Vintage Standel Guitars

Jan 6, 2022

I dug these vintage Standel guitars out tonight for the first time in a long time. These were made in Bakersfield in the mid-1960s, and they’re really unique and cool. Bob Crooks from Standel tried making guitars to sell with his successful amps several times during the 1960s, but none of the attempts got off the ground.

The first Standel guitar was made in the late 1950s, and I think only existed as a prototype, as I’ve only seen one. This guitar was made by Doc Kauffman in Los Angeles (he of the Vibrola tailpiece, the K&F early Leo Fender brand, and later the oddball Kremo-Kustom guitar brand). I own that prototype Standel guitar, it’s in rough condition and unplayable, but clearly made by Doc and clearly labeled Standel on the headstock. I’ve never seen another.

The next batch of Standels, and the first ones shown in a catalog, were made by Semie Moseley of Mosrite fame around 1960–61. These were made in super-limited quantities and there may only be a handful of examples that still exist. They are very similar to the Mosrites that Semie was making at that time, single cutaway instruments with Bigsby-like construction (plywood tops and backs, with neck-through construction). There is a story, not confirmed by any existing instruments, that Semie came up with the shape of the Ventures model guitar while building guitars for Standel, by flipping over a Stratocaster and tracing the outline, but that probably would have been later, around 1962, and no guitars with the Ventures body shape and a Standel logo have ever surfaced.

Joe Hall worked for Semie at Mosrite after Semie moved back up to Bakersfield in 1959. He launched his own brand of guitars called Sterling around 1960, concurrently while working with Semie at Mosrite. Joe Hall built the next series of Standel guitars in 1965, which were heavily influenced by the successful Ventures-model Mosrites, which had debuted in 1963. The gold-metal-flake guitar shown in this photo (and in the video below) is one of those Standels made in 1965. There aren’t many of these around. I’ve seen four or five of them, so they must not have made very many. Since a few of them have turned up with both the Standel logo in between the pickups and a Hallmark decal on the headstock, these are often referred to as “double-brand” Standels.

The big burst of Bakersfield Standel guitars happened in 1966 and 1967, when they came out with a line of solidbody and hollowbody Standel Custom and Standel Custom Deluxe guitars and basses. They made a bunch of these, six- and twelve-string guitars and basses, but they didn’t sell well, and hundreds of these could be found in the pawnshops in Bakersfield in the 1980s and 1990s (although I seem to remember that I got these white Custom and black Custom Deluxe solidbodies from Steve Soest, who turned them up in the back of a music store in Louisiana, if I remember correctly. (Steve Soest, do you remember the smelly case? It still smells!)

Interestingly, I bought a couple of Standel guitar bodies from Skid Roper (of Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper fame) a long time ago. One of the bodies was a single-cutaway Standel body, the only one I’ve ever seen. Even though Skid said the body had gone through a fire, it is salvageable, and I keep thinking I’ll make a guitar out of it someday.

I really dig these guitars, but they’re . . . weird. They’re on the same wavelength as Mosrites, but they’re way more unconventional. The necks are really narrow at the nut. The pickups are really low output, sort of like Bigsby pickups with a plastic vacu-form cover. They sound good plugged into a Standel amp (bright and clean), but weak plugged into a Fender amp. They are cool guitars without a real audience for them, but I have always really dug these guitars. They don’t go for a lot of money, either, and they haven’t appreciated like other guitars have in the last twenty-five years.

Standel made one other try at a Standel-branded guitar, made on the East Coast by Sam Koontz at Harptone Guitars. Even those these acoustic and electric guitars say Standel on the headstock, they are Harptone guitars all the way. These were made around 1969–70, right before Standel went out of business. According to Bob Crooks, he got a big batch of defective transistors, and he got so many returns it bankrupted the company. He was convinced it was a deliberate sabotage on the part of another amplifier company, who convinced the electronic supplier to send him enough defective parts to plow him under.

I’ve always wondered how come no young kids ever started playing these 1966–67 Standel guitars in their garage bands. They have a visually pleasing design, don’t cost too much money, and are unique and cool looking. I’ve done years of research and fact-finding on these guitars, it’s fun to pull them out and play ’em. The last time I got these Standel guitars out to play at a gig was when we backed up Dick Dodd, the lead singer and drummer of The Standells, singing “Dirty Water” and “Riot on Sunset Strip” at the Guitar Geek Festival a few years back. That was enough to make me glad I had saved ’em all these years.

Videos of Deke playing the Standel guitars: