"There's a lot of Danelectro in 'em" said Dan Armstrong in one of his interviews when he was asked about the design of the clear acrylic guitars. Truer words were never spoken - for not only was the body shape of the clear guitars based on a Danelectro model, much of the hardware found its way onto the clear instruments as well.

In addition to the deep double cut-away body style, the combination bridge/tailpiece which employs a rosewood bridge is immediately recognizable. Also, many Danelectro models feature pickup(s), volume & tone controls and switches that are not too different than what Dan would come to employ on his acrylic instruments.

But the truth is the Danelectro® instruments served as far more than merely inspiration for the clear guitars and basses, as Dan virtually built his business on these guitars practically from day one. When Dan opened up his shop on 48th Street he almost immediately began taking Danelectro instruments and stabilizing them to make them play better. According to the book Electric Rock© by Richard Robinson - Jesse Colin Young used a Danelectro bass in the Youngbloods® that Dan had modified.

In the same book Dan went on to say "I was in the repair business in '65. I had a repair shop and wanted something to sell and due to all the stiff competition on 48th Street I couldn't sell Fenders® and Gibsons®, there was no way to do it. I could improve the ones that people brought to me but there was no way to buy them new." The problem here was the fact that the large musical stores already held the franchise on these instruments.

Still Dan wanted something to sell, and later said "Danelectros were so doggone cheap. I could buy them new and they were basically pretty doggone good. Most of the good parts on those things were engineered in the design which I always appreciated, and with some finishing up they could have been really done well, even out of the factory. But they just didn't have time, it was an economy instrument. I've always been an improver anyway. I enjoy that kind of thing, to find something that's made almost well and try to fix it up. It was all basically right so I just took them apart and cleaned them up a little bit."

Well.... not quite. While Dan did indeed take them apart, much more was done than merely 'cleaning them up a bit' for when I interviewed Carl Thompson® he mentioned learning guitar repair at Dan's shop apprenticing under Eddie Diehl stating "I cut my teeth re-fretting Danelectros - that's where Eddie taught me fret work. We would often remove the frets and install new ones. We did all kinds of work to those guitars and then Dan would turn around and sell them. In fact, to this day - if I get behind in things I sometimes have Eddie help me out by doing fret work and such."

Eddie Diehl also remembers more serious work done to Danelectro instruments as he stated "they were made close by, in New Jersey I believe - so getting them was pretty easy, but some of them needed stabilizing so that they could stay in tune better. Much of this was in the neck set, and often we would run an additional screw from the body into the neck. We would run the screw underneath the metal plate so that it was hidden when everything was put back together but then the neck wouldn't be moving all around like it did before. Sometimes we also had to change out the tuners."

Eddie also spoke of a Danelectro repair that was a bit more serious, stating "I remember one time we had a Danelectro in the shop where we had to remove the frets, then plane down the fingerboard as it wasn't level - it had a raised area in it. It wasn't much but just enough that it made for poor string action. Once the fingerboard was levelled we installed the frets, cleaned & polished them all up and the guitar played like a dream afterwards."

Typical luthier work some might say - but hardly a case of "taking them apart and cleaning them up a little bit." Looking back and reading it once again - I feel Dan was just being brief in his interview - as he wanted to make his point without becoming boring by discussing details - and his point was - that he stabilized a lot of Danelectro instruments then turned around and sold them. While Dan also worked on, and sold many other types of guitars, it was these improved Danelectro instruments that were his bread & butter line. So much so, that in 1970 he got more involved with Danelectro.

The Danelectro name - stemming from 'Daniel-Electric' was started in 1947 by Nathan Daniel, a former amplifier builder who got into the guitar business and built his company up by producing fairly decent, yet inexpensive guitars for Sears & Roebuck® under the Silvertone® name. By 1966 Daniel sold Danelectro to the Musical Corporation of America® (MCA), but he remained with the company which soon began making changes to the marketing strategies that had worked so well all those years. In 1967 MCA introduced the Japanese imported Coral® line of instruments and began marketing them and the Danelectro line to small guitar shops in an attempt to be more in direct competition with Fender® and Gibson® and away from the large department store chains like Sears.

Unfortunately, MCA's strategy didn't pay off. For as stated on almost any Danelectro page on the Internet, by 1969 MCA had closed down the Danelectro plant. This was blamed on MCA's decision to sell instruments to individual guitar stores instead of jobbers (such as Sears). However, to be fair, the blame had to be shared, for part of its failure was also due to just bad timing. MCA had bought Danelectro at a time when guitar sales would soon soften.

The guitar boom of the mid 1960's gave way to a noticabe decline in sales by the late 60's and many of the hardest hit were the companies producing economy instruments. Not surprisingly, MCA was looking for a quick way out and eventually sold the Danelectro company to William C. Herring in late 1968 or early 1969. According to Dan the company was sold for the sum of $20,000. Unfortunately, given the financial climate of the late 60's the Danelectro company didn't fare any better in the hands of William C. Herring than it did under MCA - and so Herring was now looking for a quick way out as well.

As fate would have it, in 1970 Dan had a table all set up at a swap in New Jersey - complete with guitars and parts including the Danelectro line. Some of these parts were removed from the Danelectro guitars over the years when Dan was stabilizing them. In the April 1993 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine® Dan stated "He [Herring] had a truck full of Danelectros and parts, and I spoke with him, and he said, 'Yeah, I bought the factory'. Dan continued with "I gave him my number and a couple of weeks later he called me, and invited me down to take a look. I did, and he said 'I bought this place just for bits and pieces, but it looks like there used to be a business here.' "So we got together and made 200 or so instruments that were called Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectros".

In an undocumented article Dan stated things a little differently. "Danelectro was bought up by MCA. They tried to stand it (Danelectro) up again, but they couldn't do it; two guys bought it from MCA for $20,000. They were planning to split it up (waste it, smash it). I met these guys by accident at a swap-meet. I had guitars and parts piled up and was selling them. When I started talking with him, he said 'I've heard about you. I guess you understand all these things you have here.'From there on, we talked some more and he said that he needed money; I lent him money with the company against the company. He left with the money. And so that's how I came to own the company. That happened in 1970. He was in all kinds of trouble around then. Then someone moved all our inventory in our warehouse to a chicken pen in New Jersey. I had nothing but the Danelectro company itself. Naturally, I had little interest in trying to revive it."

continue

menu


Names and images are TMand Dan Armstrong / Ampeg. All rights reserved.
All other names and images are TMand of their respective owners. All rights reserved.