Nathan “Nat” Daniel founded the Danelectro Company in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1947. He was one of the great innovators and started building guitar amplifiers for Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck. Daniel had previously designed and made Epiphone’s Electar amp series, and his pioneering circuits incorporated many industry firsts, such as tremolo.
Eventually around 1954, Sears approached Daniel to make an affordable electric guitar. Nat Daniel showed some real innovative ideas making good playing guitars at low prices. Danelectro made the front and back of their guitars out of Masonite, a composite material created by pressure molding steamed wood fibers. Far cheaper than using solid wood or plywood. They were constructed simply of vinyl, masonite and Formica. Instead of being reinforced by an adjustable truss rod, the thin, bolt-on poplar necks relied on two heavy-duty steel bars installed under the fretboard making the neck quite stable and needing no truss rod. The nut was usually made from aluminum. The guitars were made simply, with no pearl adornments or expensive woods. According to Danelectro, few of these guitars came back for neck issues.
Danelectro pickups were made with alnico magnets that were wrapped in tape and stuffed inside of chrome-plated “lipstick” tubes wound to a relatively low (4.75k). Not generic metal cylinders, but actual lipstick tubes. The tubes were pretty good shielding and gave the Danelectro a distinctive tone that was a big hit with players. Looking at some very old Danelectro guitars it can be said that they survived pretty nicely even though these were low priced guitars using inexpensive materials. Some of these early pickups are quite sought after.
Mr. Daniel knew what he was doing, even though these were some of the most cheaply made guitars ever assembled they sound and play like a million bucks. Also note that Daniel, like Leo Fender was not a guitar player and sought out feedback from players. This allowed him to thing outside the box. He was said to be most proud that he was able to create a budget guitar that was easy to play and allowed young aspiring musicians to excel.
Nat Daniel built and sold guitars for the catalog stores under the Silverstone and Airline brand. He also sold under the Danelectro brand. Daniel designed and built tube guitar amplifiers directly into the guitar case that sold for only $69. Many of today’s rock elite stated playing electric guitar on a Danelectro guitars and amps. One reason many guitar players have a soft spot for Danelectro gear.
Danelectro built some unusual and innovative instruments during including the first 12-string electric guitar (Bellzouki), 4-string bass, 6-string bass that (was also used as a Baritone Guitar and Tic Tac Bass), double neck guitars and the Guitarlin (guitar with 25-inch scale and 31 frets that allowed the player to cover guitar and mandolin range) all heard on many landmark recordings.
Nat Daniel design ideas have been copied and adapted by nearly all the major guitar makers over the years. Danelectro guitar designs were also built by Jerry Jones (and Coral) and are quite valued. The “new” Danelectro company manufactures reissues in Korea of these classic designs with a few slight improvements like the adjustable bridges for better intonation.
Up to 1958, Danelectro guitars had a single-cutaway body (like a Les Paul or Telecaster) and were finished in the now famous bright automotive colors. Fender also followed this strategy with were radical colors at the time. In 1958, Danelectro shifted to double-cutaway designs with “Coke bottle” headstocks, offering extreme “Longhorn” and less radical “Shorthorn” models. In addition to electric guitars, the company made 6-string and 4-string basses, double-neck instruments, first Indian Electric Sitar and the futuristic Guitarlin.
By the time Nathan Daniel sold Danelectro in 1966 to MCA (Music Corporation of America), Danelectro was located in a much larger plant in Neptune City, N.J employing about 500 people. They were shipping out an average of more than a full trailer-truckload of amplifiers and guitars every day. Not as large as Fender or Gibson, but certainly a pretty successful operation.
Danelectro had sold about 85% of it’s products to Sears so MCA started the Coral line in 1967 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 had been made entirely in the U.S.
MCA ended up closing the Danelectro plant in 1969. MCA’s shift to selling instruments to individual guitar stores instead of jobbers (such as Sears) was likely the cause. At that 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.
From Nat Daniel’s son’s blog (great information here):
Nat Daniel did not patent most of his innovations, which also included:
- first six-string electric bass (1956)
- first 12-string electric guitar (1961 – the “Bellzouki,” developed in collaboration with Vinnie Bell and inspired by Greek bouzouki music from the film classic “Never on Sunday”)
- 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)
Jerry Jones Guitars
Jerry Jones Guitars was a musical instrument manufacturer based in Nashville, Tennessee specialized in making electric guitars and basses based on Danelectro’s original designs from the 1950s and 1960s. They also made some more unusual instruments, like six string basses, baritone guitars, sitar guitars, the shorty octave 12-string and the guitarlin, which is a cross between a guitar and a mandolin. Many of the Jerry Jones instrument designs borrowed heavily from the early Nat Daniel designs.
In Spring 2011, Jerry Jones announced that he was retiring and closing the factory. By May, the manufacturing equipment was sold. These instruments are very sought after as they are high quality Danelectro inspired guitars.
The NEW Danelectro Company
In the late 1990s, the Evets Corporation started selling primarily copies of old Silvertone and Danelectro guitars, as well as newly designed effects pedals and small amplifiers. After initially selling well, guitar sales slowed to the point where Danelectro stopped selling guitars after 2001, opting to concentrate on effects pedals. In 2006, the new owners of Evets decided on a new marketing model for the guitars, selling a limited number of guitars each year.
In early 2016, Danelectro strayed slightly away from the formula and typical construction. They introduced some slightly different models. These new models featured spruce tops and a resonator model. The one that really caught my eye was the Mosrite inspired Danelectro 64. They nailed the Mosrite down to the German carve. I snatched this one up as soon and it was released. It is a very nice guitar. Especially for the reasonable price I paid.
Today, Danelectro is making great low budget guitars. I am a big fan of these as I think you get a great playing and funky guitar at a pretty low cost. The new Danelectro guitars are a great value.