Are you mystified by the retro and quirky guitars from Danelectro?
To the eye, These 50s and 60s rock n roll machines certainly look cool. But what are their standout qualities? And why should you own one?
In this post, I will reveal a ton about the Danelectro brand. Including their pros & cons, materials, tone, and more.
Ultimately, to assist whether a quirky Danelectro guitar is an excellent match for you. But first, let’s get into the short answer.
Are Danelectro Guitars Good? Danelectro guitars are great for their unique tone, as they do not sound like any traditional guitar due to their Masonite bodies and Lipstick pickups. They have excellent clean piercing tones and crunchy rock rhythms. However, they are regarded as a ‘niche instrument.’
Typical Danelectro Specifications
- Body Shape – ‘Coke-bottle’ Single and Double-cutaway models
- Body Construction – hollow (vintage models) Chambered (modern models)
- Body Material – Masonite (vintage models) Popolar, Plywood, (modern models)
- Pickups – 2 Lipstick pickups (neck and bridge)
- Pickup Configuration – (3-way toggle)
- Tone knobs – 2 stackable knobs
- Bridge Design – metal chrome plate (vintage) fully adjustable bridge (modern models)
- Nut Material – metal, bone
- Danelectro Tone – thin, piercing, and chimney
Standard Genres -Classic Rock, Modern Rock, Surf Rock, Funk, Blues, Pop, Country, Indie, Grunge
The Pros of Danelectro Guitars
1. Unique Tone
The biggest plus, in my opinion, is the unique ‘Danelectro sound.’
It has to be said, Danelectro guitars sound nothing remotely similar to any conventional guitar.
They sound nothing like a Fender, Gibson, PRS, or anything for that matter. They possess their own unique sound. And this is cool!
The ‘different sound’ is what is so appealing about the Danelectro brand. These guitars can spark creativity and offer a new dynamic set of tones if you own every common guitar.
So what makes them so different? Well, Danelectro guitars typically sound super ‘bright’ and ‘chimney’ without the ‘woody’ attributes of most common guitars.
This is due to the unique material combination of the masonite body and ‘lipstick pickups’ (which I will get into later.) These unique materials are what give the Danelectro brand its distinctive tone and personality.
In a nutshell, these guitars can add another palette of sounds if you want to branch out to something ‘different.’
Reasons To Add a Unique Guitar to Your Collection
- Reason 1 – Recording a ‘different sounding guitar’ over your traditional guitar (double tracking) helps it ‘stand out’ in a mix
- Reason 2 – A guitar that strays away from your band’s usual sound propels your sound in a ‘new direction’
- Reason 3 – To experiment with new tones and genres to keep things fresh and exciting.
Therefore, although unconventional, A Danelectro guitar is a superb option to choose if you want something original in your arsenal.
2. The Vintage Retro look
These guitars look awesome with their cool, quirky, and vintage vibe.
This brand was born during the golden year of the 50s rock n roll era. Encompassing a look and sound that captured this period in time perfectly.
In my opinion, their looks alone are enough for any player to splash out on one. The cool thing about them is that they look so unique and different. And remember, looks are important for a guitar.
The lack of a ‘woodgrain finish’ and unusual body shape is the aspect that makes them stand out.
Also, to my eye, they emit a hot-rodded and vintage vibe with unusual body shapes and flair. Their looks alone are enough to make you want to own one of these guitars.
3. Adding Something ‘Different’ to Your Collection
Obviously, these guitars are not typically a player’s ‘first’ or ‘second guitar.’
You usually branch out to a Danelectro further down the line. It’s fair to say these guitars can give you a new and exciting experience as a passionate guitar player on a quest for tones.
As mentioned above, the two previous points equal a guitar that adds a new dimension to your arsenal of guitars.
Whether it is for experimenting, a new sound, or a guitar that will also turn heads on stage. These guitars can keep things fun and exciting and give you a totally different experience.
Meaning the big appeal of owning a Danelectro guitar is the chance to add an extra element to your guitar collection.
Cons of Danelectro Guitars
1. Lack of Tonal Versatility
It has to be said, Danelectro guitars are not super versatile compared to other options such as a Les Paul, Strat, Tele, etc.
Now Danelectro guitars are not meant to be ‘super shredders’ or ‘swiss army knife’ guitars. In some ways, they are cool but sort of a ‘niche instrument.’
They do a select number of tones exceptionally well with a unique retro and quirky sound. They are excellent at what they do (cleans and mid-distortion) but not much more.
Therefore, this is a problem for players desiring tonal diversity with a limited budget and few guitars. It also serves why a Danelectro guitar is not a beginner’s first or second guitar purchase.
It could mean that for the price you are paying for a Danelectro guitar, they might want something that can offer more for the price.
2. Expensive for What you Get
Interestingly enough, when Danelectro guitars were first born and manufactured in the 50s, they were marketed as affordable.
The reason was to tap into the ‘affordable market.’ Providing a selection of guitars that the average person could afford at the time. They aimed to steal sales from the big boys of the industry who were Fender and Gibson.
Fast forward to today. Things are a little different. The average price of one of these guitars will set you back around $600-$800 new, which is not exactly super affordable for something labeled as a ‘one-trick pony.
Players would argue that you can expect more for your money for something that is a backup or ‘experimenting guitar.’ It’s fair to say Danelectro is a bit of a ‘Marmite brand’ you either love them or hate them.
However, some players look past the price and imperfections. And are prepared to spend that amount on something that provides something new and unique.
Or use it as their main guitar as the unique tones and quirkiness are enough to win them over.
3. Some Imperfections
When it comes to imperfections, there are a few little niggles, such as the ‘stackable guitar knobs’ being the most common complaint.
Players often mistakenly adjust the volume instead of the tone and vice versa. These will take some getting used to, but it’s only a slight drawback.
It is fair to say; the majority agree that Danelectros reputation and popularity as a brand exceed their guitars’ actual quality and sound.
Danelectro guitars are affordably made with cheaper materials that reflect the tone and build quality. Therefore you expect a guitar that naturally comes with a lower price tag.
However, these guitars are not super affordable and are teetering on the edge of most players’ mid bracket price range.
Since the company started mass-producing in Korea, there has been a sharp increase in build quality and performance. However, some players are unwilling to splash out on an ‘experimenting guitar.’
A Short History Lesson
Danelectro is the brainchild of founder Nathan Daniel way back in 1947. First producing amplifiers for other companies, he later tried his hand at guitars and rolled out his production of Danelectro guitars in 1954.
Dan’s master plan was to manufacture unique but ‘affordable guitars’ using less exotic materials such as Masonite and Poplar to reduce production costs. All while still providing great tones and a playable experience for less buck.
His guitars gained traction in the 50s and 60s rock n roll era and notably the surf rock decade. Also notably with legendary rock player Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin utilizing one for the famous track ‘Kashmire.’
The Danelectro Brand has had a resurgence of popularity in modern times. Due to their guitar’s unique ‘coke-bottle bodies,’ retro looks, and unique tone being the most desirable aspects of this quirky guitar brand.
Let’s Inspect Danelectro Materials
Arguably the choice of materials is what gives Danelectro guitars their retro sound and personality.
Older Danelectro guitar bodies are made from Masonite or known as ‘Hardboard’ in the UK, a cheaper alternative to solid wood or plywood.
This material is essentially plastic, which is vastly different from solid wood on most traditional guitars. It also allows the guitar to be light and lower the cost of production.
The guitar bodies were also hollow, serving a more acoustic and vintage tone which was the day’s flavor during the 50s rock and roll era.
Fast forward to today, modern Danelectro guitars are made from maple, poplar, or plywood. Another difference is they are typically solid-body or chambered compared to their vintage counterparts.
This alters the tone, offering a fuller sound with extra sustain, which all lead players love.
What Are ‘Lipstick’ Pickups?
Lipstick pickups are named because they are actual “electrified” lipstick pickup tubes. Danelectro pioneered this unconventional technology by placing plain pickups in lipstick casings and sealed them in wax.
Daniel bought a shipment of women’s lipstick cases. He thought of an idea to create a new style of pickups, offering guitarists a fresh aesthetic while adding another letter in the sonic alphabet.
Nathan Daniel, the founder of Danelectro created the famous pickups by coiling Alnico VI magnets and then carefully wrapping them in tape before placing them into tubes of lipstick.
Lipstick pickups feature bar magnets, which alter the pickup’s magnetic field and have quite an impact on the sound, which many describe as somewhat “thin” and “jangly.”
How Do Lipstick Pickups Sound?
The tone of lipstick pickups has changed over the decades, although most models made by Dan fall into the category of bright, thin-sounding guitars.
Although rhythm guitarists most notably used the tone of lipstick pickups, the exceptional adjustability of these pickups allowed lead players to find their voice naturally and easily.
Vintage Danelectro electric guitars feature lipstick pickups mounted through spring-loaded brackets beneath the casing; this allows players to easily adjust the height of the magnets by tinkering with the screws on the guitar’s back.
How Do Danelectro Guitars Sound?
Danelectro guitars offer something vastly different in the department of tone and sonic personality.
When it comes to their unique tone, they lack the super ‘woody’ and ‘polished’ sound you find on most traditional guitars.
Diving deeper into tone, Danelectro guitars are known for sounding super ‘bright’ and ‘thin’ due to their Lipstick pickups. In my opinion, even thinner than a Telecaster, just without the ‘twang.’
This combination gives them a stark difference of tones that is out there. On the other hand, This is a big bonus for players who want something ‘different’ tonally.
It means they serve as ‘clean monsters’ offering super bright and jangly cleans. This is ideal for players who adopt a selection of clean tones as their primary sound. For example, whether it’s soft and atmospheric cleans or piercingly jangly cleans for Indie.
The following attribute where these guitars shine is the mid-crunch tones (edge of break up sound) whether it’s for vintage-era rock crunch or piercing lead licks.
Having said this, It’s noted they wouldn’t make the best companion for any player looking to stretch into the Metal genres.
The reason being they would sound ear-splitting thin, and brittle when drenching them in distortion. Not to mention, they would feedback like crazy as lipstick pickups defense against feedback and hum is virtually nonexistent.
Looks and Styling
Danelectro guitars certainly emit a retro, vintage, and surfy vibe when it comes to the looks department. They radiate a ‘quirky’ and ‘cool’ image with a hint of vintage style and zest.
And because of this, they certainly wouldn’t look out of place in any vintage-era rock players or any modern indie-guitarist arsenal.
Moving on to body shape, the majority of their body shapes are unique and stray away from the typical Les Paul, SG, Strat, and Telecaster blueprint, which most guitar brands steal the blueprint and put a slightly different twist on the original design.
This importantly allows Danelectro guitars to be unique, cool, and ‘original.’ Hence, these guitars have somewhat of an original and quirky look.
As for paint jobs and finishes, their masonite body means there are no typical sunburn finishes as Masonite and Poplar lack a woodgrain finish.
Danelectro Guitars is a simple selection of solid colors combined with vintage styling. This means they contrast to the ‘woody’ sunburst finishes from their Gibson and Fender counterparts.
Most Popular Guitars
Danelectro 59 – The Classic
The Danelectro Stock ’59 is a vintage double-cutaway ax with a Shorthorn shape, a semi-hollow body, and 21 frets with a scale length of 25 inches and a fretboard radius of 14 inches.
It’s packed with all the features an old-school musician wants, including a C-shaped bolt-on neck, a bridge with a swivel saddle, traditionally positioned controls, and a convenient 3-way pickup switch.
In terms of tonewoods, the ’59 features a maple neck, a hardboard top with a gloss finish, a body made of top-quality spruce, and Pau Ferro-made fretboard.
This unique combination of woods yields a distinct, recognizable sound, regardless of what amp you plug your Stock ’59 through.
It’s one of the lightest and most straightforward vintage guitars in Danelectro’s arsenal.
Danelectro 57 Jade – The Vintage Option
Dan’s ’57 resembles the ’59 in terms of quite a few features, most notably the number of frets, pickups, tone controls, and tonewoods.
However, the pickups are right below the saddle. While many players who aren’t accustomed to this kind of setup may accidentally touch them, it is perfect for those since you can quickly change your sound without a single pedalboard in your rig.
The U3 saddled bridge is a novelty, as well as the Gotoh Headmachine that offers even more consistent tuning results.
While different from traditional Strats, Tellys, and LPs, Danelectro’s ’57 took the best they have to offer and brought a plethora of exquisite elements to the table.
Danelectro 64 – The ‘Different’ Option
In comparison to the previous two guitars we’ve touched upon, ’64 is fairly similar in terms of tonewoods – the maple C-shaped neck and Pau Ferro fretboard are equipped to both this and Stock ’59.
However, this model has a slightly shorter scale length (24.5 inches) and 22 frets instead of 21.
Its body is made of quality alder and is sonically much different from its younger brothers. Some beginners would maybe struggle to spot the differences were it not for the humbucking lipstick pickups that even further emphasize them.
Overall, the main advantages ’64 has over slightly older Danelectro vintage axes are a balanced tone in comparison to the usually overly-bright one; the addition of a tremolo bar, and an innovative aesthetic.