The very first Danelectro guitars were built beginning in 1954. For many teen-agers, this was their first instrument. Brand new, the cheapest models cost as little as $69.00. Many were sold by Sears, under the label "Silvertone." The most popular models came in a case with a built-in amplifier.
Today, that $69.00 guitar, unmodified, and in excellent condition could cost you $500.00 or more. Because they were so cheap, many Danelectros were thrown away, damaged or altered along the way.
Constructed simply of wood, vinyl, masonite and Formica, Danelectros used "lipstick tube" metal pick-ups that were literally purchased from a lipstick-tube manufacturer. The guitars were made simply, with no pearl adornments or expensive wood.
Professional guitarists have driven up the value of authentic Danelectros because they cherish the instrument's unique sound and look. They have a bell-like tone and a very clean sound. But non-professionals, many of them nostalgic baby boomers, are also entranced. There's the show-off, cool aspect to owning one. And the rareness. They have a sound, look and color all their own.
Many of today's top rock guitarists own a "Danos." They play them on stage and use them in the studio. Joe Perry of Aerosmith once offered someone $30,000 for an entire Danelectro collection!
Guitars designed by Nathan Daniel (1912-1994) never reached the pantheon of instruments made by Fender, Gibson, and Martin. But in their own way they were no less influential, their low price tag making them readily available to the masses. Cost cutting was achieved through materials and construction. As with this 3012 "short horn" model in "bronze" finish, the top and back of many Danelectro instruments were made from one-eighth-inch Masonite glued over a poplar framework, and covered over with a painted finish (including trendy colors like fuchsia and peach).
Before Nathan Daniel started the Danelectro company in 1947, he made amplifiers for Epiphone from 1934 to 1946. Epiphone wanted Daniel to make amps for them exclusively, but he preferred to stay independent. Instead he founded the Danelectro company in 1947 and started making amplifiers for Montgomery Ward. By 1948 Daniel expanded and became the exclusive guitar amplifier producer for Sears & Roebuck. At the same time he was also supplying other jobbers such as Targ & Dinner of Chicago.
In the fall of 1954, Daniel started production of solidbody guitars for Sears, under the Silvertone name. He also produced the same guitars under the Danelectro name, sold to other jobbers. These early models didn't have truss rods but had a 3/4" square aluminum tube beginning at the peghead and through the body to the bridge. The bodies were constructed of solid Poplar wood. The Silvertone models were covered with a dark maroon vinyl covering, while the Danelectro models were covered in a whitish tweed material. Both lines came with either 1 or 2 pickups, concealed under a baked melamine pickguard. Concentric stacked tone and volume knobs were used on the two pickup models only. Notably, when both pickups were used together, the tone was much stronger. This was due to wiring the pickups in series, instead of parallel like most other maker's two pickup guitars.
Danelectro's trademark was the masonite construction of the guitar bodies. The bodies were hollow, built around a wooden frame. The bridge was screwed into an internal wooden block that connected the top and back of the body. In earlier models, a piece of wood runs from the neck pocket to the bridge, while later models contain less internal structure.
Danelectro's well-known "lipstick" single-coil pickups are a big part of why these guitars sound so good. These are constructed around a single alnico bar magnet, wound to a relatively low (4.75k) resistance, and housed in an actual surplus lipstick tube.
Single-pickup long-scale Danelectro guitars originally came equipped with an ingenious three-way tone switch. Like many 50's single-pickup designs, this was intended for quick transitions between rhythm and lead tones, such as the Fender Esquire concept. In the lower switch position, the tone control (which was located where you would expect the volume control to be, closer to the bridge) functions normally. In the middle position, the tone control is bypassed entirely. In the top position, the tone control rolls off lows instead of highs, creating a sound similar to that of a bridge pickup.
On guitars with more than one pickup, Danelectro used "concentric" stacked knobs. In order to save money, the same generic three-way toggle switch found in the single-pickup guitars was used as a pickup selector switch. This is the real reason Danelectro guitars had their pickups wired in series, producing a big punchy sound with more output and midrange than individual pickup settings and eliminating hum. Parallel wiring (as used by virtually all other manufacturers) would have required a slightly more expensive switch!
1963 Danelectro catalog showing the Doubleneck and Longhorn Guitarlin.
By the fall of 1956, Daniel started making the Silvertone and Danelectro lines using the standard Dano materials: a Poplar wood frame (that comprised the sides, neck and bridge block of the guitar), stapled together and covered with 3/8" thick masonite. The top and back was painted, but the sides were covered in a vinyl material to hide the unpainted poplar wood frame. Also the now infamous "Lipstick tube" pickups were used. These pickups had an alnico bar magnet and coil measuring 4.75k ohms wrapped in brown vinyl tape. The pickup guts were placed inside surplus, chrome plated, lipstick tubes. These pickups were actually the same as previously used and hidden beneath the pickguard. Just now they were adorned in lipstick tubes and mounted in cutouts in the masonite body. Construction methods stayed this way for most models throughout Danelectro's history.
In 1966 Nathan Daniel sold the Danelectro company to MCA but remained with the company. Later in the 60's he moved to Hawaii to pursue another passion... building sailboats. For more about Nathan Daniel go to: www.pen4rent.com/pen4rent/tribute.aspx
In 1967 the Coral line of guitars was introduced. At the time, Danelectro sold about 85% of it's products to Sears so MCA started the Coral line to sell to other distributors. The difference was the Coral hollow bodies (only) were manufactured in Japan. All other Coral parts were made in the New Jersey Danelectro plant. All Silvertones and Danelectros were made entirely in the U.S
1959 Danelectro Acoustic/Electric Convertible
In 1969 MCA closed the Danelectro plant. This was blamed on MCA's shift to selling instruments to individual guitar stores instead of jobbers (such as Sears). At this time, Dan Armstrong bought most of the remaining parts, and continued manufacturing Danelectros through Ampeg. These instruments had single cutaway bodies with one humbucking pickup (not lipstick tube pickups), and no brand name on the peghead. Apparently Ampeg was having problems with the production of the see-thru Dan Armstrong guitars. In the interium, Armstrong sold the remaining Danelectros through Ampeg until the Dan Armstrong guitars were fully available.
All production instruments:
have poplar wood necks with genuine Brazilian rosewood fretboards.
since 1955 have lipstick tube pickups.
since 1956 have the dual steel non-adjustable "never warp" truss rod system.
since 1962 are totally shielded.
since 1963 have the "neck tilt" adjusting system.
All Danelectro and Silvertone instruments are fitted with a screw mounted aluminum nut. All Coral instruments are fitted with a solid brass nut.
- 1954, 1955: used solid Poplar bodies, 11.25" wide. Known as "C" or peanut body.
- 1956 till 1957: all models used 3/8" thick masonite top and back. Sides, neck and bridge blocks were constructed of a Poplar frame, stapled together. The unpainted sides were covered in a whitish vinyl material. Single cutaway, 13.25" wide. Known as the "U" model body.
- 1958 to 1969: still used the masonite/poplar (or pine) frame, but now double cutaway "shorthorn" style, 13.25" wide.
- 1959 to 1969: "longhorn" body introduced made with masonite/poplar frame, double cutaway.
- 1967 to 1969: Slimline body. Much like a Fender Jaquar in shape with a double cutaway body with the bass horn being the longest. Made using the masonite/poplar body technique.
- 1967 to 1969 Coral Hollowbodies: made in Japan of conventional materials and construction techniques.
- 1967 to 1969 electric sitars: Danelectro models had solid Poplar body, Coral sitar has a semi-hollow Poplar body.
1964 Dano Deluxe Single Pickup
- 1954-1955: Peanut style bodies had bolt-on necks with an aluminum neck rod that went from the peghead to the bridge. The rod was then screwed to the body with 2 screws. No truss rod other than the aluminum neck rod.
- 1956-1969: Poplar bolt-on necks with Brazilian rosewood fingerboards. Non-adjustable steel truss rod.
- 1954, 1955: Alnico bar magnets & copper wire wrapped in brown tape and mounted beneath the pickguard.
- 1955 to 1969: Alnico bar magnets & copper wire wrapped in brown tape and mounted in surplus, chrome plated, lipstick tubes. Measured 4.75k ohms. These were mounted into the masonite top of the instrument. First generation lipstick tube pickups have unchromed lipstick tubes.
- Post 1969: Dan Armstrong-made instruments (bearing no brand name, single cutaway body) used humbucking pickups.
What is a Lipstick Tube Pickup?
The Lipstick tube pickups were designed by Nathan Daniel. Nat designed a winding system using a photographic timer and winder that would rotate to the desired number of turns depending on the time that was pre-set. The magnets are wrapped with a black electrical cloth tape and after the coil is wound the hookup wire is put on and then rewrapped with electrical tape to protect the coil and to make it fit snugly in the 2 halves of the pickup covers (lipstick lids). The pickups are used on all Danelectro instruments from guitars, bass and longhorn basses. The chrome halves were pre-drilled for lead wires, mounting legs and springs.
MAGNETIC LIPSTICK TUBES - an excerpt from "Tales of a Dinosaur" by Joseph N. Fisher.
Guitars were important because of their high unit volume and profitability. The Danelectro Company was a supplier of electric guitars and amplifiers.
Nat Daniel was the founder, president and sole owner, who in addition to amplifiers also introduced the affordable solid body electric guitar in the early fifties. Today the Danelectro brand is a collector’s item among guitar aficionados. Nat was an innovator who understood the principle of “rigid control of expense,” an example of which was his innovative and inexpensive guitar magnetic pickups used in electric guitars. He made them from surplus lipstick tubes, bought from a cosmetics manufacturer. He inserted the electronics in the tubes and produced the lowest cost guitar pickup in the industry.
An acoustic guitar, manufactured by the Harmony Company was our biggest unit seller in 1954, priced at $9.95 in Sears catalog. It was a beginner's guitar and many serious amateurs, some of whom later became professionals, learned to play on their Silvertone, stock number 605.
I asked Nat if he could do something with a low priced electric guitar that would appeal to the same beginner's market as the 605. He did and we enjoyed resounding success with this exclusive innovation that included the guitar with an amplifier built in to the case, sale priced at $49.95.
I think the reason I respected people like Nat Daniel was because he disagreed when he thought my ideas were off base, even though I, representing Sears, was his economic life-line. How different from the “Tell me what I want to hear not what you really think” malaise of my corporate life.
All bridges had notches cut into the metal base to hold the string ends. A small piece of rosewood was used as the saddle.
- First bridge bass made of aluminum.
- By 1956 bridge base used stainless steel bridges.
- By late 1960's bridge base used chrome plated steel.
- Vibrato models had a "S" shaped bridge plate that rocked.
- The Sitar model (Vinnie Bell model) used a "buzz" bridge to attain the sitar effect.
- 1954 to 1957: Kluson Ideal G-132 tuners.
- 1958 to 1969: cheap, white plastic button tuners used on lower-end models. Higher models used one-piece, stamped button, metal tuners (known as "skate keys").
1963 Danelectro "Pro"
Volume & Tone Controls
2 separate volume and tone controls were used on all guitars from 1954 to 1956, regardless of the number of pickups.
- Starting with the "U2" and "U3" models in 1956, 2 pickup models used concentric type knobs. That is, each potentiometer "stem" actually had two controls with separate knobs "hugging" each other.
- Black (or white) pointer knobs were first used on the Deluxes in 1958. The Longhorn bass and Guitarlin also used pointer knobs on their concentric controls.
- Starting in 1957, 3 pickup guitar models started using 3 concentric pointer knobs.
- The "Dane" series used a 4 knob configuration, even on 3 pickup models. These knobs usually had chrome tops.
- Most models without pointer knobs used round, white (or sometimes black) knobs (except on the Dane series).
- Nut: made of aluminum on all models except some Coral and later Dano models have plastic nuts. Also experimented with was "Oilite", an oil impregnated bronze material.
- Frets: many early models have aluminum frets. Later models used the industry standard nickel-silver frets.
- Strap Buttons: most models used aluminum strap buttons. Some Coral and later Danos used chrome plated steel.
All Danelectro, Silvertones, and Coral use basically the same serial number scheme, with some exceptions. But for the most part you can date your Danelectro from the serial number.
The usual serial number location is in the neck pocket. But occassionally you'll find it hidden on other parts of the body along with other random scribbling.
Most Dano serial numbers are 3 or 4 digits, and decode like this:
- 1st, 2nd digit: week of the year. Note: if a 3 digit serial number than only the 1st digit is the week of the year (1-9).
- 3rd digit: unknown.
- 4th digit: last digit of the year. [More on Serial Numbers]
For example, a serial number of 4286 would be the 42nd week of either 1956 or 1966. Check the model to see when it was produced to figure out which decade it is. A serial number of 576 would be the 5th week of 1956 or 1966.
Exceptions: in the latter part of 1967, new models used a 3 digit serial number where the first digit is the year, and the 2nd and 3rd digit was the week. This was for new (Coral) models only. Original Dano models like the Longhorns, Bellzouki, Guitarlin, Double-neck, and the Convertible retain the older 4 (or sometimes 3) digit system.
Another exception: in 1968 the Dano Convertible received the new Dane peghead and is offered in red, white, blue or natural. At this time the Convertible changed to the newer 3 digit serial number system.
- "1954" Model.
- 1954-1955: First Dano models have tweed covering, bell shaped peghead, 1 or 2 pickups under the baked melomine pickguard, solid Poplar wood single cutaway body that is 11.25" wide ("peanut" body), 2 volume and tone knobs (regardless of the number of pickups).
- Model "C".
- 1955-1956: has small single cutaway solid Poplar peanut body (11.25" wide) and 1 or 2 exposed pickups in lipstick tubes. Most are painted ginger color.
- "U1" (1 pickup), "U2" (2 pickup) Models.
- 1956-1958: 1 or 2 pickups, single cutaway. 2 pickup models have concentric controls. Starting in 1956, all Dano bodies were made of the famed 3/8" thick Masonite with a poplar frame comprising the sides, neck and bridge blocks, 13.25" wide. Common colors include black, copper, royal blue, coral red, surf green.
- "U3" Model, 3 pickups.
- 1957-1958: 3 pickup version of the 1956 "U" models, with 3 concentric controls.
- Standard Shorthorn models.
- 1958-1969: replaces the "U" models and now has a double cutaway body with short horns. Masonite/poplar frame bodies, 13.25" wide. Models numbers include the "Standard": 3011 (black 1 pickup), 3012 (bronze 1 pickup), 3021 (black 2 pickup), 3022 (bronze 2 pickup), 5025 (blond 2 pickup). The 3021 is considered THE Jimmy Page model. "Seal" shaped pickguard and concentric knobs on 2 or 3 pickup models. Round control knobs.
- Deluxe Shorthorn models.
- 1958-1969: Same as Standard Shorthorn models but pointed control knobs and different colors and trim. Model 6026 (white 2 pickup), 6027 (dark walnut 2 pickup), 6028 (honey walnut 2 pickup), 6036 (white 3 pickup), 6037 (dark walnut 3 pickup), 6038 (honey walnut 3 pickup). Smaller normal shaped pickguard, pointed concentric knobs.
- Vibrato Shorthorn models.
- 1958-1969: Basically a Standard Shorthorn model with vibrato. Model 4011 (black 1 pickup), 4021 (black 2 pickup). Concentric controls on the 2 pickup model. "Duck Foot" peghead and a sculpted pickguard.
- Double Neck (Stan & Dan) model 3923.
- 1959-1969: Six string guitar and 4 string bass, single pickup for each neck, white to brown sunburst, concentric knobs.
Bass and Guitarlin Models
- Longhorn Bass models.
- 1959-1969: Bronze sunburst, 4 string model 4423. Also made a 6 string model 4623. Both 2 pickup with concentric knobs.
- Convertible models.
- 1959-1969: Double cutaway shorthorn body with a round soundhole to be used either acoustically or electrically. No pickup, blond, model 5005. One pickup, blond, model 5015.
- Bellzouki 12 String models.
- 1961-1969: Single pickup model 7010 with a tear-drop shaped body, white to brown sunburst, 12 strings. Also made a 2 pickup model 7020 with a four point, tear-drop, sculptured body.
Pro 1 model.
- 1963-1969: Ugly black, 1 pickup model with "Tilt Neck" design. Body shape a unique "bow tie" shape.
- Guitarlin longhorn model 4123.
- 1963-1969: 31 fret, longhorn guitar with extended fingerboard to simulate a mandolin sound. White to bronze sunburst, 2 pickup, concentric pointer knobs.
- Slimline guitar models.
- 1967-1969: Slimline 2N, 2V, 3N, 3V, 2N12. All have Fender Jaquar body style (longer bass horn). The "3" Slimlines have 3 pickups, the "V" Slimlines have a vibrato, the 2N12 has 2 pickups and 12 strings. Full scale length.
1967-1969: Slimline type body, different colors and pickup configurations, short scale student model guitar.
- Dane A, B, C, D, E series.
- 1967-1969: Slimline body style. As the letter goes from A to E, models get slightly fancier. Full scale length.
- 1967-1969: not as fancy as the Coral version of the electric sitar. One pickup, round body shape, bulb peghead, no drone strings. The lack of drone strings make this a far less desirable electric sitar. Solidbody Poplar body construction.
Informative link: How the Sitar Came To Be Heard in Western Pop Music
Vincent Bell Signature - Coral Sitar
- 1967-1969: about the coolest guitar Danelectro ever produced. Has 13 drone strings that move from the vibration of the usual 6 strings. Three pickups, 2 for the 6 stings and 1 for the drone strings. Crinkle burgundy finish, 3 point body shape. Has a "buzz" bridge which similate the sitar sound. The resonation from the buzz bridge vibrates the top of the body and the drone strings. Clear pickguards protecting the drone strings and Vincent Bell's name on the lower 6 string clear pickguard. Body is made entirely from Poplar, with a semi-hollow construction.
Used by the Box Tops on "Cry Like A Baby."
Vincent Bell played an important role in the Danelectro legacy. Learn more about Vincent Bell.
Coral Hornet, Scorpion, Wasp models.
- 1967-1969: Much like the Danelectro Dane series. Hornet available with either 2 or 3 pickups, with or without vibrato. A Vinnie Bell signature design. The Scorpion is the 12 string version, the Wasp is the bass version (shown above).
Coral Firefly 1967-1969 (above). Hollowbody (made in Japan) body, much like a Gibson ES-330. What a beauty!
Coral Longhorn 1967-1969 (above). Hollowbody (made in Japan) body, thick body style, conventional hollowbody design, "F" holes.
Silvertone more info here
Model 1375 (1 pickup) & Model 1377 (2 pickup)
- Fall 1954: both models have 2 volume and tone knobs, $39.95 and $59.95 respectively. The single cutaway bodies were made of solid Poplar wood, and are known as the "peanut" body shape at 11.25" wide. Then used a solid aluminum bar running from the peghead to the bridge for strength. "Coke bottle" pegheads are used that are 5/8" wider across the two "E" tuners than the later "Coke bottle" peghead shape. This model was also available under the Silvertone brand name with the "lightening bolt" peghead.
- Standard model 1357 (1 pickup) & 1359 (2 pickup).
- Fall 1955: these were the first models with the "lipstick tube" pickups, 2 knobs (regardless of the number of pickups), solid Poplar "peanut" (11.25" wide) body, tan colored vinyl with ginger sides.
- Standard model 1358 (1 pickup) & 1360 (2 pickup).
- Fall 1955: these models were the same as the above 1357 and 1359, but in painted enamel colors. This included flame red with black sides, yellow with black sides, bronze with mint green sides, coral red with white sides.
- Model 1317 (1 pickup), 1319 (2 pickup).
- Fall 1957: these models used the new Dano masonite/Poplar (or pine) wood frame, 13.25" wide, single cutaway, body style. Available in black enamel color.
- Model 1321 (1 pickup), 1323 (2 pickup).
- Fall 1957: these models were the same as the above 1317 and 1319, but in a bronze enamel paint.
- Model 1300 (1 pickup, bronze), 1301 (2 pickup, bronze), 1302 (1 pickup, black), 1303 (2 pickup, black), 1305 (3 pickup, black).
- Fall 1958: single cutaway body and lipstick tube pickups.
- Model 1417 (1 pickup bronze), Model 1419 (1 pickup black).
- Fall 1959: many Silvertone models replaced by Kay and Harmony models. New Dolphin style peghead.
Model 1415 (1 pickup bronze), Model 1416 (1 pickup black).
Fall 1961: the above models 1417 and 1419 were renumbered.
1963 Silvertone 1448 Amp-in-Case
Fall 1962: the famous red sunburst with white side "amp in case" model introduced. The amp is an amazing 3 watts with a 6" speaker. Easy to identify this model from just the case: the 1 pickup amp in case model does not have chrome trim around the speaker cut out in the outside of the case.
- Amp in Case model 1457 (2 pickup).
- Fall 1963: same as model 1448 but with 2 pickups. Also the amp was 5 watts and had an 8" speaker. Easy to identify this model from just the case: the 2 pickup amp in case model has chrome trim around the speaker cut out in the outside of the case.
- Amp in Case models.
- 1967-1969: All "amp in case" models now sport the Hornet body shape.
- 1967: New body shape much like a Fender Jaquar. Used on models 1442 (1 pickup) bass and 1444 (2 pickup) bass.
Click here for more information about Nathan Daniel
and the history of Danelectro.