Review: Danelectro The ’64

What got into the drinking water over at Danelectro? For years, since the Evets Corporation revived the brand, Danelectro has produced delightfully oddball guitars with unique-sounding lipstick pickups.
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What got into the drinking water over at Danelectro? For years, since the Evets Corporation revived the brand, Danelectro has produced delightfully oddball guitars with unique-sounding lipstick pickups. Every Dano was eye-catching and affordable (currently available models are in the $400 range), making them things of beauty for iconoclasts and indie rockers, those wanting an inexpensive standby guitar for the stage, and/or collectors always on the prowl for unconventional or vintage-styled instruments.

But The ’64, while it obviously shares the DNA of its forebears, is a massive leap forward in production design, sophistication, and quality, and its $799 street price pretty much telegraphs the news that this brilliant new Danelectro is not just a cheap and cheerful thrill.

Evoking the wonkified silhouette, control knobs, and pickguard of a ’60s Mosrite Ventures model, The ’64 boasts stellar craftsmanship. I couldn’t find a single glitch in the sparkle-red finish, the fret ends are nicely rounded, and all the hardware is substantial and locked down—no pickups rattling in their mounts, loose knobs, or other construction anomalies.

I always enjoy playing Danos. They’re light guitars that feel great whether you play standing or sitting down, and those lipsticks have a wonderful pop and snap that I can’t get from models loaded with single-coils or humbuckers (or both). And, yeah, I love the fact that I can bash them around and not feel like I’m scratching up the equivalent of an antique credenza. But with all the Danelectros I’ve dug playing, I’ve never had the experience of holding a super-fine instrument in my hands until The ’64 made the scene. This guitar feels wonderful and it plays like a dream—not unlike the giddy thrill I get when I cradle my Collings 290, Gretsch Brian Setzer, or comfortably worn Les Pauls, Strats, and other upscale delights. Yeah—I was as shocked as you probably are right now.

In addition to The ’64’s fluid playability—which is further enhanced with well-placed controls and switches for rapid “in the heat of performance” tweaks—the tones this retro plank uncorks are really sweet. Wherever you park the 3-way pickup selector, the sounds are articulate and lively. Plug into an oversaturated spittle-fest fuzz pedal—like a Hallmark Nu-Fuzz—and the notes still manage to ring out with clarity. The bridge’s dual-lipstick humbucker reminds me of the DeArmond 2000 pickup in my Guild X-160 hollowbody. You don’t get the screaming output of some conventional humbuckers, but there’s a ton of snarl here, and the dynamic quality is tops. Performance gestures are translated with supreme sensitivity, so you can achieve some great tones without touching the pickup selector simply by attacking your strings with complete brutality or gentle caresses. The coil-tap feature didn’t give me the Knopfler-esque, tingles-down-your-spine timbre of some other guitars, but it thins out the sound in a musical way that produces a steely shimmer without a hint of shrillness. The neck single-coil has a taut, yet robust low end that’s perfect for punkish chord muting, Ennio Morricone-style melodies, and jazz-pop comping. The middle pickup position retains a good share of the chunk and adds a vibrant snap. I found that I could play everything from the Monkees to Free and the Cars, and onward to the Sex Pistols and Green Day without feeling like I had grabbed the wrong guitar. The ’64 covers a lot of tonal ground. It’s a mean machine with a heart of gold, and everything about it screams “Editors’ Pick Award.” Done.

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THE ’64

PRICE $799 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Hard rock maple, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo (plus zero fret)
TUNERS Closed gear
BODY Cypress
BRIDGE Adjustable roller type with Bigsby vibrato
PICKUPS Lipstick dual-humbucker (bridge), single-coil (neck)
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone with push/pull knob to split bridge pickup, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.72 lbs
KUDOS Great tones. Plays like a dream. Terrific workmanship.