For many kids growing up in the 50's and 60's, a professional, upscale instrument like a Gibson Les Paul or Fender Telecaster/Stratocaster was pretty much out of the question. Mom and Dad were not likely to shell out big bucks only to find that their youngster gave up on the instrument because it wasn't as easy as Buddy Holly made it look.
For those kids, their first guitar could have been some kind of Silvertone or Danelectro that came from Sears. Because these guitars were constructed of plywood and masonite, they were relatively inexpensive and found their ways into the hands of many a wanna-be rock stars of the day. The fact that some had a small amp built into the case just gave them that much more appeal.
Ironically, the cheap Dalelectro guitars had a nice, jangly sound to them and a relative quality that caught the attention of professionals, and many of the originals are highly-prized by collectors today. Even the likes of Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Elvis himself could be seen on stage with a Danelectro.
Enter the Evets Corporation that began manufacturing reissues of these classic guitars starting in the 1990's. The introduction of these guitars into the market was as unique as the guitars themselves, as the company elected to put out a single model per year and then retire the guitar after that particular run. The net effect of a one-year run along with limited production numbers makes these guitars instantly collectible. Add to the fact that the guitars were updated with modern electronics and better hardware while retaining the retro looks, high playability, and cheap price and one finds that the reissues were a real winner.
My first Danelectro was the Danelectro Dano Pro, released in 2007. The original guitar was available from 1959-1964 and contained a singular pickup, and non-adjustable bridge in a 3/4 scale instrument. Evets updated the design with two pickups and a floating bridge with individual metal saddles for each string in a 25-scale full-sized design.
ABOVE: The 2007 Danelectro Dano Pro Reissue in aqua. Notice the trapezoidal body style, triangular pick guard, taped body binding, bright brushed metal, hardware store-style toggle switch, 'sprocket' control knobs, and 'Coke bottle' headstock. This guitar also came in other groovy colors, such as tangerine, peach, black, red, royal blue, burgundy, gold, tan, and 'keen green'. The aqua color changes according to the lighting conditions. Sometimes, it appears light blue, as it does here. At other times, it is almost a seafoam green, like old 1950's bathroom tile. Still at other times, the finish appears to be a greenish grey.
That is not to say that the Danelectro Dano Pro is a full-sized guitar. The hard maple with rosewood fretboard neck has only 19 frets and bolts to the body at the 14th, making the guitar feel very small--ideal for kids and beginners who want a 'real' guitar to start, and comfortable for experienced players, particularly those who favor rhythm. Frets above that 14th fret are extremely difficult if not impossible to reach, making this guitar best suited for the 'sweet spot' in the middle of the neck instead of high end wailing.
The trapezoidal-shaped body with triangular pick guard has earned this guitar the nickname 'Flintstone,' and the funky colors in which this model comes just adds to that effect. The guitar is also reminiscent of an oar. The pick guard and body taping have been 'relic'd' to appear yellowed--as if exposed to years of gas heat. The hardware--including the lipstick tube pickup covers--are made of brushed metal, giving a Spacely Sprockets Jetsons look. In the end, the looks are retro-futuristic, worthy of Jet Screamer singing, 'Eep Op Ork Ah-Ah'.
LEFT: This is the guitar as it appeared in the box. The aqua color, aged yellowish pick guard and bright work make the Dano Pro a very attractive, modern-looking instrument. Note the large number of frets already set in the body, making the highest notes very difficult to reach. RIGHT: Also otice that the neck is a bolt-on, using four bolts. The remainder are screws that hold in and control the depth of the lipstick-tube pick-ups. MIDDLE: Jet Screamer would have looked great with a tangerine Dano Pro, but chose to go with the fiddle bass.
The finish is also designed to look as though it has faded, being matte in appearance and feel. The effect, though, makes the guitar look cheap, and after some car polish and elbow grease, I shined mine up to a high gloss that makes the guitar appear that it is made of metal--and now looks like a 1950's refrigerator. The luster also takes the finish from an inferior plasticky look to something that looks much more expensive.
The matte finish was polished to a gloss. The original texture was gritty and looked very cheap--like breakable, hard plastic. The polishing gives the guitar a metallic appearance and looks much more upscale. Some colors look more plasticky than others, making the instrument appear like a child's toy--which many of these guitars were back in the day. Polishing gives the Dano Pro a more professional, expensive look and does not affect playability. On the contrary, the feel is one closer to that of a conventional guitar, without the gritty feel.
The unique jangly, twangy sound of the Danelectro Dano Pro is due to several factors. The main cause is the unique 'lipstick tube' pickups. Originally made from actual lipstick tubes supplied by a cosmetics firm, today the tubes are especially made to be pickup covers. The unique shape mandated a design different than typical bobbin construction, and this along with the fact that the pickups were wired in series instead of parallel gave a unique and sometimes stronger sound that conventional wiring, especially when both pickups were chosen at once. The pickup switch appears to be a hardware store toggle--another reason for the unusual wiring. The final factor in the sound is the body design itself, which is masonite and plywood around a basically two-by-two lumber core in places. The aluminum nut also helps with that jangle on open notes. And yes, the Danelectro does have a truss rod. What seems like a crazy way to build a guitar actually makes a unique-sounding instrument that is easy and inexpensive to build and looks unlike anything from the Big Boys.
The jangly sound of the Danelectro has a great deal to do with the construction of the guitar and the materials used. A lot of metal is employed, including the aluminum nut and metal string saddles. The pickups are wired in series, reportedly because a standard toggle was used, and this also affects the tone of the instrument. Certainly, the lipstick-tube pickups affect tone compared to other guitars due to their unconventional construction. Some players have suggested that the reissue's improved electronics give these units a warmer, more pronounced sound compared to the originals.
I find the stubby-feeling neck to be perfect for my style of playing. Not one to go to the Nth fret to get dog-whistle high squeals, I do not miss the upper registers and tend to play on the meat of the neck anyway. The tone of this machine is somewhat Fender-like, something between a Rickenbacker and a Tele perhaps, and this sound responds very well to effects--turning a surf guitar into a blues monster. The neck pickup in particular is well suited to these bluesy sounds. The neck tends to be fast and comfortable, although the funky dimension can lead to losing oneself on the neck, thinking you are playing a lot lower than you really are. Those double-dots at the 12th fret are awful close to the body.
Another key to the Dano's sound is its unusual construction. The left photograph shows the innards via the access plate hole. Large sections of the instrument are hollow, somewhat chambered, and with the width provided by what appears to be blocks of wood which in turn are covered in plywood. The middle photograph shows the pickup adjustment mechanism. Note that the guitar is upside-down, with the top of the photo being the reverse side of the Dano. Although the pickguard was not removed for this photo shoot, others have reported that the construction is similar to Fender--that is, it covers the central cavity. As odd as it may sound, this design WORKS--and works well.
Players used to large, heavy guitars and high-powered double-humbucker pickups find this light design freakish and flimsy. Many players, though, find the feel refreshing and the design chic. And then some people just don't 'get it' at all. The internet is filled with negative comments regarding the guitar's construction with little regard to the net effect. What's with the tape binding, lipstick tube pickups and plywood? One thing is sure: You can't beat the featherlight weight, and as time goes by, it is more and more likely that you will be the only one on the block to have one of these retro rockets. Few guitars in this price range even come close, and none have the kind of character the Danelectro has.