Danelectro 56 Pro

More Solid Vibe
More Solid Vibe

Just a couple of years ago, music stores were having a hard time selling a new Danelectro guitar – the Dano reissue craze had run its course and dealers were selling them at cost. Then, Danelectro quit making guitars, opting to run with its line of effects pedals. Perhaps as a result, the once lowly-regarded guitars, especially the doublenecks, baritones, 12-strings and triple-pickup models, are fetching respectable money on the used market.

Those prices, along with the fact that genuine vintage Danelectros typically cost well over a grand, may indicate that the Dano craze isn’t over just yet, or has been rekindled as more players realize that the instruments have a unique sound and vibe that so much other retro gear just doesn’t deliver.

Amongst those who see the potential are the new owners of Danelectro/Evets, and at this winter’s NAMM show, they brought a solitary new model, the 56 Pro. Planned for production in limited numbers available through a limited number of dealers, the Korean-made instruments are a significant step up in terms of quality compared to the previous reissues.

The new 56 Pro has features similar to the first reissues and true vintage Danos, such as a single-cutaway semi-hollow masonite top/back with a plywood center body, “lipstick tube” single-coil pickups, a clear pickguard, three-way pickup selector, bolt-on maple neck with rosewood fretboard, cast bridge with adjustments for height and intonation (seen on some of the later reissues but not the originals), and an aluminum nut. And the color pallet has remained very retro, with its Gold, Red, Black, Crme, Metallic Blue, and Baby Blue.

But there are also many notable changes from the earlier reissues, including the absence of the wallpaper tape around the edge of the body (which usually needed re-gluing) and the unreliable concentric volume/tone knobs for each pickup. The new Dano has just two controls – one for volume and one for tone – made of larger, brown Bakelite-style knobs that resemble those on a vintage Harmony or Kay.

Other improvements versus the Danos of a decade ago include higher-quality die-cast tuners, aged-Alnico-magnet single-coil pickups wound for higher output (while retaining the series wiring that gives a boost when both are on).

Overall, the 56 Pro has a better fit and finish, with better-quality components and a less-cluttered look.

The painted neck on the 56 Pro has a U-shaped profile that is comfortable – not too chunky, not too slim – and offers a smooth, bump-free ride all the way up, with nicely polished frets with rounded ends. The 12″-radius fretboard, level frets, and straight neck allow for setting the action low with little or no fret buzz. Unlike some original Danos, the 56 Pro also boasts an adjustable truss rod, but because the Allen nut is on the butt-end of the neck, it’s not easily accessible; making an adjustment requires removing six screws and at least tilting back the neck.

The guitar is very lightweight and not at all neck heavy – it’s quite comfortable to play, sitting or standing. Unplugged, it has that unmistakable Danelectro resonance. Plugging into our Ampeg 2×12″ Super Rocket test amp instantly revealed the shimmering highs that mark the famous vintage Danelectro tone.

Side-by-side with the old reissues and a true vintage model, there are notable differences in the 56 Pro. First, its pickups are noticeably hotter; second, they have a lot more sound – fuller and rounder than the others. The bridge pickup has a little less low-end than a Strat or Tele pickup, but offers a punchy snap and clear ring that makes it ideal for surf or a Buck Owens/Bakersfield sound. With both pickups on, output is increased and low-end fills out nicely and high-end retains its snap. The neck pickup has a deep, throaty tone that is close to a Strat neck pickup, with less twang. With the tone control rolled back, we dialed in a smooth jazz tone. Definition and note separation was very good in all the pickup positions, and even with a little overdrive mixed in, the guitar never got mushy.

In all, the 56 Pro is a very cool retro axe with a quality fit and finish, easy playability and that unmistakable Danelectro tone and vibe. And the pedals are, simply, a plain ol’ bargain; you can’t really go wrong.

Dab of Fab
Danelectro’s new line of signal boost pedals includes the Fab Overdrive, Fab Distortion, and Fab Metal. All three are distortion boxes, but each offers a different voicing, ranging from high-gain heavy metal to bluesy overdrive. The units are housed in a plastic chassis slightly larger than Dano’s mini effects (about 4″ x 31?2″ x 13?4″), a larger oval stompswitch with a blue LED, three controls, a rubber-coated baseplate, and 9-volt battery/adaptor operation.

A run-through revealed the Fab Overdrive to be the most vintage-sounding of the lot, with a more transparent distortion, while the Fab Metal is balls-to-the-wall high-gain thrash metal distortion, and the Fab Overdrive fit somewhere in between, with a crunchier overdrive. The controls on all three are very usable sounds, from dark to painfully bright, and everything in-between.

Danelectro 56 Pro
Features Lightweight masonite/plywood body, two single-coil pickups, height/intonation adjustable cast bridge, aluminum nut, 25″ scale length, sealed die-cast tuners.
Price $499 (MSRP).
Contact Danelectro/Evets, PO Box 1327, Camarillo CA 63011-1327; phone (805) 389-4605, danelectro.com.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.