1968 Standel 520S


The Standel company is primarily remembered for its amplifiers. It started with Paul Bigsby's desire to create an amp that would complement his custom instruments, and it evolved into the first manufacturer of fully-transistorized guitar amps. However, Standel also tried their hand at guitars - several times, in fact. After some initial prototypes by Semie Moseley, Standel sold a few solidbody models designed by former Mosrite employee Joe Hall. These were shortly joined by hollowbody models featuring fiberglass bodies, creating something of a Mosrite-meets-Valco-meets-Fender hybrid. All these guitars were discontinued after a few years and limited production.

The mid to late 1960s saw a number of a number of amp manufacturers getting into the guitar business. Kustom had unique designs built for them by Ross, Inc., while Ampeg stopped importing Burns guitars and created a line featuring clear Lucite bodies. Like Ampeg, Standel chose to improve their own line; the previous models were interesting but a little too unusual to sell in large numbers, and their build quality was not up to the same level as the market leaders. Standel contracted with the Harptone case company to build a new line of guitars, and Harptone hired luthier Sam Koontz to design them.

Koontz was primarily an archtop builder in the mold of D'Angelico and D'Aquisto. His own instruments were superbly built and had a visual flair that made them stand out. Koontz designed both acoustic and electric guitars for Harptone, which were built at the same factory as the cases. The guitars were built to a very high standard; it’s possible that Harptone hired some workers from the nearby Guild factory to build them. The guitars were initially produced under the Standel name from 1967 to about 1969, but after that company descended into financial ruin, a few more were produced with the Harptone name on the headstock.

Koontz’s own guitars were primarily aimed at jazz players, and the Standel line did incorporate some single-cutaway, full-depth archtops. The top-of-the-line models featured carved tops and backs with floating pickups, and they retailed for a whopping $1200-1300 in the late 1960s. Most Standel models, however, were thinline guitars (mostly with double cutaways) that were probably intended more for rock players. The 400 series, although the bottom of the lineup, were visually snazzy, with huge chrome tailpieces and Koontz’s distinctive “horned” headstock. The 500 series added block markers, more expensive pickups, heavier binding, and master volume controls.

This 520S is one of the most commonly-seen Standel models. It features a flamed maple body and a pair of DeArmond 2000 pickups, identical to the units used on many Gretsch, Martin and Kustom guitars. It features a solid center block glued to the underside of the neck, but the block does not quite reach all the way to the back. This arrangement stiffens the top enough to cut down on feedback, but allows a bit more of an acoustic sound than the classic ES-335 design. Standel also built a model with double Florentine cutaways, the 510S, which is otherwise identical in construction to this guitar. The 520S and its cherry-finished sibling the 520C listed for $525 in 1969.

This specimen is all original and in fairly clean condition save for some small dings around the edges. The only piece missing is the bridge cover, which was frequently lost or discarded. It retains its original hard case – built, not surprisingly, by Harptone.