1958 Silvertone-branded Danelectro U1 Electric Guitar

Update February 2016: I've updated the blog post entirely.

I'm a big fan of Danelectros and I've had my share of old ones. I bought this '58 Silvertone-branded U1 to replace a '56 U2 I'd sold years back. My original work on it was to level/dress the frets, clean it up, and set it up. Over time I've added to that by way of a second pickup at the bridge, a new wiring harness to suit it, replacement tuners at the headstock, and a modification of the original bridge to make use of compensated aluminum Tele saddles for better intonation and easier setup on-the-fly. I also removed the strap button hidden at the cutaway and installed a vintage one on the shoulder (Tele-style) as it's a lot more comfortable, there.

All of these modifications have yielded a very gig-able guitar that I've used every week at jams and shows since I picked it up. It plays perfectly, has a straight neck, and is in good-to-go condition with all of the "bad" funkiness (original bridge saddle, loosey-goosey tuners) dialed-out. I made sure to rewire the harness with the vintage-style 1-megaohm pots to keep the high-end crisp and clear and the new pickup (a GFS Tele neck pickup with bass-size polepieces) gives the guitar a distinctly Fender-ish twang when desired for lead work. I was using this guitar mostly for 50s/60s California-country sounds and it sure hits the nail on the head.

While there are plenty of short scale Silvertone models (23") around the net, long-scale ones like this U1 (25 1/2") are harder to locate and usually have the 60s "dolphin" headstock shape.

Most Danelectros (like this one) are semi-hollow in construction with a poplar neck block and bridge block, poplar or pine "rims" for sides, and a masonite back and top. This yields a light, comfortable, rich-sounding instrument despite the poor-man's materials. The body shape is also very "traditional" and sits/balances on the knee almost like a 14-fret small acoustic.

The "Coke bottle" headstock shape is just classic... as is the metal nut.

The finish is "sparkle copper" and can flit between a burnt-gold look and a copper-kettle look depending on the light hitting it. In blazing sun it's often a nice, auto-finish-style orange and pops right out.

Like most U1/U2 models, the neck is poplar, has a 1 5/8" nut width, flattish-profile rosewood (Brazilian, here) board, and a fast and thin depth. It feels modern... but still vintage in presence. There are two non-adjustable steel rods epoxied into these necks so they stay pretty darn stable, too. I have this strung with balanced-tension 10s and the it's good, straight, and stable.

Lower-end Dano models and ones from later in production don't have quite as nice necks, though for the time (and budget), they're often much more inherently playable than your average Harmony or Kay neck.

The pickguard is actually clear with some of that vinyl(?) edge-trim stuff under it to match the sides. 

Also -- this is the original lipstick pickup. Depending on how you set your amp you get a clean, surf-y sound through to a clear-sounding jazz-comp sound from it. It's very clean and clear which lets you color it yourself. I think of these as the most "acoustic" sounding magnetic pickups you can play.

The new exposed Tele neck-style pickup is a Guitar Fetish model with oversized polepieces which allowed me to put it at the bridge. The ring around it is chromed metal and so you get a bit of that Tele-style sculpted magnetic-field (read: twang) from this setup. It's a great, balanced, foil to the sweet/clear neck pickup sound and the "mid" position is straight 50s/60s clean chime for chords.

When I modified the bridge I used the original baseplate but added three lugs for mounting Tele-style compensated aluminum saddles. At one point I had a Gibson-style stop bridge/tail on here but I didn't like it -- which accounts for the filled holes that two of the mounting screws go through.

Because of the Tele saddles, setup is easy to adjust on-the-fly.

Cool knobs, huh? They're original. The harness underneath (save jack and leads from the original pickup) is replaced, however, to accommodate the new pickup. I've used 1-megaohm pots just like the originals, though, and the original wiring harness is stowed with the guitar's gigbag.

While they're not perfectly correct, the vintage-style repro Kluson tuners work a lot better than the originals and look period-right, at least.

I love how the finish has worn on the poplar neck.


John Percy said...

I love my Dano 63. I have it strung Nashville and in the middle pup position through an acoustic amp it sounds just like an autoharp.

Jake Wildwood said...

John: a good idea!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jake,

Welcome to the club.

Greetings, Frank

Captain Simian said...

I had one with the tip of the dolphin headstock broken off making it a 5 string. I had it tuned to open G to fulfill my Keith Richards fantasies.

Jake Wildwood said...

Hah, I listed this for sale but played it again, broke my heart, and took it back down. I think this is a confirmed keeper. :D

Michael Aiello said...

I keep thinking of finding an old Silvertone or Harmony thinline, semi hollow and shaving the neck tastefully on both sides tapered in towards the fingerboard to make an electric tenor. Ideally finding and extra neck for this,.... I know it's a bastardized idea, but there aren't very many option for electric tenors that are interesting and affordable. I'm not sure if anyone writes back here, but if so.. What do you think of a Dan Electro for this custom project? Like you said, some have the short scale and half of the neck is already exposed for deft sculpting.

Jake Wildwood said...

MA: What I've done in the past to make hollowbody electric tenors is to take a tenor banjo (preferable a very cheap one), add plywood to the top and back of the rim, remove hardware, and mount an adjustable bridge and pickup on the plywood top just as you would with any regular elec. It's an electric tenor banjo but plays/sounds the same -- and ROCKS.

My favorite version of this: