Posted by: kubiakl | January 8, 2009

A New Point Of View

Danelectro U2

Danelectro U2

My friend’s guitar needed a little bit of tweaking – it had some string buzz and a loose input jack –  so he handed his Danelectro U2 (it has two pickups) over to me.  One of my favorite hobbies is tinkering with other people’s guitars.  The work itself is kind of fun (so long as it’s not too intensive, like changing pickups), but the best part is that I get a new guitar for a period of time.

Danelectro guitars have always caught my eye but I shrugged them off.  They looked too gimmicky, almost like art deco styled toys instead of “real” guitars.  I know Jimmy Page used one for a few songs but still… just look at it.

Tonight’s experience changed my point of view.  After cleaning, tightening, and restringing the guitar I played around with it a little.  To say I was impressed is an understatement.  It has a very unique tone (we’ll get to why) and felt very comfortable in my hands, with good action and intonation.  All of the things you ask for in a guitar.

Danos are built differently than your standard guitar.  Most electric guitars have a string-through bridge, which means the strings come in from the back of the guitar and pass through the body before being strung up to the neck.  Other types (like the Les Paul) have a stop-bar tailpiece – the strings are anchored by a bar attached to two posts, then they pass over a seperate saddle assembly.  The Dano has a metal claw with six slots – the ball-ends of the strings are stuck under the slots and the strings go from there.  The saddle is probably the most unique part though; instead of individual metal saddles it has a block of rosewood that sits on the claw.  The strings rest on the rosewood block, which seperates the speaking length of the string from the rest of it.

Another unique feature is the nut (where the strings pass from the neck to the headstock).  Instead of plastic or bone it has an aluminum nut.  This gives the sound some bite and quite a bit of volume – played acoustically the Danelectro can compete with my semi-hollow bodied guitar.  It’s not a mellow sound but it is a good sound, very bright.  I knew that Jerry Garcia preferred brass nuts on his guitars and now I understand why.

The pickups are also a departure from what you usually see.  Instead of the standard single-coil or humbuckers it has “lipstick” pickups.  They are single-coil but encased in a housing that looks like a lipstick tube.  (They actually did use surplus lipstick tubes when these first came out)  They sound warm, which counterbalances the bright tone of the aluminum nut (as does the rosewood bridge).  Twangy, but with its teeth in.  Through my Fender Blues Jr. tube amp with a little overdrive they gave me a wonderful blues/rock tone.

The final major difference is the body itself.  It is made of a poplar frame with Masonite for the back and top.  A little research told me that Masonite is a type of laminate board made from wood chips blasted into fiber streams, then pressed into boards.  I’m not sure what that does to the tone but it works.  It’s possible that the Dano gets most of its tone from the pickup/bridge/nut combination as opposed to the body vibration.

My only complaints so far were the tone/volume knobs.  They felt insubstantial and the concentric pots (meaning that the volume and tone were one pot with two controls – an upper knob and lower knob) didn’t have much of an effect on the sound.  When I move a knob, I want it to do something!  The neck also lacked a truss rod, so the only way to effect the action on the guitar was to raise or lower the bridge assembly.

Other than that it seems like a great guitar, very fun to play.  If you’re in the market for something a little different, why not try a Danelectro?  Their current production model (the Hodad) can be found for less than $300, and used versions of the U2 ranged from $200 – $500 on eBay.  Throw something a little funky into your guitar arsenal.


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