The freshly tweaked '56 series Danelectro guitars mark the third reissue of Nathan Daniel's original 1956 U2 model.
While the first reissue, launched back in 1998, closely followed the specs and aesthetics of the original guitar ('Coke bottle' headstock, rosewood bridge saddle, vinyl body tape and the like), the 2006 56 Pro was what might be described as 'pimped'.
The Coke bottle headstock had a notch cut into it (a diet version, if you will), the bridge came loaded with individual saddles to allow better intonation and the classic white vinyl body tape had gone. The 56 Pro was a great guitar, but losing the quirky features did dent its vintage vibe a bit.
Fast-forward to the new '56 Series and the unintonatable rosewood bridge and body tape - in old spec 'Ostrich Pattern' no less - are back where they belong. There's also some curious stuff going on at the headstock end of some of these new models.
The launch of these new models coincides with a streamlining of the Danelectro guitar and bass range. Now, only the new single-cutaway '56 models, the existing double- cutaway '59 guitars and the 'Dead On 58' Longhorn bass will be available.
'The Wild Thing', an eye-popping reissue of a one-off prototype swept wing guitar uncovered a few years ago is also due to hit these shores later this year. But that's your lot, Dano-wise.
The first thing you'll notice about this '56 model is the non-vintage humbucker at the bridge.
This isn't the first time that Danelectro has flirted with a double-Lipstick tube humbucker; the short-lived Hodad and Mod (six- and seven-string) guitars that hung around between 1998-2001 had humbuckers onboard.
That those guitars didn't take off quite as Danelectro would have hoped is possibly down to the fact that they weren't based on original '50s or '60s models (although they've since gained something of a cult status). The new '56 addresses that issue by mounting the humbucker in the bridge position of a classic U2-style model.
In true classic Dano style, the '56 has a pair of concentric volume and tone controls. The larger disc on the bottom is the volume control; the little knob on the top is the tone.
Many players initially get the two parts of the control mixed up, but you'll get used to it after a few goes - we did. The control set-up is just one of those quirks that makes a Dano what it is. Ditto the chunky three-way selector switch that looks like it came from the dashboard of an old Russian tank.
Like all Danos, the '56's body is formed from a Masonite (aka hardboard) top and back mounted on a plywood frame. It's semi-hollow, but still comes in at around six-and-a-half pounds. Hardly a spine bender, then, but it's still substantial enough that you know you have something hanging around your shoulders.
Playability of this new Dano '56 model is first class. The 'U'-profile neck has a bit of beef about it, but shouldn't present anyone with any problems. The 14-inch fingerboard radius and perfectly profiled and seated medium frets make it probably the best playing Danelectro yet.
Aside from the humbucker, the other big departure from the original U2 model is the 'Dolphin Nose' headstock. Now, '50s Danelectro-branded guitars didn't come with this headstock; they rocked the aforementioned Coke bottle job.
The Dolphin Nose was featured on Silvertone branded guitars, also made by Danelectro in the '50s. Obviously, Danelectro hasn't muddled its spec lists and this unusual-looking headstock has been added on purpose.
If you want the humbucker-equipped '56 then this is the headstock you're going to get. We like it, but if it doesn't do it for you then the single-coil-equipped '56 models have the Coke bottle headstock.
It should come as no surprise that the humbucker-equipped '56 is louder in the bridge position than its single-coil-packing counterpart.
The great tonal secret with Dano guitars is the middle position on the toggle switch. The pickups are wired in series (not parallel like the majority of dual-pickup guitars) and selecting both units unleashes a stonking slab of musical beef. We guarantee that you'll spend a lot of time in this position, it's seriously addictive.
The difference between the levels of the bridge and middle positions is much less apparent, but it's there.
The bridge Lipstick single-coil on a Dano sounds a bit like a fat Strat unit. You get bags of jangle and it's bright without ever tipping over into shrill. The humbucker manages to retain that sparkle while giving your amp more of a push.
The neck single-coil is warm yet still bright, thanks to the fact that it sits closer to the bridge than you would expect to find on other types of guitars.
Aside from the various strains of heavy metal, this Dano can fit into just about any genre of music. Pop, indie, rock 'n' roll, rockabilly, garage rock, punk… anyone who needs a guitar that cuts through a mix and looks good doing it should try a Dano.
Running through our Retroman Lola fuzz box we bagged classic Link Wray tones and those of '60s garage bands such as The Seeds and Count Five. Danos also make great slide guitars.
The interesting thing about Danelectro guitars is that they can hold their head high in any guitar collection. It doesn't matter if you have a wall full of Fender or Gibson Custom Shop editions, or Paul Reed Smith's finest work, you'll still get a kick out of a Dano.
And obviously the fact that over the years they've been used by Jimmy Page, Clapton, Billy Gibbons et al doesn't hurt either.
The bottom line is that this new Dano is not a budget version of something. It sounds and plays great because it holds true to Nathan Daniel's original vision.
It's affordable because it's made from inexpensive materials and built, very well, in China. It also makes a sound like no other guitar.
The addition of period details such as the resurrected headstock designs, and more modern hardware updates such as humbucking pickups, adds to the desirability of this model.
The superb playability and the tone from those beefed-up Alnico pickups is the icing on the cake. Figure in the price and we reckon it's worth adding some Lipstick to your tonal makeup.