Ronnie Sessions, a Buck Owens tribute song, in fact.

• One “bless-or-blame” facet of Mosrite guitars is the slim neck and flat frets; plays fast but strings are hard to bend. How did this affect your own style when playing a Mosrite?

I read an interview with Elliot Easton where he mentioned this: Mosrites have such a particularity about them that they cause you to play and think a certain way when you play them. They’re really their own thing and you’re either into it or not. For me they’re really inspiring, IF it’s a good one...

• What do you think of the sound of vintage Mosrite pickups (hot single coils)?

I love the sound of the pickups. I don’t know anything about pickup-making, why the sound is so present, etc. I’m pretty sure that when Semie made his pickups he just copied Carvin AP-6’s, but whatever he did, I love it...

• When did you start using Mosrite instrument yourself? Models?

As I said, I liked the Mark V but didn’t stick with it very long. After I got a record deal I started buying guitars; I’d always wanted to have a bunch, and decided at one point in 1983 to get a Ventures’ model from Gruhn for $450.00, add it to the rotation. But when it was delivered I did a REALLY DUMB thing - I took it out of the case; it was Pearl White, really beautiful, and I decided to take it to a show that I was doing that night at the Convention Center in Asbury Park w/ Dave Edmunds, an important gig. I took the Mosrite and an Epiphone 12-string, that was it. When I got to the jobsite and plugged the Mosrite in it was noisy, the pickups were unpotted, microphonic. I just struggled with it, a nightmare of my own making… My memory of this is a bit hazy now, but somehow or another I got hold of Semie Moseley shortly after the Asbury show, talked to him on the phone. He was making another attempt at the time at getting back into the game, getting Mosrite back off the ground, was interested in connecting with people who were on TV and in the charts, as I was just then. I told him my story about the Pearl White Mosrite and he said, “Well, send it on down, we’ll take a look at it.” I sent it to Jonas Ridge, NC, waited a couple months, tried to reach him on the phone number that I had, got no answer. More time went by, no word from Semie. Finally I did get hold of him and he said, “Oh, terrible news! We had a huge fire, lost everything”… I was really perplexed, didn’t know what to think. He didn’t say anything about replacing my guitar or reimbursing me, not at first anyway. I feel bad saying this now, because I know now that they did have a fire, but something seemed oddball to me about the whole thing at that moment. But by the end of the conversation we were talking about him building me a new guitar. We talked a couple more times over the next few weeks but then I ran out of patience and asked my manager to call Semie and say whatever he needed to say to convince him to send me a brand new sunburst Ventures-style model RIGHT NOW, which he did do. I got that guitar and it was great!! I bonded with it right away; it was one of my main guitars for the next couple years (’84 to ’86). After that I got a nice Candy Apple Red Ventures’ 12 string from my friend Eric Ericson. Then I bought a blue 3-pickup model from Manny’s - unfortunately that one looked cool, but was another “dog,” had no vibe or musicality at all.

In my own experience it’s always been hit and miss with Mosrites. It’s said that the quality-control at the Bakersfield factory wasn’t always super-sharp. Semie could create a masterpiece when he felt like it, but….
The last one I bought during this period was an ‘80s Maphis doubleneck; the guy that I bought it from in San Diego knew Semie, ordered the guitar direct from him. But Semie knew that the guy wasn’t a guitar-player, just wanted it as an art-object or something, so he took a lot of weird shortcuts while building it. I had Joe Glazer in Nashville look at this guitar and he just shook his head - the wiring inside was just bare copper wire; the tone control was a 3-way push-pull pot that didn’t do anything. Nevertheless, it did sound pretty cool. I used it on a Foster and Lloyd album track called “She Knows What She Wants,” played a crazy solo with two tracks of 6-string, two tracks of octave-guitar. I wonder where that guitar is now.

• To what extent have you used Mosrites on recordings (cite specific songs; comment on why the particular Mosrite worked, etc.)?

My third album is called “Downtown”; I did it with T-Bone Burnett in 1986. There’s lots of Mosrite usage on that one. I really like the second solo on a track called “Yvonne”; that’s me on the sunburst Mosrite (the first solo is GE Smith). There’s a track called “Blues Is King”; the only electric guitar on it is the sunburst Mosrite; it has a dark and warm vibe and sounds like only a Mosrite can sound. 
There’s a tune called “This Street” on my 4th album; I used the red 12-string on that one...
I used the sunburst Mosrite in the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married.” And I mentioned the Foster and Lloyd tune…

• You’d noted the ’63 Maphis from San Diego as one of the “good ‘uns” (my term, not yours); details about why it appealed to you.

Joe R### is a guy that I met in San Diego back in the ‘80s; we bonded over Mosrites. Joe’s been an occasional tour mgr. for The Ventures over the years. He owns, or did own, one of the “Joe Maphis Model” Ventures’-style Mosrites, handmade by Semie in ’62-’63. Joe lent me that guitar for a couple of weeks back in ’87, and I think it’s my favorite electric guitar that I’ve ever played. It struck me as being magical: I wish I was playing it right now. I plugged it into a JMI Vox AC30 and it was tone-heaven. It was the first Mosrite I ever played that didn’t have a bolt-on neck, and it really felt alive in my hands.

• Did you ever meet Semie Moseley? Impressions?

Oh yeah. I already described my first go-round with him. Once I had the sunburst one and was happy with it, things were cool between us. At one point he hired an “artists-relations” person; I was playing Mosrites on the road at this time and always got fast, friendly service from this guy whenever I needed anything. (Unfortunately I don’t remember his name anymore.) Semie, he’d go to guitar shows during the ‘80s; I remember hanging out with him at a New York guitar show. And I paid him a visit in NC once when I was on tour, took my guitar tech Leroy Aiello with me; Semie gave us some of his gospel albums to take home. When you read and hear about Semie’s exploits and misadventures over the years it seems like he’d make a good fictional character. I liked him.

The “glory days” for the brand were over when the factory closed in Bakersfield in ’69. Are you enough of a fan to have educated yourself about the subsequent “migratory history” of the brand?
Yes, I know all about it.

• Did you ever do any latter-day business w/ Mosrite on a new instrument? Details

No, not since the ‘80s. Is there a Mosrite company right now? My understanding is that there are at least a couple different companies in Japan now that make “Mosrites.”

• Any latter-day Mosrite models or designs that impressed you? Why?

A friend of mine has a few of the newer Japanese Mosrites. One of them is a set-neck ’63 model. I played it and thought it was great, didn’t want to put it down. This guy’s name is Richard L### and he really has a great feel for working on Mosrites, setting them up and making them the best that they can be.

I’m also interested in trying out a TNM, a Hallmark.. That looks like high-quality stuff, like what Semie could do when he was trying…

Flip-side: Any latter-day models that didn’t impress you? Why?

I did mention the blue 3-pickup one that I didn’t like, from ’86 or so... It had 3 mini-toggle switches, coil-tapped single coils. It just didn’t make it, didn’t have any magic to it. But having said that, I’ve played several Mosrites from Semie’s last years, and it seems like he was really on his game during that time, was being mindful about the quality. I played one with a maple fingerboard that I really liked; he was coming up with cool variations on the basic template...

• When did you actively start collecting Mosrites?
• Are you still collecting? Any particular Mosrite you’re still seeking?
• Details RE any Mosrites you’ve been using with the Smithereens?

Just a little while ago I got a Ventures’ 12 string from ’65-’66. It had no finish on it when I got it, so I had it painted blue. It’s a great one, sounds huge, is fun to play. But, I had to have Richard re-do the funky wiring from the Bakersfield factory... As long as Richard’s around to set it up once in a while it’ll be great…

• Any other Mosrite/Bakersfield guitars anecdotes and recollections?

I’ll just say, for my money, Mosrites are about as Americana as you can get.