1965 Standel Custom Deluxe


The Standel company began when luthier Paul Bigsby asked Bob Crooks to develop an amplifier to complement Bigsby’s electric steels, guitars and mandolins. The resulting amp was not a hit with Bigsby (the partnership never came to fruition), but it attracted enough players to launch Standel as one of the first boutique amplifier manufacturers. By the early 1960s, Crooks had created a proper factory for his amps and was looking to expand into building guitars.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the major guitar and amp builders in California during the ‘50s and ‘60s were closely intertwined. Crooks knew Bigsby, who knew Leo Fender, who knew Ray Massie, who knew Paul Barth, and in between there were connections to Magnatone, National/Valco, Rickenbacker, and a number of other players. As a result, Crooks brought in Semie Moseley of Mosrite to design Standel’s first guitars. The resulting prototypes were never put into mass production, but Moseley’s influence can clearly be seen on the first generation that were produced in some quantity.

Nobody is quite certain who actually built the first production-run Standels. The most likely candidate appears to be Joe Hall, a former Mosrite employee who would go on to found Hallmark Guitars. Two series each of solidbody and hollowbody guitars were created, Standard and Deluxe. The hollowbody guitars are particularly interesting for their fiberglass bodies, but the relatively conventional wood solidbodies have their share of unique features as well. The Standards had plain slab bodies, but the Deluxes featured a German carve that most likely originated with Moseley. The vibrato design also shows his influence, though the design is also fundamentally similar to Bigsby’s vibratos. The serial stamped into the end of the fretboard is also a detail shared by Mosrite guitars.

The Standard solidbodies feature two single-coil pickups and a single volume and tone control, with slider on-off switches for each pickup. The Deluxe solidbodies feature a few upgrades: individually-adjustable poles for each string, rocker switches instead of sliders, and a whole secondary volume and tone circuit. This last feature is of dubious usefulness because (unlike similar circuits on Fender offset models) it doesn’t alter the tone of the guitar, but at least it allows players to switch between two presets at the flip of another rocker switch. Both the Standards and Deluxes feature a neck-tilt adjustment system which works quite well, but – bizarrely – there is no ability to raise or lower the bridge. As a consequence, action adjustments must be made by changing the neck angle!

This particular guitar is mostly original, though it sports a replacement pickguard because the original cracked and warped. The string tree is a later addition that was necessary because the break angle over the nut was too low. This was caused by the headstock warping over time, perhaps the result of green wood being used in the neck’s construction. The neck’s narrow but deep profile gives the guitar a unique feel that’s closer to contemporary Valco instruments than any California competitors. The Grover Rotomatics are an unusually upscale feature for the time.

This first generation of Standel guitars was in production for two to three years, 1965-7, and not many were built. Perhaps they were too quirky to justify their price, perhaps the builder moved on to other things, and perhaps Standel never had the distribution to reach a large number of players. Shortly after they were discontinued, the company replaced them with a somewhat more conventional line of hollowbodies designed by Sam Koontz.