Saturday, 16 June 2012

DANELECTRO: Queen of Four Strings!

Me and my 'Lectro in rockier, thinner days. I should add that Danelectros' make your trousers fall down. Take a belt. Always.

The Muso Police

Some weeks back, my friend Pete said- 'I wish you'd have been working back when we were in a band. You could have bought a proper bass instead of that crappy Danelectro'.

To which our mutual pal, Stu, shot back- 'What; Jim? He'd have just bought two Danelectros.'

A quip that cut to the bone (albeit of the funny variety) because I almost certainly would have done. For me, no company has ever built a bass guitar* that surpasses Danelectro's. I don't say that lightly. In fact, I'm currently saying that as the muso-police batter down my front door.

Lack of build quality is the chief accusation lobbed at this queen of the four strings. 'Experts' scoff at these noble instrument's hollow body, its 'plywood' (actually Masonite) curves and the fact that, very often, the only thing holding the bridge in place are the strings themselves. Well, these are the same people who'd knock Shakespeare for having absurd plots. Which is to say they nibble at the duvet of genius.
Longhorns, baby! The left seems to have a touching tribute to Anne Frank on the scratch plate.

LipStick Traces

Nathan Daniel (as well as inventing the first six string bass, the first twelve string electric and, ravishingly, the electric Sitar and Bouzouki) had a vision: respectable guitars at affordable prices that could thrive in the mail order market (light = cheap) and make virtue of America's post-war industry of standardized parts.

That last point is exemplified by Danelectro's archetypal 'lipstick' pickups. They were actual lipstick tubes, bought wholesale from Revlon. Daniel just got the parts to fit. Believe it or not, some have the temerity to hold this elegant solution up as proof of naffness!

But this 'lipstick issue' is actually a sort of litmus test. If you, my hopeful young bass player, have been charmed by the notion of cosmetically-enhanced sound technology, then 'Lectro's may well be for you. I hope the following plus points win you over.

1- SHEER AESTHETICS: Show a £2,500 guitar to someone with no interest in instruments and at best they'll mouth platitudes. Show them a £250-£300 Danelectro and they'll mouth- 'Ooh, well look at that!'. No mean feat.

And lipstick pickups (lipstickups?) are the least of it. Check out those liquorice allsort dials, the nigh-on-non-Euclidean scratch plates and Twiggy-thin necks! If early sixties futurism was a substance, Danelectros would be a dollop of the stuff with strings on top.

Take the longhorn for instance. My favorite, it resembles an ancient Greek Phorminx if it had been marketed by that ad company in Mad Men. If Original Series Romulans rocked out, this would be their pig* of choice.

A new band walking onto a pub stage immediately battles with indifference. Let a Danelectro's eyecandy-factor be your battering ram!
I had one like this. You should have seen it explode! Note lipstick pickups and liquorice allsorts.

2- WEIGHT: Light. Oh sweet Jesu, but they're light. The reason I've little spine trouble whereas mates of mine do I put down to using an air-filled bass while they insisted on guitars made of quality woods, such as maple, teak or table-wood from the last supper. Simpletons.

If you're the sort of musician who likes to fly out of orbit, who understands gigs are about performance rather than pentatonic self-pleasure in public, 'Dans' are the go-to brand. Mid-song, you might've found me on top of an amp, up a lighting rig, amid the crowd or under the drummer. Only NORAD could track me.

3- DURABILITY: Yes, yes, technically nothing with Danelectro written on it should claim durability as a feature. Technically.

See, 97% of the time a 'Leccy gets dropped it doesn't break: it bounces. Must be that lightness factor. Heck, even when they do break their 'cruddy', 'kinder egg toy' nature permits one to fix them with relative ease. They almost have an organic quality in that regard. Skynet starts here.

Paradoxically, if you mean to destroy one (For best results, raise above head like broadsword, slice downwards at floor) the results are beautifully, scintillatingly explosive. See above about 'performance'.

4- SOUND:  Okay, here they might lack virtuosity. Slap-pop-pick Flea-wannabes need not apply (Rather, you should seek help). However, if plectrum-smacking, fuzz box chug-chug is you're game, you've nothing to lose. Remember: Danelectro bass + heavy distortion = trashynicefuckyeah.

The Final Twang

In summary then, Danelectros are a specialist's instrument. And if you're specialism is extroverted , fuzz-chug stage-throwaboutedness of a pounding dirt-chomp persuasion, you ought to hook up with a Danelectro. Oh, and you're making rock a better place, by the way. These muso shitbags don't tell you that enough. 


*- I'm afraid I've little experience of Danelectro's six strings. I suspect they might not be all that good, frankly. At least, not as good as their pig selection.

*- 'Pig' was the nickname for the M60 machine gun in Vietnam. Given rock's general conflation with that war, I'm surprised no one's referred to bass guitars as such. It begins here!

1 comment:

  1. (Me old band-amigo, Pete Shepard, commented on this post down Facebook way. He says this-)

    "I can actually see you were quite passionate about your Danelectro fetish now. As weird as I find that to be, every man needs a vice. Mine was the whole tone scale played loudly whilst simultaneously jizzing on the crowd, and other such outmoded musical staples like 'songwriting' and 'musicianship'. Call me old fashioned if you want.

    I enjoyed reading this though, and if I'm honest I'll always see Danelectro instruments as 'so shit they're actually good'. Your bass did sound pretty beefy to be fair.

    That said, I'd only EVER buy a Danelectro if I was planning on sneaking into the US by floating there on the back of one..."

    (Thanks, Pete!)