Sunday, June 9, 2024

Danelectro Guitars

Nathan Daniel
Nathan (Nat) Daniel was an immigrant to the United States. As a child, his parents fled from Lithuania to the United States to escape the persecution of Jews during the czarist Russian era.  He had to repeat the first grade as he did not speak English when he arrived. 

Daniels was gifted with a real desire to learn, so it was during his high school years that he experimented with electricity by building crystal radio sets. He became fascinated by radio and its inner workings. 

Nathan (Nat) Daniel

In the 1930,’s he dropped out of college and made a living building amplifier of his own design. At first, he built these, in the bedroom of his parents’ apartment. 

1940's Epiphone Amp

His first customer was the Epiphone Musical Instrument Company. 

During WWII, Daniels worked as a civilian designer for the US Army and devised a way to equip the radio receiver/transmitter in military vehicles with a system that made them unaffected by engine noise.  

Danelectro's First Factory

After the war, he set up shop in Redbank, New Jersey using the name Danelectro. He went back to work building amplifiers for the Epiphone Guitar Company. 

1954 Silvertone 1375

His big break was when he became associated with Sears and Roebuck, and Montgomery Wards when he was contracted to build amplifiers to be sold under each stores brand names. Respectively the brand names used were Silvertone and Airline.

Danelectro Silvertone 1954

It was in 1954, the Sears Company asked if he could build an affordable guitar. Although he was not a luthier, he said yes he could build it What he came up with is the Danelectro/Silvertone instrument that for some of us, may be the first guitar we owned.  

The guitar sold for $38.95 and the amplifier was offered at $39. 

Danelectro Build

Though it appeared to be a solid body instrument, the Danelectro guitar was ingeniously designed. It was built on a poplar wood frame. A neck block ran through much of the body, which allowed the bridge to be attached, be it fixed or vibrato. The body struts and the block were stapled together. In later years, the neck block was shortened, and a wood block was glued to the inner side of the guitars back. This anchored the bridge. 

What made Danelectro guitars unique was the material used for the body. Both the top and bottom of the guitar was made of Masonite, with a Formica covering. The neck, which was made of aged poplar, was topped with a rosewood fretboard and a metal nut. 

Danelectro Neck
Daniel devised a system of using an automated table saw to precisely cut the necks. Though the neck did not contain an adjustable truss rod, Daniel had placed a ¾” aluminum rod in the neck to prevent warpage. He studied and determined that an inexpensive steel rod provided better reinforcement than an adjustable truss bar. 

Later twin steel I-beams replaced the rod. His goal was that the neck should never need to be adjusted. The nut was made of aluminum and held in place with a screw. 

He based this design on the formula of Young’s Modulus of Elasticity, which he used to determine that even the cheapest steel rods provided the resistance the necks needed.”  

The tuners he used were inexpensive, but sturdy. Employing rods in the neck, allowed the neck more slender than other guitars of the day, providing ease of playing, which was especially good for younger players. 

Tolex tape On Danelectro sides
Once the frame was made, white glue was brushed on its perimeter and adorned with rippled cloth tolex tape. The poplar body frames were topped with a covering of Masonite on the front and back. A melamine pickguard on the surface of the Formica top provided the final addition to the body. 

Lipstick Tube Pickups

His pickups were unique and housed in  lipstick tubes provided great shielding. The slight gap between the two ends prevented loss of high frequency response. The housing for the pickups were originally built with surplus lipstick tubes, that probably came from the Max Factor Cosmetics Company. The  pickup’s coil wraps around an Alnico 6 bar magnet, which in turn is wrapped in tape—usually cellophane tape on vintage units—and inserted into the metal tube casing. 

Unlike Fender or Gibson pickups, Danelectro pickups do not have a bobbin. Lipstick pickups tend to be low-output and have a jangly tone. Danelectro pickups used Alnico 6 magnet and 42 gauge wire. 

They were machine wound. with plain enamel, like the original vintage pickups. Daniel scatter wound them—the neck at 3.85k and the bridge at 4.3k. 
Photo by Doug TurrelPhoto by Doug Turrel

Silvertone '57
1323 - 1321
Daniel's guitars came with one or two pickups. On the two pickup models, he wired the pickups in series, which gave the guitar a boost in sound when the two pickups were both in the on position,

Most electric guitars with two pickups are wired in parallel. This is what you are used to hearing from say a Strat. Parallel wiring adds transparency and clarity to the tone. 

However Nat Daniel wired the pickups in series which produces a longer path with increased resistance, adding volume while preventing the highest frequencies from getting through. 

With series wiring, the output of one pickup goes into the input of another pickup, while with standard parallel wiring, each pickup takes its own path to the output. Besides being noticeably louder, series wiring emphasizes low and midrange tones, and this is a perfect combination to drive any tube amp into saturation without the help of a booster.

The pickup controls were two sets of concentric knobs, with the volume on top and the tone on the bottom. 

 First Silvertone

The very first Daniel Silvertone electric guitar, model 1375. was offered in 1954. It did not have the lipstick tube pickups, although the inner workings were similar. The pickups on these first models were routed into the wood. 

Silvertone Model 1357

This was followed in 1955 with the model 1357, which had one lipstick pickup, and model 1359, which had two pickups.

In subsequent years, Danelectro purchased lipstick casings from a cosmetics manufacturer, then sent to another business for chrome plating. The knobs and switches were outsourced from another manufacturer. 

Danelectro Vibrato Bridge

Most Danelectro guitars utilized an interesting, fixed tailpiece. This was a trapezoidal metal unit attached to the wood block in the body by three screws. The saddle was just a thin strip of rosewood. 

The vibrato unit on a few Danelectro/Silvertone guitars was similar, except the metal plate moved on it self, in the same manner as Gibson’s vibrola unit.

$229.50 vs $38.95

The biggest reason Sears and Wards preferred Daniel’s product was its low cost and high quality. For most working families it made sense to buy junior a $40 Silvertone guitar, instead of a new Fender Stratocaster, which cost $229.50 in 1954. 

The shapes of the guitars and basses were well thought out and somewhat mimicked the Gibson styles with one or two cutaways. 

60's Longhorn

The exception was the Longhorn guitar and bass. I always thought the body looked like a lyre-harp, with its twin horns and large soundboard. Around 1966 or 1967, there was an American TV show called Shindig. 

Shindig! Getty images
Larry Knectel on bass

I was fascinated by the bass player’s instrument. It was a Danelectro longhorn bass. It had a short scale and an antiqued finish. The body was an off-white colour with a gilded perimeter. 

Danelectro Guitarlin

Daniel also came up with a unique 31-fret mando-guitar in the Longhorn style, which could be capoed to achieve mandolin sounds. 

Various Danelectro Headstocks

Danelectro guitars and basses had several headstock styles. Many Sears/Silvertones' came with the “dolphin” style six-on-a-side (or four-on-a-side for bass) headstock. 

The other style came to be known as “the Coke bottle” headstock, due to the appearance being similar to the shape of a 6 ½-ounce Coca-Cola bottle. 


Danelectro labeled guitars had DANELECTRO written in white lettering on the headstock, while the  Silvertone guitars came with a silvered plastic emblem that spelled SILVERTONE, which was glued to the headstock. 

During the 1950's through the mid 1960's, 90% of Daniel’s guitars and amplifiers sold through Sears or Montgomery Wards. Though most guitarists knew who Leo Fender was, but few were aware of Nathan Daniel, because his name was not on the products. 

I am not sure if Nathan Daniel was tired of the business or saw the end of the 1960’s guitar craze, but in 1966 he sold to MCA, which was a talent agency and record conglomerate, that thought they could make a go in the guitar business. 

This company's business strategy was to forgo the successful business as jobbers and deal directly with music stores. As part of the sale, Nathan Daniel retained the rights to the guitar designs, however MCA acquired the Danelectro name, logo and patents for the stacked potentiometers. Because of this MCA needed a new product line. 

Vinnie Bell with Coral Sitar
This is when MCA came up with the name "Coral." Several of the Coral instruments designed by Vinnie Bell gained a respectable reputation. Bell designed versions of the Coral Electric Sitar and several versions of a 12 string guitar that he called The Bellzouki. 

1964 Coral Hornet

Bell also designed The Coral Hornet, which had a body shape similar to a Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster. The bodies of Coral guitars were made in Japan then imported to the United States to be fitted with necks and electronics. 

Danelectro Factory Neptune NJ

From the companies start, Mr. Daniel had recognized his product was not the same as Fender or Gibson and avoided dealing directly with retailers. So MCA’s plan to eliminate the jobbing business was a failure. By 1969, they shut the door on Danelectro. 

A fellow named William Herring purchased the assets of Danelectro for $20,000. He turned to Ampeg as a way to unload some of his existing stock. Ironically, another Daniel, Dan Armstrong, was involved with Ampeg at the time, marketing his Lucite clear guitar, or at least making an attempt. Ampeg was having some production problems with the instrument. Armstrong states Ampeg purchased 650 to 700 single cutaway Danelectro Masonite guitars. 

Dan Armstrong
The story is somewhat fuzzy, but suggested these guitars were given to Armstrong in lieu of cash. Armstong then modified the guitars. He removed the existing lipstick tube pickup and replaced it with a humbucking pickup of his own design with a plastic surround. The electronics were changed as well and a clear pickguard was that bore the phrase, “Dan Armstrong / modified Danelectro.” A sticker was placed on the back of the guitars that announced Ampeg Co and the Danelectro logo on the headstock was painted over. 

Unimusic, the company that now owned Ampeg, was in financial trouble and was unable to pay William Herring for the inventory he sold to them. Herring filed a lawsuit. It was later determined much of the existing MCA surplus was stored away in chicken coups and destroyed by the elements. 

Jerry Jones 12 string
Meanwhile in Nashville, Tennessee guitar builder named Jerry Jones saw a market for Danelectro style instruments in Nashville and received permission from Nathan Daniels to build copies of Daniels guitar designs without the stacked potentiometers. Country Music recording companies recognized the unique sound of Danelectro guitars, and especially the six string bass that had been used on thousands of Los Angeles based recordings.

Jerry Jones Dano-style guitars became extremely popular, especially with local studio players, that added them to their collection. 

Ad from Anthony Marc
Then a fellow named Anthony Marc acquired the Danelectro trade name, logo and patent to the stacked potentiometers and a lot of the unassembled Danelectro and Coral parts. For a time, Mr. Mark had an advertisement in Vintage Guitar Magazine and was selling bodies and necks for around $100. 

Subway Guitars

Subway Guitars of Berkley California purchased much a Mark’s stock and assembled guitars for sale at their music store. Many of these creations were modified. 

Steve Ridinger - Danelectro
In the 1990’s, Steve Ridinger purchased the rights to the Danelectro name and logo. He set up the Evets Corporation and set about building replicas of the Danelectro line up. These instruments now being made in Asia.

These newer versions of old designs updated the bridge and saddle to a modern style adjustable unit.. 

Jerry Jones was still building Danelectro style guitars, with his name on the headstock. Evets filed a lawsuit against Jones. The suit was dismissed, since Evets did not have any rights from the Daniels Estate, this allowed Jones continued to build Danelectro style guitars up until his recent retirement, although they were slightly modified from his original design. 

Danelectro Hodad

The Evets Corporation began by offering quite a line-up, including some models, such as the Ho-Dad, that was in no way similar to a Danelectro, except for the lipstick tube pickups. This came with two double pickups, in humbucker fashion, three pickups, or as a bass or baritone guitar.

New Danelectro Ad

For a long time the company’s present strategy was to build only one style of guitar and bass per year and offer it for sale, although lately it appears they are offering all of their products.

The Evets Corporation has adhered to Mr. Daniels philosophy, that they are not Fender or Gibson, but filling a niche market for inexpensive, but quality guitars. 

Current Danelectro Instruments

Evets offers a variety of guitar related products, including practice amplifiers, their unique brand of tone-shaping pedals and an inexpensive, adjustable-voltage power transformer. 

The original Silvertone and Danelectro guitars and basses remain available .Like vintage cars, they are available, but sometimes need attention. And they are expensive.

The Everts corporation acquired the brand name and was building guitars, effects, and amps in China, but the quality wasn't there. They are presently manufactured in Korea.. 

Nathan (Nat) Daniel
Nathan Daniel deserves credit, not just for his wonderful guitars and amplifiers, but for the innovations that he introduced to the music industry. The following list of Mr. Daniels inventions is from a tribute by his son, Howard Daniel: 

• the first six-string electric bass (1956) 

• the first 12-string electric guitar (1961 – the “Bellzouki,” developed in collaboration with Vinnie Bell and inspired by Greek bouzouki music from the film classic “Never on Sunday”) 

• a 31-fret “Guitarlin” (1958) with a deeply cut-away “longhorn” body that enabled a guitarist to play an extra 10 frets into the mandolin range 

• an amplifier and speaker built into a guitar carrying case (this was done for Sears, which sold the Silvertone “amp-in-case” and guitar for under $50 as a set for novice players)

 • a “convertible” guitar that could be bought, inexpensively, for beginning students, as an acoustic, and later, with the purchase of a pickup kit, turned into a semi-hollow-body electric 

• total shielding of guitar and amplifier circuits to protect against hum from neon signs, motors or other sources of electrical interference (he introduced this at a National Association of Music Merchants – NAMM – show, with Vinnie Bell demonstrating Danelectro guitars and amps while sitting right next to a glowing neon sign; the Danelectro products sounded crystal clear, while a specially assembled “Brand X” guitar, lacking the shielding, hummed noisily every time Vinnie plugged it in) 

• guitar necks that never warped because they were reinforced with twin steel I-beams • the use of inexpensive, yet strong and stable composite materials in both amplifier cabinets (Homasote, particle board) and guitar bodies (Masonite, Formica) 

• a guitar neck-tilt adjustment system “nearly identical [as Washburn and Soest wrote in Guitar World] to the one Fender used – except that Danelectro did it a decade earlier and didn’t bother to patent it. 

• a “master-slave” amp system with 300-plus watts of distortion-free power (back in 1956) 

• a "hexaphonic" guitar, with each string having its own separate pickup, amplifier and speaker (1958 - but never manufactured) 

• a capacitance pickup for classical guitar with a tube pre-amplifier built into the body; etching the nylon strings and coating them with graphite made it possible to pick up the signal (1959 - but never manufactured ) 

• a hybrid vacuum tube/solid-state amplifier (1968) 

• A vibrato/tremolo system that he dubbed the Vibravox and a reverb system. 

• A loudspeaker cabinet with inclined baffles that were designed to boost bass response by lengthening the sound wave path from the back to the front of the speaker. He called this the Acoustic Case. 

When you look at this list it is amazing how many of these inventions were far ahead of their time and picked up by other guitar and amplifier manufacturers through the years. 

Vintage Danelectro Convertible
How do the modern line of Danelectro guitars compare to the vintage ones? The original Danelectros were made using a frame of blocks of pine and poplar glued and stapled together (on the ones I've seen poplar is used for the center block /neck pocket area and pine for the rest.  

Although I've heard people refer to all-poplar builds)with Masonite top and back. 

Interior of modern Danelectro

The modern ones have a routed out plywood frame and the top and back material looks more like medium density fiberboard (MDF). 

The manufacturer's specs state they are made of spruce hardboard.

The original guitars/basses look really rough on the inside but they've held up remarkably well: the fact a 50-60 year old Dano is still a very playable, roadworthy instrument says a lot about how well they were designed. 

1959 Danelectro Neck
The vintage necks are not adjustable but generally remain straight due to the I-beam rods. While the modern necks feature an adjustable truss rod. The fretboards were made of Brazilian Rosewood. 

'59 current model

The modern Danelectro line up necks have an adjustable truss rod and a pao ferro fretboard.

Like vintage models, the current Danelectro instrument sport aluminum nuts. 

The Evets company only offers one model with the vintage style bridge. It features a pao ferro saddle. 

Current Bridges
All other instrument feature an adjustable hard tail Strat-style bridge/saddle or a wrap-around-bridge with individual adjustable saddles.  Modern Danelectro instrument pricing ranges from $460 USD to $900 USD for a six string/12 string double neck. Average price is $570 USD. 

Due to the higher output of current Danelectro pickups, the modern ones seem a bit chunkier with a Tele-like snap to the bridge pickup and have a higher output. The original pickups are lower output and generally sound very full and sweet in the neck position compared to a reissue. 

Manufactured Lipstick Tubes
As stated, the original Danelectro pickups were made from lipstick tubes, On modern Danelectro guitars and basses, and modern replacements they are specifically designed for the pickups. 

These custom-made covers allow them to be manufactured in many different sizes and fit the most popular pickup routes like Strat pickups. 

Inside the pickup, the improvements continue. The copper wire coil is now wound around a custom-sized plastic bobbin that features an Alnico bar magnet right down the center while the vintage ones were wound around just a bar magnet.

Vintage on top
Modern on bottom
The modern pickups are made to deliver the same tone but are much more reliable and easier to manufacture. Modern lipstick single-coil pickups offer a variety of wiring improvements. On a vintage Danelectro, the neck pickup was built Reverse Wound / Reverse Polarity from the bridge model for hum-canceling operation when using both pickups. Also, the bridge model had slightly increased output to better balance with the neck position pickup. 

My friend Doug
with Sears bass

All of these modern updates have done nothing to quell demand for lipstick pickups, new and old. In fact, modern guitarists  still use Danelectros quite often. However the 1964 Danelectro bass, model 1444, my best friend bought through the Sears catalog for $99 with the case. 

Silvertone Bass 1444

This instrument has a current price of $1100 USD. 

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1 comment:

Shnookylangston said...

I like that little tweed Silvertone 1357 amp. Never saw one before.