Sam Koontz Guitars

Sam Koontz Guitars

“Lick Of The Week” with Will Ray

Hold onto your bolo! Will Ray is back with a "5111B or Will's lick in D" :-) It's a nifty trick to get yourself from the 1st to 4th position in D.

Will Ray is a founding member of the guitar trio, The Hellecasters. Check out Will's website,, for instructional videos, merchandise, or to contact Will about private guitar lessons.

Guitar Builder Sam Koontz

Based on aesthetics alone and having never plugged one in my favorite guitar is the Standel 510-S, or the Harptone 510-C. They were both made by Harptone in the late 1960s and the lineage is very fascinating, but the common denominator is a legendary guitar builder named Sam Koontz. Here’s the story:

Bob Crooks is most well-known for Standel amplifiers which he began producing in 1953. However, during the 1960s Crooks made several attempts to market guitars on his amplifier company’s good name. One of those attempts included a failed deal with Semie Moseley of Mosrite in 1961 or 62. Legend has it the design Semie presented to Bob Crooks was basically the same as the (yet to be created) Mosrite Ventures model.

In a roundabout way Crooks also had a brief association with Mosrite a few years later. Joe Hall, a former Mosrite employee, was around when Crooks originally approached Moseley about making guitars for him. As Crooks continued to search for a guitar manufacturer he crossed paths with Hall, and they collaborated on a handful of Ventures styled knockoffs in 1965. 

Finally, a year later Crooks connected with Sam Koontz of Harptone Manufacturing. Koontz designed several electrics and acoustics in which Harptone manufactured with the Standel brand. They included Koontz’ signature and intricate double scroll headstock. Across all Standel branded offerings, 11 different guitars including acoustics, only about 300 guitars were made from 1967-1969 at Harptone’s Newark, NJ facility.  


Standel 510S, taken at Carter Vintage last year


Harptone 510C, recently found at East Side Music Supply, Nashville

Sam built his first guitar (a classical) in 1959 and eventually became the shop foreman for the company that imported Framus guitars. It was during this time that Sam refined his luthier skills and went to work for Harptone in the mid 1960s to develop a production line of guitars for the company. Harptone was based in Newark, NJ and had been an instrument case manufacturer since the 1880s. Notably, C. F. Martin used Harptone hard cases for their guitars as early as the 1920s followed by other brands such as Gibson, Gretsch, and Guild. The 1960s guitar craze was impossible to ignore and many companies that operated on the periphery of the industry had their mouth’s watering to get into the action. Harptone was no different.   

Sam set up their manufacturing process and even designed some of the machinery. Harptone’s first guitars were acoustics built in 1965 under the Supreme brand exclusively for Sam Ash. After Sam Koontz and Bob Crooks had their run of Standel’s in 1967/68 Harptone sold electrics with their brand name for one year (1969). The rest of the guitars they made were acoustics, some of which were for other labels and that run technically ended in 1975. David Bowie and George Harrison both played a Harptone 12-string acoustic. 

Sam Koontz Triple Neck

All the while Sam was building guitars on the side from his home-shop in Linden NJ, mainly exquisite archtop electrics which were his first love. But he also dabbled in complex guitars, including a triple neck electric, and others like a guitar-organ synthesizer. In 1970 Sam left Harptone to focus on his own business full-time and went on to build guitars for many accomplished players such as Joe Cinderella, Harry Leahey, and Pat Martino.   

Sam produced approximately 200 guitars before committing suicide in 1981. Each one is a work of art and can fetch north of $50,000.

Unfortunately there isn’t a ton of public information about Sam Koontz. Not all, but many of his closest guitar friends and musicians he built custom instruments for have passed on. However, guitarist Wayne Wesley Johnson wrote a wonderful piece about Sam on a forum and you can read the article here, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Courtesy of timc100 from, single and double scroll headstock

1 comment

Thanks for the great article. Sam was a good friend and built several guitars for me, including the One of a kind ‘Studio One’ with built in studio effects, the Guitarorgan Synthesizer and still my favorite the Sam Koontz ‘Personal Oval F Model’.

Wayne Wesley Johnson

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