Blue is the colour, lipstick is the game, and this limited edition Danelectro combines recycled components with the Led Zep upgrade and some nutty new finishes. Review by Richard Purvis
Description: Semi-acoustic guitar. Made in Korea
Contact: John Hornby Skewes – 0113 286 5381 – www.jhs.co.uk – www.danelectro.com
Now that the recession’s finished, you’re probably reading this on the balcony of a luxury beach house in St Lucia, rocking gently in a hammock while you wait for the servants to bring you another pineapple and coconut smoothie. Ah, the pure turquoise of those sandy shallows is every bit as intense as it looked in the brochure, isn’t it? But now look at the finish on this guitar, and suddenly your Caribbean idyll looks like a stagnant backwater of the River Trent. Hot dang. Turquoise doesn’t get more turquoise than this.
Not that you’d know it if you worked in the Danelectro stockroom – the name they’ve given to this vivid hue, for some psychedelically-inspired reason, is Baby Come Back Blue. Check the panel on the right for the other daft options dreamed up for this double-cutaway Dano, a guitar that looks otherwise identical to the black-only ‘Jimmy Page’ model. There is another difference, however, and the clue to that is in the name.
It’s strange to think that the modern Danelectro company has been around long enough to have anything that could be described as NOS (new old stock), but that’s the story with these pickups. Apparently, Danelectro discovered a batch of unused lipstick pickups dating back 15 years – which might not seem that long but does, to be fair, put them in a whole different century. Maybe they were in a box marked ‘lipsticks’ and someone delivered them to Estée Lauder by mistake.
Anyway, did someone mention Jimmy Page? His favourite lo-fi twanger throughout the Led Zep years was a 1961 Danelectro 3021, in black, to which he fitted a Badass bridge. The replica of this guitar was launched a few years ago (not an official signature model, though the bridge was a fairly obvious clue) and, pickups aside, the ’59M-NOS shares its basic spec. Mind you, anyone wanting to recreate Page’s finest Dano moments should note two facts: first, he used his mostly for slide, so if our test guitar’s slick action is anything to go by you’ll need to raise the bridge a tad; and second, he didn’t fit that Badass until some time around 1980, when the levee had long since broken and the band’s career was pretty much finished.
The Badass is a clever and efficient piece of hardware, combining the individually adjustable saddles of a tunomatic with the solidity of an all-in-one wraparound bridge/tailpiece. Danelectro’s ‘Badass-style’ unit has been recessed into the body and gives the instrument a slightly more aggressive and serious look than the usual chrome and rosewood affair. It’s not as pretty, though.
Everything else looks as it should. The sweeping white scratchplate is attached by just three screws, and the concentric volume/tone knobs have dinky little markers on the top that look like embedded ball bearings. There’s a nice swirly texture to the cream-coloured binding tape on the sides, which is more neatly applied than some we’ve seen, although the overlapping section where the two ends meet isn’t quite bang-on. The nut is aluminium and you’ll notice there’s a trussrod cover – just a simple piece of plastic held on by a single screw, but it echoes the white of the scratchplate and brings an extra touch of harmony to the whole design.
A shallow neck with low-profile frets, impressively well dressed, makes this an easy player out of the box and it will quickly tempt you into widdly wanderings up to the 15th fret – but not much further than that, as the neck meets the body at the 14th and a chunky heel means access to the top few frets is as awkward as it gets. That’s the price you pay for retro charm, daddy-o.
Acoustically the ’59M-NOS is not as banjo-like as you might expect from these timbers (can you even call hardboard a timber?), with plenty of bottom end to balance out the clanking mids. Blindfolded, you could mistake it for a Thinline Tele. Those of us who like our Danos light and plinky might be worrying at this point, so let’s plug into something clean, start in the middle position with both pickups in series and see if the familiar cluck is still there.
It is, but with perhaps more pep than we’re used to – it’s not smooth enough for breezy chords, but dig in to single notes and the vintage twang will leap out and force you to smile whether you like it or not. These pickups can be spiky – very spiky if you’re not careful – but there’s an impressive solidity to the tone on the wound strings.
Moving to either pickup on its own brings an immediate drop in output, but both are decent sounds. The bridge pickup isn’t really any sharper than the two combined: it’s effectively the same tone, without the neck unit’s low-end warmth. Likewise, selecting that one on its own does not bring more bass, just less treble. Now things do get smoother, and you might even find yourself coming over all bluesy with the addition of a little overdrive. And with a lot of overdrive? This isn’t the easiest rock guitar to control, but it can handle punky riffing on the bridge pickup just as well as it does grubby-trousered slide work in the middle position; and as a handy bonus, high gain levels help to flatten out the difference in output levels between the two.
Fender owners should be warned that there’s no humbucking effect in the middle position, so background noise gets louder just as the signal does. And here’s a minor annoyance: the tone controls perform that ‘please upgrade me’ trick of doing virtually nothing until they’re almost at zero, then dropping off sharply. Guitar makers of the world, please, stop it.
The three factors that set this guitar apart from a standard double-cut Dano are the NOS pickups, the Badass-style bridge and the fancy colours. Are 15-year-old pickups likely to sound markedly different to brand new ones? Maybe, but that’s possibly the least significant of the three selling points. In a sense, the extra sustain provided by the bridge makes this less Danelectro-ish than other Danelectros, but that’s not to say it’s had all the fun and funk squeezed out of it… and besides, it is very, very turquoise