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Like most industries, the guitar industry can be dominated by a couple of big names but this is not to say that there aren’t gems available when you dig a little deeper. Some of the best looking and best sounding guitars can come to the fore when you go beyond your Fenders and Les Pauls and the Danelectro range of reissues harks back to an earlier time when all new music was exciting and exhilarating.
It may well be that you have come across the Danelectro ’56 thanks to Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Being in a two-piece act puts a lot of responsibility on to a guitarist but the popularity of the duo indicates that Dan is a much loved guitarist. The majority of guitars that he plays on stage are original issues of classic guitars that are no longer available to buy unless through second hand means. This makes the Danelectro ’56 reissue an essential purchase if you want to attempt to capture that classic Black Keys sound or set off on your own blues-rock adventure! The original Danelectro guitars were an integral part of the Led Zeppelin stage-show in the 1970s, including use on songs like Kashmir and In My Time Of Dying, so the history and heritage of these guitars is not in doubt.
With a design template straight from a fifties diner, you get a great looking guitar with the Danelectro ’56 reissue but you also have plenty to enjoy from the sounds of the guitar. The headstock may be a different style to the original models (the dolphin style headstock is far more prevalent than the traditional Coke bottle style headstock of the original) but this aside, the features here are as close as to what you would have expected from the original instrument. With respect to the basic features of the Danelectro ’56 reissue, you are looking at:
- 21 frets
- A maple neck and plywood / Masonite body
- Three way switch
- Volume dial
- Tone dial
Sound / Tones
A large part of the distinctive Danelectro sound comes from the fact that the pickups were wired in series as opposed to the parallel wiring that became common place in the guitar world. The Danelectro ’56 tone can easily be described as being a sweet sound and it is one that is fairly indicative of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Utilising both of the pickups will allow a guitarist to achieve that wonderful jangly sound from a bye-gone era while focusing on the front pickup tone will provide a fatter sound. No matter what style of play you opt for, there is a general agreement that the Danelectro ’56 sounds as good as it looks, which is no mean for a stylish guitar. Taste is a personal thing but if you have a fondness for relevant nostalgia and recapturing the best elements of an era, this is one guitar that manages to deliver on every aspect. With a guitar of this era, you would expect it to be able to handle rock n roll, rockabilly and garage rock pretty easily but you should find that the Danelectro ’56 provides a lot more sounds than these genres. Anyone looking to enjoy making pop music, indie and even punk can do so while looking fantastic behind a Danelectro!
Playability / Action / Ease of Use:
It may seem a little at odds with so many of the modern guitars but many musicians find the Danelectro ’56 to be a breath of fresh air. The dials may take a little getting used to, with Danelectro being synonymous for being slightly quirky but there are no real problems here. The lighter weight of the guitar, in comparison to many first choice guitars, makes it a guitar you can pick up and play in no time at all.
Build / Reliability
Given the Danelectro ’56 reissue seems to be offering so many features and styles for a low price, it is only natural that some musicians will wonder if there is a compromise being made with respect to build or reliability. Thankfully, this Chinese made guitar has proven itself capable of living up to the bumps and scrapes that can come with life on the road or in the studio. The pickups may not be housed in brass lipstick cases like the original but the modern versions carry as much, if not more, sound than the original managed to! Having a semi-hollow body sees the Danelectro ’56 weigh in at a respectable 6 pounds so while you will notice it when it is strapped around your neck, you should find that it is a lighter option than many of the alternatives available to choose from.
Price / Value
Given that the Danelectro ’56 reissue can be picked up for as little as $349, this is a guitar that offers value for money at a great level. It works very well as an instrument for beginners due to its price and range of tones but it can also work very well for musicians who have a number of instruments but are looking for something very different. The fact that Jimmy Page, Joe Perry from Aerosmith fame and Dan Auerback retain it in their set-up to this day indicates that this is a guitar that provides something for everyone. If you are looking for a great value rock guitar, this may well be what you are looking for.
The Verdict / Impression
Stylistically, it would be fair to say that the Danelectro ’56 reissue will win some people over in the same time that it will chase many people away. There is a lot to be said about the look of an instrument and with a very retro look, this will not be the guitar for everyone. However, the unique Danelectro sound should be the more important element here and you only have to think of the big names that have an original or a reissued Danelectro in their collection to realise that there is something special going on here. This is a guitar that does a lot of things that no other guitar can, which considering the affordable price of it makes it an extremely sensible purchase for all levels of guitarists.