Danelectro Guitars

The Return of Danelectro
The Return of Danelectro

0ne of the more recent buzzes in the guitar community has centered around the phenomenal success of products bearing the Danelectro brand name. The introduction of effects pedals at the January ’97 NAMM show was the start of an impressive resurgence in interest in the brand name and its quality, utilitarian products. Just as Danelectro guitars and amps were a staple of the entry-level market in the ’50s and ’60s (although the term didn’t exist then), new Danelectro products are also quite affordable. But this time the company’s offerings have been turning the heads of many a pro player, as well.

The Evets corporation, headed by president Steve Ridinger, acquired the Danelectro trademark from New Jersey’s Anthony Marc in the mid ’90s. While the Evets company had been associated with other musical products, the retro vibe associated with the Danelectro name offered a unique opportunity for Ridinger and his associates.

Vintage Guitar recently spoke with Danelectro’s Michael Campion, who noted the company’s reasoning for introducing stompboxes first.

“Our thinking was it would be enough of a shock to the market when Danelectro returns; it would put everybody into cardiac arrest if we not only returned to the market, but started to make the guitars right away, too.”

But while the effects introduced in January ’97 were quite popular, “…hundreds of dealers and players asked us to bring back the guitars,” Campion said. And a year after their introduction, Danelectro effects pedals had been voted effect pedal of the year in surveys by Music & Sound Retailer and Musical Merchandise Review.

And as its pedals steamrolled to sales success that year, the company was indeed pressing ahead with plans to introduce fretted instruments. One of the individuals they brought aboard to insure development of a quality instrument was guitar authority Steve “The Surfin’ Librarian” Soest.

Soest’s expertise regarding creation of a true reissue (with better components) proved invaluable. He has repaired and modified many original Danelectro guitars, and once converted the four-string bass portion of a Dano doubleneck into a six-string bass for the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.

“Research actually started in the Spring of ’97,” Soest said. “After some discussion, we decided the ’56 U-2 was the ultimate of the original U models. That was the peak year as far as features, so they ran ads in VG and purchased guitars from collectors and private parties. I started specing them out to come up with the most desirable features, which we wanted to apply to one model.”

Between instruments in Soest’s own collection and others borrowed by Soest and purchased by Evets, the guitar tech had about a dozen instruments to examine.

One rumor concerning the new guitars was they were going to be made in China, which was untrue, though likely originated because Danelectro pedals are made there. But from the outset, production was planned for Korea.

“I kept worksheets on all of the originals, and the samples started coming in from Korea around Thanksgiving,” Soest said.

Soest didn’t go to Korea himself. But he stayed busy with his repair shop in Orange and playing guitar in the retro-surf band The Torquays, which recently released its first album. The overseas monitoring was the responsibility of Albert Garcia, who had experience in offshore guitar manufacturing.

The final 56-U2 reissue differs from the original version in two important facets; the neck features an adjustable truss rod, and the tuning keys are an enclosed-type for better stability. But it retains the plain, flat, three-screw bridge of its ancestor. According to Soest, the bridge was critical to Danelectro instruments’ unique sound (see Steve Patt’s review, VG, September ’98).

The new 56-U2 made its debut at the January ’98 NAMM show in Los Angeles. Campion recounted how the Danelectro sales force “…prayed together in the booth and waited for the doors to open. Literally the minute the doors opened, we were mobbed with dealers and players, and the pace never let up. Several of the guys never left the booth for a bite to eat or even to visit the restroom. It was nine guys writing orders and talking to dealers and players all day.”

Among the notable visitors Campion cited were Skunk Baxter, Dick Dale, John Sebastian, and Tom Wheeler.

At the same show, Danelectro introduced two more pedals- an echo device and a chromatic tuner. As for the 56-U2, Campion confidently stated, “Judging from the reaction of players and dealers at NAMM, we hit the mark.”

The reaction was so overwhelming the company was backordered for some time. The instrument was offered in 11 colors (more than the original) and more than one retailer has cited Limo Black as being quite popular, possibly due to an association with legendary British guitarist Jimmy Page (who actually uses a later double-cutaway model).

Following the huge success of the 56-U2, Campion said, “More Dano goodies are in the works, but as usual, the boys are being tight-lipped about what and when.”

Well, word was put out in a big way during the first week of October ’98, when the company announced four new instruments, including some classic silhouettes that should pique the interest of any lover of budget guitar models.

The 59-DC is a reissue of the double-cutaway “shorthorn” guitar that was a favorite of Page. It features concentric knobs, a “seal” pickguard, and comes in seven colors, including two new finishes (Peachy Keen and Retro Purple), and lists for $299.

Two new models are based on the older, single-cutaway U series. The 56-Ul (available in six colors) is a single-pickup version of the 56-U2, as the model name implies. The 56-Ul has a single concentric knob and lists for $199. And the new 56-U2 Lefty is exactly what its name implies; it also comes in six colors and lists for $349.

And while the 56-U2 Lefty gives southpaw guitarists a chance to participate in the craze, bass players will be delighted to learn the fourth model introduced in October is the 58 Longhorn, a four-string reissue of the unusual-looking shortscale bass unique in the annals of bass lore. It, too, has concentric knobs and is available in nine colors. List on the 58 Longhorn is $349.

Considering the reception afforded the first guitar proffered by the new Danelectro, the new introductions have a lot to live up to, sales-wise. But the quartet introduced in the Fall of ’98 also has a lot to offer in retro sound and looks, and it should be interesting to monitor the results of these new models.

It should also be interesting to monitor what happens to future models. The company knows the value of the retro-vibe facet of the guitar market, and is exploiting it well.

Danelectro’s Michael Campion (left) and Steve Ridinger offer their wares at the Summer ’98 NAMM Show in Nashville.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’99 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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