HERE’S A LITTLE MORE DANELECTRO FOR THOSE WHO JUST CAN’T GET ENOUGH
A BIT ON THE NEW DANELECTRO COMPANY
As a follow up to the reprinting of “The Danelectro Story” by Jim Washburn & Steve Soest which first appeared in Guitar World Magazine some years back, Steve Soest was kind enough to fill us in on his involvement with the new Danelectro Company that came about in the latter part of the 90’s – the time when all of those way cool re-issue Danelectro guitars got our hearts pounding faster and harder. Here what Steve had to say about all that coolness that filled the air…
JAG: The idea of a new Danelectro company seems like it must have been a pretty exciting adventure from day one. How did your involvement with the new company come about?
SOEST: After they attended the first NAMM show with a few new pedals, everyone asked them,”Where are the guitars?” After asking around, they contacted me to see if I would be interested in the guitar project. They hadn’t originally considered making guitars after acquiring the Danelectro name but said the interest from dealers at the trade show was encouraging.
JAG: Just the idea of somebody wanting to reissue these cool instruments of the past is enough to get any guitarist’s blood going. Did they pretty much have a plan on how they wanted to execute things?
SOEST: No, not at all. By the time they contacted me, they were just planning a re-issue of the classic U-2 model.
JAG: Did your expertise and know how play a big part in how any particular plan for an undertaking this huge was to come about?
SOEST: I suppose so. They put me in charge of historical research and reverse engineering, and supplied me with several great examples to spec-out and come up with the best features for modern production.
JAG: I heard there was plenty of “reverse engineering” on your part involving pickups and the reissue guitars. What kind of a plan of attack did you have in place on going to accomplish this awesome project? Could you explain a bit of how you went about it?
SOEST: I basically broke the instruments down to component level, took as many measurements and assessments as possible, then made crude engineering blueprint/drawings which the factory liaison in Korea turned into actual production plans.
The most difficult item was the pickup. Unwinding one by hand and counting the turns without breaking the wire was a real challenge. After completing that procedure, we sent the magnet to a metallurgist who analyzed the ratio of the magnet components. To our surprise, it definitely was not a magnet used by any other guitar manufacturer!
Leave it to Nathan Daniel to come up with a surplus item from a totally unrelated field (no pun intended) and incorporate that into his engineering genius! All the other pickup components were equally important, even down to the total finished weight of the unit, which affects the “Q”, or peak resonant frequency of the pickup. We sent our finished specs to several manufacturers to make samples for us, and the Shinko Company was picked to manufacture the units for the first several years of production in Korea.
JAG: How many different older models have been reissued at this point in time? Are there plans to reissue any others?
SOEST: Most of the “classic” Danelectro models have been re-issued ( and some of those even “re-visited”) since the beginning back in 1997. A few years ago some of the 1960’s “Coral” models were re-introduced successfully. Future plans are unfolding, though I’m not at liberty to discuss them at this point.
JAG: You played a huge part in designing new models also. I know that the Hodad design is yours. Are there any other new models that you have been involved on in designing?
SOEST: We deviated from original models a few years into the project. The electric 12 string was the first model that was modernized. You might remember the Vinnie Bell “Bellzouki” that the original Danelectro Company produced? We decided that we did need an electric 12 string, but decided to use the more popular double cutaway design with some upgrades to the neck shape and width as well as an actual “intonatable” bridge. That model has continued to be very popular.
You mentioned the Hodad. They wanted something with a ’60s vibe that Danelectro never did, and just turned me loose on that project. That was the first one I got to do from top to bottom. The pickups were supposed to be humbucking, but our pickup supplier never got the memo to reverse the magnet polarity on one of the coils. Same with the nut… it was supposed to be graphite(as opposed to aluminum) to complement the use of the tremolo system. Again, never made it into production before the model was discontinued! The Hodad was re-visited again a few years back, so you can find one pretty easily now.
Another project dear to my heart was the “select-omatic” wiring scheme. We started producing U-3 and DC-3 (3 pickup models) and needed a modern approach to the pickup selection. The original company’s wiring allowed for the top knob on the “stacked-knob” controls to turn on and off the individual pickups. They actually poked a hole in the can of the potentiometer which left a metal appendage on the inside which in turn, didn’t allow the top knob disc to turn completely as it was designed to do. Another brilliant mod from Nathan to accomplish what he needed to do.
Since Danelectro pickups are wired in series (rather than parallel, like most other manufacturers harnesses), I had to come up with a wiring scheme which would allow all the combinations, while maintaining the series wiring. After weeks of trail and error, I finally built a switch that would do the trick. We sent the model over to our Korean factory, and within a few days, they sent back an actual switch(that hadn’t previously existed) made to our specs.
Right away, my bosses thought it would be great to have a “blower” switch, that would switch on ALL 3 pickups, regardless of what position the rotary pickup selector was in. After another week of pounding my head against the wall (I’m not an electronic engineer!) I came up with the final wiring as it stands today. You can still purchase that switch from “Allparts“, and it’s a great mod for a Fender Stratocaster!
The double-neck was another of my designs, based on the original Danelectro with several modern appointments and wiring upgrades.
JAG: So many things, not just guitars, are being made over in Asia now. I’ll bet that was pretty interesting with all the engineering going on over here and all of the manufacturing going on over there. What can you tell us about “The Korean Connection? Was it tough dealing with things a world away whenever any issues would arise?
SOEST: No, not at all. The head guys in Korea spoke English (or used interpreters) and we could get back finished examples of prototypes in a matter of days! Also, we hired Albert Garcia to travel to Korea and train the individual employees at the factory to do their specific jobs. Albert had previously done a similar job for the Fender Company, and was quite familiar with the factory dealings and local culture. When the workers would master a particular procedure, Albert would slip them some U.S. currency as a reward, and that really helped moved things along!
JAG: The new Danelectro Company has come out with all kinds of cool effects pedals and smaller amplifiers. Are there any plans on bringing back any of those way cool old amplifier models like the Danelectro Silvertone 1482 or the 1484 Twin Twelve model that just about every guitarist had back in the day? I know I miss my Danelectro Silvertone Twin Twelve and would really like to get another one someday. The thought of new ones possibly getting manufactured takes me back to dreaming about the fragrance that wafted off those new amps and guitars back in the 60’s.
SOEST: The problem with that is the cost of manufacturing and importing tube amps from Asia. Good quality speakers and transformers are quite costly, and shipping weights are a problem. As you’ve probably noticed, most of the imported amps are little solid state models, much cheaper to make and ship. Recently the Fender Company has come out with a good line of tube amps made elsewhere. They’re really good, so maybe that will open the door for that type of amp in the future.
JAG: Are there any plans to reissue the amp in case models that were carried through Sears and were so popular?
SOEST: That Silvertone guitar style was re-issued a few years back, but again, those amp cases are quite heavy and costly to produce. At this time there are no plans for the complete set.
JAG: The Guitarlin and Long Horn Bass were reissued for a short period of time. Is there any chance that those of us who missed out last time will have a shot at another reissue of these way cool instruments?
SOEST: The Guitarlin was not a big seller, so no plans for that. The Longhorn was re-issued originally back in 1999, then again (closer to original specs) from the Chinese factory a couple of years ago.
JAG: Are there any plans to reissue the Danelectro Sitar or the Coral Electric Sitar?
SOEST: Again, probably wouldn’t be a BIG seller, but costly to reproduce. Gotoh makes a sitar bridge (available from Allparts), so you can buy a Danelectro and do a conversion for around $100 !
JAG: Is there any specific direction the new Danelectro Company might be taking that you are at liberty to talk about?
SOEST: We’ll have to wait and see what the future brings!
JAG: Thanks Steve.