Ever since electric guitars and amplifiers were invented in the 1930s, certain folks have been interested in cutting down the amount of gear you have to schlepp to a gig. You gotta have a guitar. It’s gotta have a case to carry it in. And the amp electronics have to be housed in some sort of a cabinet. I know! Let’s combine the case and the amp electronics: Amp-in-case guitars. The primary “certain folk” was the brains behind probably the first amp-in-case guitar and the iconic version seen here, Mr. Nate (or “Nat”) Daniel, namesake of the Danelectro company.
Sometimes you take a look at a guitar and the warning bells start ringing: bogus. Like those early “missing links” proposed by inventive amateur anthropologists who put gorilla skulls on anthropoid skeletons. That’s what happened to me the first time a dealer hauled this out and showed it to me. It was a Danelectro alright, but those pickups? Then I looked again. Who would stencil “Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro” on an aftermarket pickguard? Then there were the pickups. Epoxy potted. Trademark of who, or is it whom? Dan Armstrong. Think his Ampeg see-through guitars. No, on second thought, this had the air of a mystery wrapped in an enigma with a generous dash of authenticity. So it proved to be. And so it came my way and all I had to do was put the links back together again.
I hope that for the people who admire, collect and play original Danelectro guitars and amplifiers (or the Silvertone and Airline products my dad also created), this tribute will give a new appreciation for these old instruments, because the essence of the Danelectro story is Nat Daniel’s lifetime of innovation.
Last year at NAMM, Eastwood grand poobah Mike Robinson and I were talking about hot rods and custom jobs. He’d said one of the truly fun things he dug about motorcycle riding was tripping out your bike with custom touches that made it your own. This led into talk about custom guitars and some of his favorite custom shots people had sent in to him with their modified Eastwoods and Airlines. He sent me a couple of cool pictures at one point of wild things people had done to their guitars, and it got me thinking about a long-neglected project of mine with an old Silvertone/Danelectro. Most of the mods I do are on amps—and they tend to be unseen, unless you look under the hood—but here was a guitar job that would be obvious to anyone who saw it.
Check out, for instance, this rare bird. A 1966 Wurlitzer Gemini, made at the Hollman-Woodell guitar factory in Neodesha, Kansas. Part of Wurlitzer’s THE WILD ONES series (which included the more pedestrian-looking, but still pretty rad Cougar and Wildcat models), these were made to compete with the best of the domestic market. High end tuners (Klutsons), a wonderful chunky bound neck (like a Fender V shape, but a bit thicker), and a great look highlight the Gemini.
Rare is, of course, a relative term when you’re talking about anything made by Danelectro for Sears. This ain’t a hand carved arch-top by one of the D’Whoever’s in New York, or a prototype KOA wood, only ever seen by Ted McCarty and the 33rd-level Masons who know the secret Skull & Bones handshake and Vulcan death grips, after all.
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