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This article was originally published in issue #14
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The beast is back! Danelectro's iconic Longhorn bass - made famous by no lesser mortal than The Who's John Entwhistle - has just been reissued. We steered Dan Veall in the right direction. No Bull.
OK, as Monty Python would have said - 'now for something completely different'. And boy, is this different! The Longhorn, designed by Danelectro founder Nathan Daniel around 1958 or 9, was one of a series of instruments so different they almost defy categorisation. While the big '50s and '60s brands like Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and Rickenbacker prided themselves on making guitars from the highest quality tonewoods - Daniel went in another direction.. He wanted to make cheap guitars that anybody could afford. Cheap, but playable and with a great sound. And a great sound was certainly obtainable from Danelectros - as Jimmy Page proved with his Shorthorn six string and John Entwhistle demonstrated to a similar level of perfection with the Longhorn bass.
Entwhistle famously wanted to use one on these basses for the track 'My Generation'. At the time it was difficult to buy the thin strings fitted to the Longhorn basses and whilst gigging in the evening to fund day time recording sessions, he would break them often. Laughably, It was easier for John to just buy another Longhorn bass in order to get the parts recorded! He ended up with three and some ideas for a flashy bass solo - but having broken the strings on all of them, he finally gave in and opted to play the bass parts on a Jazz bass instead!
Thankfully, things have changed since then and the Longhorn reissue comes with standard gauge strings and with the addition of a truss rod. The rest of the instrument, however, is much the same in design as the original.
For the most part, this 30.5" short-scale instrument is a pretty stock affair when it comes to the wood 'ingredients'. A maple neck with a rosewood fretboard are pretty much tried and tested. The surprise comes when we move away from the famous 'Coke bottle' headstock with its four small but strangely cute tuning keys and head down to the body end. Visually, a rather nice vintage looking burst finish frames the two single coil 'lipstick' pickups under the strings. I love the simple bridge that doesn't detract from the uncluttered playing area. Two concentric 'stacked' controls give you a volume and tone control per pickup. In the video review, I briefly run through some of the individual sound settings available, which for such a simple looking instrument are wide and varied.
But the body? I've been saving this bit until last as it still makes me chuckle even now. Put simply, the body is an empty hardboard box! OK, in more detail, it's not, but it sounds funny saying it out loud to people! The body is made from a material called Masonite, named after William H. Mason who invented this 'steam-cooked and pressure molded' wood fibre board. Variants of this board are still very much used in the likes of cheap furniture and house fittings today, though it has to be admitted that it's less known for its tonal attributes! The Masonite is attached to a laminate wood frame and the edge of the instrument features a textured finish that some liken to the look of decorator's masking tape. Awful? No, actually, it looks really cool. So let's get to the sound!
Acoustically, the Danelectro actually has a rather open sound, almost a piano-like character. A little of that boxy tone comes through as accentuated mids too. I think this is probably helped by the single piece of rosewood used for the bridge saddle - another unusual choice compared with the bone, plastic or metal saddles we usually encounter.
Plugged-in, I have to admit I was delighted at the sound coming through the studio bass rig! With both pickups on full volume and the tone controls also allowing the full range of sound from each pickup through, we were greeted with an almost 'ultra Jazz' tone with bags of character. The instrument resonated with a lively vibe, even when I tried something a bit more percussive on it!
The only little quibble I had in the review as you may see in the video, is that the concentric knobs were a bit of a fiddle with my huge hands. I'd only expect this to be a minor problem if you need to change settings mid-performance.
My only other little nag I have for this bass is that it's very difficult to intonate a 24 fret instrument (especially a bass) when it has a fixed bridge saddle. In this case, the intonation was distinctly off as we headed 'north of the border' up past the 12th fret. It kind of made me question why the instrument had 24 frets in the first place, or why the single bridge saddle? Changing one or the other, I feel, would have been a better move. Hmm.. maybe a fretless model would offer extra fun !
Thing is, I can't really make that much of a negative point anyway. I really don't think the Longhorn was about musical virtuosity, or soloing in a context requiring such pitch perfection. I believe the Longhorn was an experiment in building a quirky bass to a budget and having a bit of fun with it. Whether I am right, I don't know, but you can't help but smile when this bass is lifted out of the case - it is light and could easily be something to throw over your shoulder in a bag when you go off to your next jam session!
I love that this bass attempts to buck the trend and in a lot of respects wins out. It proves that the finest tone woods aren't always necessary to make a bass sound great. I have to say I loved the tone of this Longhorn and was pleasantly surprised.
For a Punk or Pop bassist, for videos, for anyone who doesn't intend to take the spotlight and go head to head with the lead guitarist, but who wants a fun, quirky and eye-catching bass, the Danelectro Longhorn is great. It's also really well priced, so a lot of players could easily afford one just for the hell of it.