Pick of the Month - May 2003
2000 Danelectro Convertible

Danelectro guitars originally appeared in mid-1950's America, providing an affordable range of colourful models that sounded particularly twang-some and were fun to play. They chiefly supplied instruments to the Sears Roebuck mail order chain under the name Silvertone, many players starting out on the famous "amp-in-the-case" outfit, which was a very popular catalogue item in the early 1960's. Though aimed at a budget-conscious market, Danelectros had a sound and style all their own that many players still find irresistible. A return to lower-tech production values in the 1990's, coupled with the pull of nostalgia and newly-sourced cheap, Far Eastern labour meant the Danelectro name could be revived and new instruments manufactured again for the first time since the original company was sold in 1968.

What you see here is a Korean-made reissue of the American Convertible of the late 1950's, so named because of its adaptability as either an acoustic or an electric guitar. Original models could also be purchased without a pickup, the holes for the controls and screws filled with pearloid inserts. However, anyone taking it seriously as an acoustic guitar was in for a disappointment; the poor tone its hardboard (masonite) body produced was further hampered by a lack of volume and projection. The bridge consisted of a small strip of rosewood with a single piece of fret-wire as a saddle, standing on the top supported by three small Allen screws, the strings anchored to a flat metal plate. The pickup - like all Danelectros, a small winding encased inside two halves of a lipstick tube - was not much help either. A disastrous addition to the range perhaps, but the closest the company would come to marketing an acoustic guitar.

Disastrous, that is, unless you play slide guitar and want a really authentic Chicago-style tone. I put on some medium-gauge Martin Phosphor-bronze strings, tune it down to open G and I'm one gone cat! Though not a particularly powerful sound, it has a tone somewhere between a Dobro and a pre-CBS Strat (middle pickup). It took some setting up to find the sound - the nut channel needed routing, the neck had to be shimmed up and the pickup mountings, which rattled very badly, had to be muffled with pieces of foam rubber to stop them vibrating. I'm still having a problem with the tail anchor, which could have been improved had it been milled flat in order to increase the break angle of the strings across the bridge.

These shortcomings aside, all of the new Danelectros represent just about the best value-for-money electrics available. They no longer use hardboard for the bodies, instead replacing it with thin plywood. The necks are nicely shaped and very comfortable, and the frets not bad. They're very smartly finished, if lacking the homespun charm of the originals, and if your conscience permits you to turn a blind eye to the sweatshop conditions under which they're doubtless manufactured you'll find 'em a ton of fun for a give-away price.