Standel Custom

Founded in the early 1950s, the Standel Company of Temple City, California, was the brainchild of Bob Crooks—a man who got his start building custom amplifiers for Joe Maphis, Speedy West, and Merle Travis. Along the way, however, Crooks fancied himself Leo Fender’s rival. So he tried several times to expand his line of amps with effects, P.A. systems, speakers, and, on a much smaller scale, guitars and basses.
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The first Standel guitars were made in the late ’50s by Semie Moseley of Mosrite fame, and never got further than a few Telecaster-shaped, single-cutaway prototypes that were very similar to the Mosrite guitars of the time. Sometime in the early ’60s, Moseley and Crooks once again collaborated on a guitar—the famous “flipped-over Strat” body shape that became the outline of the Mosrite Ventures model. It never surfaced as a Standel, however, and it has been surmised that, although some were made as Standel prototypes, they actually wound up being Mosrite Joe Maphis models, circa 1961-1962 (the precursor to the Ventures model, which shares the same body shape).

Around 1965, Standel came out with a very short-lived solidbody that looked like a Mosrite Ventures copy. Only a couple of these guitars have surfaced, and to make things even stranger in the evolutionary chain, some of them were refinished and branded as Hallmark guitars later in the late ’60s.

But one of the best-known Standel models is the Custom—which is pictured here. Manufactured from ’66 to ’67, the Custom was made in Bakersfield, California, but had no connection to the Mosrite company. Although hollowbody versions were available, this Custom is a solidbody. What made the solidbody Customs so unique—and quite innovative for the time—was that the bridge and tailpiece were mounted on one very thick, nearly indestructible piece of sheet metal. Although they get lumped in with “budget” guitars of the 1960s, the Standels were actually quite well made, with hard maple necks and rosewood fretboards that were as good as anything Fender was making at the time.

Perhaps the oddest feature of the Standel Custom is its polepiece-less, low-output pickups. If you plug one of these guitars into a Fender amp, there is hardly any sound. In fact, you can turn the amp up to 10, and it still won’t be very loud. This has prompted a few guitar snobs to proclaim Standels as “weak” sounding. However, there was a method to Crooks’ madness, as Standel’s amplifiers were designed for low-output pickups. So when you plug this guitar into a Standel amp, a gloriously clean, loud, and ringing tone emerges. Think of Les Paul’s direct-into-the-board tone, Wes Montgomery thumbing octaves into his solid-state Standel amp, or the squeaky-clean stylings of Chet Atkins, and you’ll get the idea.

Sadly, Standel closed its Bakersfield factory in 1967, with a bankruptcy sale that would keep smaller Bakersfield luthiers such as Hallmark, Gruggett, Epcor, and Buck-A-Roo knee deep in parts for years to come. The Standel amp line was revived by the new Standel Musical Instrument Amplifiers firm that makes boutique models based on the company’s early tube designs. Now if somebody would only reissue the Standel Custom guitars!