Handmade Music Clubhouse

Cigar Box Guitar Headquarters - CBG HQ

From DanGuitars.com

 

 

The History of Danelectro



Danelectro Factory - Neptune, New Jersey USA

Danelectro Corp. - Neptune, New Jersey USA. Architect's Drawing

 
 
 

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).

popular mechanics_1957.png

Nathan Daniel - Danelectro Founder

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!

Danelectro catalog page - circa '63

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

Img1476.png

1959 Danelectro Acoustic/Electric Convertible

convertible_pickup.png

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.

General Specs

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 mountedaluminum 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.
    • Bodies

Img1535.png

1964 Dano Deluxe Single Pickup

 

Necks

  • 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.

Pickups

  • 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.
lipstick 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.
 
Bridges
  •  
    • 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").  
  •  All bridges had notches cut into the metal base to hold the string ends. A small piece of rosewood was used as the saddle.

    Tuners

Img1552.png

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). 

Other Parts

  • 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. 

 Serial Numbers

  • 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.
  • Danelectro Models

Danelectro "Longhorn" Basses

Dano Longhorns
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.

 

bellzouki2.pngBellzouki 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.
bellzouki.png
  •  















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.

 

'67 Danelectro "Hawk"

Hawk

  • 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.

     



    Danelectro Sitar

    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

  •  

Coral

Click on image to enlarge!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."

coral sitar closeup.png

Img355.pngcoralelectricsitardetail4.cm2Img356.png

Vincent Bell played an important role in the Danelectro legacy. Learn more about Vincent Bell.

Click on image for complete article!

coral sitar ad

Coral Hornet, Scorpion, Wasp models.

  • '67 dano wasp bass.png1967-1969: 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).
     
     










    Img617.pngImg616.png
    Coral Firefly 1967-1969 (above). Hollowbody (made in Japan) body, much like a Gibson ES-330. What a beauty! 
     
    '68 Coral Longhorn

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.

     

  • Hornet.
    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.


    Click here for more information about Nathan Daniel
     and the history of Danelectro.

Views: 8910

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

From Pen for Rent

 

 

NATHAN I. DANIEL 
SEPTEMBER 23, 1912 – DECEMBER 24, 1994

Danelectro Founder and SuperOutrigger Inventor 

By Howard E. Daniel

A lot of people know about Danelectro – especially the now-retro-looking electric guitars, which have become collector’s items and have even given rise to that sincerest form of flattery, a company of the same name as the 1940s, 50s and 60s Danelectro, which manufactures reproductions of the original instruments, and another company that also issues reproductions, albeit without the name.

Fewer people, however, know much about Nathan I. Daniel, my dad – and the genius behind Danelectro. Nor is my father’s contribution to the history of electric musical instruments widely known. He was devoid of interest in fame or publicity, and after Danelectro closed down in 1969, he simply got on with his life. As a result, most of what has been written about Danelectro has focused on the appearance of the guitars, right down to the shape of their heads and the style of knobs, pick guards and tuning pegs.

I hope that for the people who admire, collect and play original Danelectro guitars and amplifiers (or the Silvertone and Airline products my dad also created), this tribute will give a new appreciation for these old instruments, because the essence of the Danelectro story is Nat Daniel’s lifetime of innovation.

Early Years

Nathan “Nat” Daniel was born in New York City in 1912, a year to the day after his young parents arrived in the United States, immigrants who had come to this country to escape the anti-Semitism of czarist Russia, which then ruled their Lithuanian birthplace. The younger of my father’s two kid sisters, my Aunt Ray, tells how one of their parents’ first words in English was “learn,” and how, when they were children, their parents would take all three of them around to New York’s many wonderful museums, urging them to “learn.”

Because my father could not yet speak English when he entered school, he had to repeat the first grade. At some point during his second time around, as he later told me, “it was as if someone turned the lights on one day, and suddenly I understood everything.” A bright, mischievous child, hardly a devoted student, he nonetheless went on to skip several grades and graduated from high school ahead of his contemporaries. (My dad often ignored homework assignments but aced exams, much to the irritation of certain teachers – most notably a high school math teacher who wanted to flunk him but couldn’t because of his near-perfect score on the New York State Regents Exam.)

My dad developed an early interest in radio, still in its infancy during his teenage years. He built the first crystal radio set in his neighborhood. During the Great Depression, he dropped out of City College of New York and began assembling and selling amplifiers of his own design. It was during this period, in the mid-1930s, that he designed and began manufacturing a push-pull amplifier circuit that eliminated the input transformer that had made it impossible to achieve good high-frequency response. His amp tested “flat” (i.e., provided equal response across the full range of sound frequencies) to the limit of then-existing equipment. He did not try to patent his invention because he could not afford the expense.

My father’s first “factory” was his bedroom in his parents’ New York apartment. Later he moved his small manufacturing operation – Daniel Electrical Laboratories – to a loft in Lower Manhattan. His first big customer was the well-known guitar maker Epiphone, second only to Gibson at the time.

During World War II, Nat Daniel served as a civilian designer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Among the other problems he worked on at that time, he found a simple, economical way to equip military jeeps and motorcycles with shielding to prevent the electronic “noise” their engines generated from interfering with the reception of critical battlefield radio messages. Protected from the draft by the critical nature of his work, at one point he considered enlisting in the Marines. His boss – and my mother, Mollie – talked him out of it. As a kid, I once asked about his work during the war. His response: “I saved the government a million dollars.” Whatever the exact amount, clearly it was not a trivial sum.

Danelectro

At the end of the war, my father left the Signal Corps and reopened his amplifier manufacturing business in Red Bank, N.J., near Fort Monmouth. He called it the Danelectro Corporation (coined from “Daniel electric”) and over the next nearly two and a half decades produced what writers Jim Washburn and Steve Soest in the July 1983 issue of Guitar World called “an impressive number of electric instruments … distinguished in their design innovations [and] their quality at a budget price….”

After supplying Epiphone again for about a year, he won contracts to make amplifiers for two major national retail chains, Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. These were sold under their respective brand names, Silvertone and Airline. For about two decades Danelectro was the sole supplier of Sears’ Silvertone amplifiers. Danelectro began making electric guitars, with their distinctive “lipstick tube” pickups, in 1954. By the time my father sold the business, in 1966, to MCA (Music Corporation of America), Danelectro – by then located in a much larger plant in Neptune City, N.J. – employed about 500 people and was shipping out an average of more than a full trailer-truckload of amplifiers and guitars every day.

The Danelectro years were marked by a series of innovations. Between 1949 and 1969, my dad secured a total of eight patents – on vibrato (tremolo, or, as he dubbed it, “Vibravox”) and reverberation (“reverb”) systems; a loudspeaker cabinet with inclined baffles (the “Acoustic Case,” designed to boost bass response by lengthening the sound wave path from the back to the front of the speaker); a combined bridge, tailpiece and manual vibrato for guitars; and the electric sitar, which faithfully reproduced the unique sound of the classic Indian instrument but could easily be played by any guitarist. (My dad shared the sitar patents with Vinnie Bell, New York’s busiest, and almost certainly most innovative, studio guitarist, with whom he enjoyed a warm, collaborative relationship.) He also patented – way back in 1953 – an electric organ that foreshadowed a basic principle of some of today’s synthesizers, but reproduced true tones of many instruments in analog rather than digital fashion. He never put it into production, however.

However, Nat Daniel did not patent most of his innovations, which also included:
•    the first six-string electric bass (1956)
•    the first 12-string electric guitar (1961 – the “Bellzouki,” developed in collaboration with Vinnie Bell and inspired by Greekbouzouki music from the film classic “Never on Sunday”)
•    a 31-fret “Guitarlin” (1958) with a deeply cut-away “longhorn” body that enabled a guitarist to play an extra 10 frets into the mandolin range
•    an amplifier and speaker built into a guitar carrying case (this was done for Sears, which sold the Silvertone “amp-in-case” and guitar for under $50 as a set for novice players)
•    a “convertible” guitar that could be bought, inexpensively, for beginning students, as an acoustic, and later, with the purchase of a pickup kit, turned into a semi-hollow-body electric
•    total shielding of guitar and amplifier circuits to protect against hum from neon signs, motors or other sources of electrical interference (he introduced this at a National Association of Music Merchants – NAMM – show, with Vinnie Bell demonstrating Danelectro guitars and amps while sitting right next to a glowing neon sign; the Danelectro products sounded crystal clear, while a specially assembled “Brand X” guitar, lacking the shielding, hummed noisily every time Vinnie plugged it in)
•    guitar necks that never warped because they were reinforced with twin steel I-beams
•    the use of inexpensive, yet strong and stable composite materials in both amplifier cabinets (Homasote, particle board) and guitar bodies (Masonite, Formica)
•    a guitar neck-tilt adjustment system “nearly identical [as Washburn and Soest wrote in Guitar World] to the one Fender used – except that Danelectro did it a decade earlier and didn’t bother to patent it”
•    a “master-slave” amp system with 300-plus watts of distortion-free power (back in 1956)
•    a "hexaphonic" guitar, with each string having its own separate pickup, amplifier and speaker (1958 - but never manufactured)
•    a capacitance pickup for classical guitar with a tube pre-amplifier built into the body; etching the nylon strings and coating them with graphite made it possible to pick up the signal (1959 - but never manufactured )
•    a hybrid vacuum tube/solid-state amplifier (1968)

My father’s most fundamental innovation, however, may well have been the basic idea behind virtually everything he made – to produce amplifiers and guitars that were both high-quality AND affordable to ordinary people, especially the families of youngsters – beginners – who wanted to learn the guitar but didn’t have a lot of money to spend. In a recent note to me, Jim Washburn, co-author of the Guitar World article, wrote that the thing that really sticks in his memory from the interview for that article was that “when I asked your dad what he was proudest of, he didn’t cite any of his industry firsts but just the humble fact that he was able to make instruments a beginner could afford that were of a quality that wouldn't discourage them from progressing on the instrument.”

Legends like Jimi Hendrix, to name just one, learned to play on Danelectros or Danelectro-made Silvertones, so it can be argued that Nat Daniel played a significant role in getting some of the genre’s greats started on their careers. This may be somewhat ironic in light of the fact that he played no instrument himself and preferred music by composers like Mendelssohn and Rimsky-Korsakov – Rimsky-Of Course-Of Course, my dad liked to joke – to rock ’n’ roll.

By beginning the design process by first seeking to understand the qualities that were most important to musicians, my dad was able to figure out how to incorporate these characteristics in his products at low cost without compromising quality. That, to take just one example, is why he employed inexpensive materials like Masonite and Homasote, which some people derided at the time. But these materials did the job for which they were intended perfectly well, and they held costs down.

In his autobiography, Joseph N. “Joe” Fisher, Sears’ principal musical instrument buyer from 1959 to 1968, wrote that “Nat was an innovator who understood the principle of ‘rigid control of expense,’ an example of which was his innovative and inexpensive … magnetic pickups used in electric guitars. He made them from surplus [actually, they were not “surplus” at all] lipstick tubes, bought from a cosmetics manufacturer. He inserted the electronics in the tubes and produced the lowest cost guitar pickup in the industry.” Low-cost they may have been, but their innovative design makes them still highly sought-after by many guitarists today, who love their distinctive sound as well as their “cool” appearance. (Fisher admired my father for more than his innovativeness and ability to keep costs down. He also wrote, “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 lifeline.”)

Perhaps the best example of marrying high quality, low cost and innovative production methods was the Danelectro guitar neck. First, my father wanted a neck that would not warp or bow. He thought the traditional approach to this problem – an adjustable rod to counter the bowing effect of the strings – was a poor, “Band-Aid” solution. He wanted a neck that would simply NEVER bow. So first he aged the poplar wood used for the necks in a climate-controlled drying room. Then, in building the necks, he reinforced them with twin steel I-beams. These necks just would not bow – Danelectro hardly ever received an instrument back for repair or replacement because of a complaint about the neck. (And guitars that came back for other repairs, even after many years, never exhibited bowing problems.)

Rigid reinforcement achieved another objective – to make possible a neck that was slender, like those of high-priced competitors such as Fender. Why a slender neck? To make fingering easier, especially for the young beginners with small hands and tender fingers who comprised the bulk of his market. The I-beams meant less wood would be needed for rigidity, making possible a thinner neck.

In his recent correspondence with me, Jim Washburn pointed out that “while some of [my dad’s] designs were pure whimsy – he said [in the Guitar World interview, that] the longhorn originated as a doodle – most had a solid reason behind them. The lipstick tubes provided shielding, but with a gap in the middle that prevented the shorted-turn effect in which a typical pickup’s shielding acts as a transformer loop that diminishes the pickup’s high-frequency response. When he explained why he used the steel bars in his necks instead of a[n adjustable] truss rod, he went into the formula of Young’s Modulus of Elasticity, which he used to determine that even the cheapest steel rods provided the resistance the necks needed.”

In addition to designing all of Danelectro’s products, my father also came up with manufacturing equipment and processes that saved time and money. In the case of guitar necks, for example, he kept costs low and quality high by designing and building a unique, proprietary machine to finish the surface of the fingerboards (Brazilian rosewood, a handsome, durable material) to the exacting standards required. Like so many other elements of the manufacturing processes he designed and developed, this device made it possible for employees who were not craftsmen to produce craftsmanlike results.

The fingerboard-finishing machine was a horizontal, cylindrical frame, the length of a standard neck, with two large, circular wooden hoops forming either end. The outside rim of each hoop was fitted with clamps that allowed necks with unfinished, unfretted fingerboards to be laid lengthwise along the cylinder, fingerboards facing out, and secured at each end. The finishing was done automatically by a table saw. When the saw was turned on, a link to the cylinder started it slowly rotating along its axis while simultaneously drawing the saw almost imperceptibly along a finely threaded, revolving bolt running underneath the cylinder from one end to the other. After some time, the saw blade had passed along the entire length of each fingerboard, shaving it to precisely the right height and leaving a perfectly finished surface. The only manual work required was for an employee to clamp the unfinished necks in place, turn on the machine, and come back a couple of hours later to remove the necks and start another batch.

As ingenious as my dad’s many amplifier and guitar innovations were, the manufacturing processes he developed were an essential element in producing high-quality products at low cost.

MCA closed Danelectro in 1969, but my father never looked back. When, over a decade later, he learned, almost by chance, of the continuing interest in the major portion of his life’s work, he expressed surprise, gratification … and, characteristically, bemusement.

SuperOutrigger

Following my mother’s death early in 1974, my dad left New Jersey for warmer, more hospitable climes. Late that year, he moved to Hawaii. Soon after arriving, he became intrigued by the seemingly inexplicable absence of passenger ferry service in this island state. After some investigation, he concluded the basic problem was that no vessel existed that combined the three qualities he deemed essential to any passenger service across Hawaii’s rough interisland channels – a smooth ride even in heavy seas, reasonably high speed, and operating costs low enough to permit fares to be set well under the price of airline tickets.

My father then began thinking about the physics of a vessel that would provide such a gentle, fast and inexpensive ride. In 1978 he came up with the SuperOutrigger, which (together with a 1981 variation on his original concept) he patented in the United States and 12 foreign countries. The vessel was a synthesis of a long, needle-like, fully enclosed main hull that rode low in the water; a passenger cabin held high above the hull, out of the reach of waves, by an open truss structure; and a smaller, stabilizing outrigger hull.

He built two working models of the SuperOutrigger on which tests were performed and demonstrations conducted. The testing of his first 28-foot model in 1979 showed that in 13-foot waves, rolling and pitching of a full-scale craft would be less than five degrees. In 1986, he launched a 58-foot demonstration model (with wooden hulls he built in his driveway) on which he gave rides to government officials, potential investors and journalists. One of those who rode the craft was the then-editor of the authoritative Jane’s High-Speed Marine Craft and Air Cushion Vehicles, Robert Trillo, who later wrote that the SuperOutrigger had “a substantial economic advantage over current fast craft such as hydrofoil and catamaran craft and especially when its potential seakeeping ability [stability in heavy seas] is taken into account, enabling operations to be extended into rougher seas….”

My dad spent years in a search for the investment or funding required to build the first commercially operating SuperOutrigger. He drew up plans for 300-foot-long versions of the craft that would travel at 35 knots (40 miles per hour) and cover the roughly 100-mile distance between Honolulu and either Maui or Kauai in under three hours for about half the price of flying. He attempted to interest officials in using SuperOutriggers for commuter ferry service between downtown Honolulu and various other points on the island of Oahu. He also explored the possibility of putting his vessel to use for other purposes and in other parts of the world. A number of investors indicated a willingness to back or operate a “second” SuperOutrigger, but my father never managed to locate a source of capital for a first commercially operating vessel.

My dad suffered a heart attack and died on Christmas Eve, 1994, at age 82. He was survived by his second wife, Connie; two grown stepchildren; three grandchildren; sisters Sally and Ray; and me.

Nathan Daniel was a conceptualizer, an innovator … an American original, just like the things he dreamed up, put together and gave the world. Growing up, I had thought of him as an engineer, not a businessman. (He was certainly no salesman. His idea of good sales technique was simply to offer a great product at an attractive price. Period. For profit, he relied entirely on high volume, not high markup.) However, as I grew older, it seemed to me that engineering was somehow too limited a description of what my dad did. In his later years he told me he felt as though what he did was basically to apply an understanding of physics to practical problems.

At bottom, THAT was his talent – problem solving. Nat Daniel believed that if you could manage to state a problem correctly, its solution would become apparent. He spent a lifetime doing just that … grasping the essence of the matter and coming up with solutions that, in the world of science, are called “elegant” because of their simplicity and originality. His ability to do this is only barely reflected in the U.S. patents he was granted – 10 that I know of, filed over a nearly three-and-a-half-decade span between 1947 and 1981.

In a recent note, Jim Washburn wrote that in his roughly quarter-century of journalism, “I've been lucky to have met and interviewed several of the major players in the history of the electric guitar – including Leo Fender and Gibson's Seth Lover – and even in that company I think your dad was a giant of inventiveness and achievement." In a subsequent message Washburn wrote that my dad "was no less inventive – as evidenced by how many of his innovations were later copied by Fender, Gibson and other firms, including the six-string bass, the 12-string electric and shielded electronics – and that, unlike those others, his leaps of creativity were accomplished within the self-imposed constraint of producing excellence on a budget. If a musician wanted Gibson’s version of Nat’s six-string bass, they had to find a Gibson dealer, special-order the thing, wait sometimes for months, and shell out $400 or more for it. With Nat’s, any American could walk into a Sears or Montgomery Ward, plunk down $90 and walk out with one. And, decades later, it is still the Danelectro that most musicians rely upon.”

A friend recently observed that my dad had the habit of “thinking outside the box” long before that expression was ever dreamed of. He was right. That was the way Nat Daniel always thought. That’s what made him the smartest, most original person I’ve ever known.

This tribute, in a very slightly adapted form, serves as the introduction to the book Neptune Bound, by Doug Tulloch. For more information, visit www.neptunebound.com .  The book, in hardcover and softcover, is also available from Amazon.

Copyright © Howard E. Daniel, Pen-for-Rent, 2007-2010.

 

My Dad use to play a Danelectro in his band in the 50`s. White with rosewood fretboard. Wish I had it now...!!
Thats my dad on the front left , that electric bass guitar he has he made. He model it after his danelectro.

Thanks for posting this Ted.  Glad i had the time to read it tonight.

it's just a re-pop, but but if i could only have one electric, it would be my dano baritone.

Not as old as I would like to have, but I have had one of these

since I was 15 years old.

SILVERTONE MODEL: EZ4540 or 460 SOLIDBODY - 1965

You can see my dano dc3 in the background, but this is my interpretation of a danelectro lap steel. Pine Frame, bridge block, masonite top and back.

 

and finished:

 

I love Danelectros! Thanks for posting this Ted!

 

I'm lucky enough to own a 1957 Danelectro U1 that I got from a friend a few years ago. It was a little one owner that belonged to his Dad. Never done a thing to it except for using some contact cleaner on the pots and such. I did switch out the bridge for one of those All Parts replacement bridges that allow for intonation but still have the original tucked away in a drawer. The new bridge also adds a little mass which seemed to provide a little better sustain. Unfortunately I had to sell the asian Longhorn repro (shown in photo) a couple of years ago for some badly needed cash. It played and sounded great though. I plan on never selling the 1957 original though. It's just too sweet! Plays and sounds like a dream!

That was the most interesting read I have had in a long time.

Thanks guys.

Hogs.

Mmmmm.... Danos!

yep great reading - it's good to know the history

i bet BB Redshaw would like this he has a couple of Danos - i'll send him a link

thanks for posting Ted :)

looks like building is in the Blood bro :)


Randy S. Bretz said:
Thats my dad on the front left , that electric bass guitar he has he made. He model it after his danelectro.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

© 2019   Created by Ted Crocker.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service