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This article was originally published in issue #20
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Danelectro's pioneering 1950s ideas on guitar design live on as some of the quirkiest - yet most enduring - on the market. Making his debut on the GI review team, session guitarist Lewi Turner assesses the established Dano 59 and the brand new version of the 67.
The very first Danelectro guitars were built beginning of 1954. Brand new, the cheapest models back then cost as little as $69.00, the most popular came in a case with a built-in amplifier. Today, that then cheap model, unmodified, in excellent condition, could cost you $500.00 or more. Because they were so cheap, many Danelectros were damaged, altered or thrown away. They became popular because of their unique look and sound. Constructed simply of wood, vinyl, Masonite and Formica, Danelectros used “Lipstick Tube” metal pick-ups, the housings for which were literally purchased from a lipstick-tube manufacturer! The guitars were made simply, with no pearl adornments or expensive woods.
And yet fast-forward 59 years and Danelectro still has a loyal following and some high-profile users. For this review we have two Danelectros, a 59 Alligator and a 67 Heaven.
Danelectro 59 Alligator (see above image)
Essentially, the 59 (the guitar that Jimmy Page played in Led Zeppelin, making it a bit of a legend in the process) has had a new paint job for 2013. Both versions, the blue and red, have been finished in “Alligator” paint and I have to admit it does look quite cool and will no doubt be one of its strongest selling points, or at least get people taking one of the wall for a play! It's even more alligatory than a picture can show as it's not a smooth finish - it has ridges, I'm guessing much like an Alligator's skin.
Starting at the headstock, which is also finished in above mentioned paint job, we have a traditional three a side tuning peg configuration with enclosed Kluson style tuners. Long term these may well be worth an upgrade, I didn’t have any problems with them during the time I played both guitars, but I can't see them lasting well through a lot of playing. The nut is aluminium, which can be viewed two ways. Hard wearing so will last a long time, but some players claim a traditional style nut gives a better tone. I have to say that there was a bit of creaking and pinging from some of the stings in the nut as I played around with some string bends and vibrato, so again that could be worth a change. That said, Danelectro is sticking to its original ideas here and you can understand why it wouldn't want to change them now. People tend to want guitars like these as close to the original as they can get.
The neck is a bolt-on maple type with a rosewood fingerboard, 25”/ 635mm scale with 21 frets. I found the fretboard and shape of the neck very comfortable to play as was the action and spacing between frets, there were no buzzing or tuning issues anywhere on either guitar.
Onto the body and this is where things really get different! Both guitars have a masonite body with a laminated wood frame, the construction is hollow with solid centre core and tape binding. What does all this mean? It means these guitars are light, and I mean super light! You could quite happily stand and play one of these all day long and not even notice it. How does this construction affect tone? Well, personally I prefer lighter guitars as they tend to resonate better. These are made from cheap wood, but the 59 still sounded OK. The Lipstick Alnico pickups are also pretty good. I really liked the middle selection that uses a little of both pickups, it had a bell like quality to it that would suit Rockabilly/Country style playing. The neck pickup was warm enough, but lacked some bottom end, but this could be down to the quality of the wood rather than the pickups. I found the bridge pickup to have a very low output. There was a big difference in volume when switching from the neck to bridge, some players may like this but I personally prefer a little more continuity across the range. Tonewise the bridge pickup was bright and sparkly as a good one should be, but just lacked that power to really cut through. The controls for the volume and tone are quite quirky with the outer knob being volume and the inner one being tone, they do feel a bit weak. The hardware is Satin nickel and the bridge is fully adjustable.
This gloriously offset design first appeared as the Danelectro Hawk way back in - you guessed it – 1967. Now it's back as the 67 Heaven, which combines the classic body style with a great neck feel and signature tones. Let’s go through the differences to the 59.
The headstock on this model is a Strat type shape with all six tuners along the top. This guitar has also been finished in the “Alligator” paint, this particular model in red, with matching headstock. The tuners, neck, and fretboard are all the same as the 59. Again this guitar was set-up very well and was easy to play. The body shape is clearly different to the 59 with just a half cutaway. Pickups, bridge, tone and volume controls are all the same and operate identically to the 59. One thing I did prefer about the 67 is that the jack socket was on the bottom of the guitar rather than the front. The body of the 67 is made the same way as the 59 and for that reason I couldn’t hear any difference in tone between the two. The pickups were still good, especially when combining the bridge and neck. Again the bridge on its own was a little too low output for my liking. Really, the only significant differences between the two guitars are the looks, jack placement, and headstock: to my ears they sound and play the same.
This was my first time playing a Danelectro guitar. The look is certainly unique with a striking paint job, but I'm pleased to say it doesn’t end there. Both guitars played well and sounded pretty good, and I love how light they are. There are some cheap materials on them and some up-grades here and there (tuners etc) wouldn’t go amiss. However, for the price and uniqueness, if you are looking for something a little different to the norm, then I would definitely recommend that you go check out the 59 and 67: they will certainly turn some heads.