IN PRAISE OF: Danelectro Guitars

Posted Oct 10, 2012 at 7:55am

Nathan Daniel was a genius. In the 50s, while Gibson and Fender routed Les Pauls and Strats from slabs of precious tonewoods, Nathan created a classic from the materials generally used to knock up a kitchen.

Already established as an amp manufacturer, Daniel began producing guitars at the request of the Sears department store in 1954. Sears was looking for an inexpensive but well-made guitar to snag the young/skint who couldn’t stretch their budget to a Gibson, Fender or Gretsch.

Nathan’s solution was to build a wooden frame capped on the front and back with sheets of Masonite... basically cheap hardboard made from compressed wood fibres. His now-legendary single-coil pickups were housed in metal lipstick tubes that he had chrome- plated.

Dano pickups are wired in series (not parallel like other twin-pickup guitars). While they sound like fat Strat units running solo, combining the pickups unleashes a seriously beefy humbucker-like tone that doesn’t compromise the clarity of the single coils.

The finished guitars were sold through Sears under the Silvertone and Airline brand names, while Nathan marketed his own stock as Danelectro. Like so many kids in the 50s and 60s, Jimi Hendrix learned to play on a Silvertone-branded Dano.

The company’s two most popular models are the 1956 single-cutaway U2 and the doublecut 1959 Shorthorn. The latter became a stone classic the moment Jimmy Page used a black example onstage with Led Zeppelin in the late-60s. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to halt the declining fortunes of Danelectro, and the company folded in 1969.

While the first wave of Dano reissues launched in 1998 closely echoed the spec and aesthetics of the original guitars (Coke bottle headstock, rosewood bridge saddle, vinyl body tape), the pimped 2006 Pro range was an attempt to update Nathan’s old classic by adding a six-saddle intonatable bridge, dropping the tape and tweaking the headstock.

For its current reissues, Dano has returned to its 50s and 60s vintage spec, proving that not only did Nathan Daniel get it right in the first place, but also that it’s really not so easy to improve on perfection.

Danelectro Timeline

1954: Nathan Daniel begins manufacturing Danelectro guitars

1956: The single-cutaway U2 model is launched

1959: Jimmy Page's favourite Doublecut Shorthorn model launched

1998: First reissue of the '56 Dano U2


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