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Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Garage-Band Dream Machine (Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Guitar with Amp-in-Case)

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.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Inevitably there’s always an earlier “earliest,” but the earliest amp-in-case I know of was built by Daniel when he was working for Epiphone in around 1936. Nathan I. Daniel was a young electronics wizard who was discovered in the early 1930s by Epiphone’s head engineer Herb Sunshine building amplifiers in the basement of a New York department store (back when department stores really had departments and they did things). In 1935 the Epiphone Banjo Company changed its name to Epiphone and introduced a line of electric guitars and amplifiers called Electraphones, which was almost immediately changed to Electar. These included electric Spanish archtop guitars, Hawaiian lap steels, and little amplifiers designed and built by Nat Daniel. In 1936 Epiphone offered its Electar Model C Hawaiian guitar with an amp built into the case, designed by our friend Nat. For some reason, it didn’t go over very well, and the amp was quickly separated out into the Model C amplifier.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

In 1938 National-Dobro revisited the idea, introducing the Supro 60 Electric Combination and the Portable Supro 70 Electric Combination. Both of these featured a little pearloid-covered Supro Electric Hawaiian Guitar tucked into an amp in case unit. I don’t think any of these earl amp-in-case designs did particularly well, but then there was something called the Great Depression going on, which had to have an effect on sales.

Obviously, Daniel thought the idea was good enough. Daniel worked for Epiphone until 1942. After the War Daniel opened his own plant, Danelectro, in Red Bank, NJ, mainly making guitars and amps for Sears and Montgomery Ward, badged Silvertone and Airline, respectively. They began selling Danelectro-branded guitars and amps in around 1954. People throw the term around all too often—and ignorantly—these days, but those ‘50s and ‘60s Danos were truly iconic.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

And maybe the most iconic of Danelectros were the Silvertone Amp-in-Cases made for Sears beginning in 1962. The first were the smaller black-sparkle-finished Masonite one-pickup No. 1448s with an 18-fret fingerboard and a small 3-watt, 6” speaker tube amp built into the case. These were followed in 1963 by the full-size red-sparkle-finished Masonite two-pickup guitars with a 5-watt, 8” speaker tube amp, the No. 1449.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Let me get this off my chest. Something’s “iconic” when it represents something bigger than itself. “Iconic” does not mean, as modern advertising copywriters throw it around everywhere these days, “his best album,” or, more often, “very famous” or “extremely popular.” Icons are like symbols or metaphors with greater meaning attached, signaling a bigger message or concept. These amp-in-case guitars are icons because they stand for a whole generation and the changes in American culture that were transpiring in the early ‘60s. They were targeted at maturing Baby Boomers who were doing Beach Blanket Bingo with Annette from the Mickey Mouse Club (or, more likely, imagining that they were), switching from Folk to surf rock, starting bands in their suddenly suburban garages. A population on the go, on brand new Interstate superhighways. See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet. Well, you get the point. I’ll be quiet.

As with everyone else in the ‘60s, Danelectro got bought out in 1966, here by entertainment giant MCA. Whether due to the ownership change or coincidence, the Dano line was shuffled. The two-pickup 1449 was renumbered to 1457 and a bunch of new models debuted. While the amp-in-case concept seemed to continue to 1969, it was no long the iconic versions we know and love.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

I’ve never played a 1448, but I’ve played this 1457 and the amp is surprisingly good. The 8” speaker and tube output have really sweet tone and really decent volume, more than you’d expect. I can’t say the guitar knocks my socks off, but as primitive as it is, it plays fine and it’s pretty good for a few choruses of “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Apache.” These are pure guitar fun! And, yes, they are iconic…

A Missing Link? (1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar)

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.

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

Turns out Danelectro, like every other musical instrument company, got caught up in the corporate feeding frenzy of the 1960s. Danelectro had its origins in electronics work done for a department store by Nathaniel “Nate” Daniel (born 1912) in the Bronx in the 1930s. He came up with his own amplifier design and from 1934-42 made Epiphone’s Electar amplifers. After World War II Daniel moved to Red Bank, New Jersey, and founded Danelectro, building amps for Montgomery Ward (Airline), Sears (Silvertone), and Targ and Diner (S.S. Maxwell). In the early 1950s, when solidbody electrics demonstrated that they were more than a passing fad, Sears wanted more guitars than its subsidiary Harmony could produce and arranged for Danelectro to start making electric guitars. Danelectro and its Silvertone counterparts debuted in 1954.

The first Danos were solid, made of poplar. In 1956 the legendary “lipstick tube” pickups appeared and yes Martha they were purchased from a lipstick manufacturer! In 1958 the classic masonite hollowbodies took a bow, the same year Danelectro relocated to Neptune, New Jersey.

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

Fast forward to 1966. By then guitar companies could sell any guitars they could make. A number of large corporations, many with experience on the periphery of the entertainment business, started seeing dollar signs and began acquiring guitar companies. CBS purchased Fender in 1965. Norlin, whose interests including breweries (I guess that’s entertainment!), bought Gibson. Baldwin Pianos and Organs bought first Burns of London and then Gretsch. Even Westheimer Sales, importer of Teiscos, was purchased by King Korn trade stamps. Seaburg, the juke box folks, bought Valco/Kay. Avnet bought Guild. Danelectro was purchased by MCA, the company that owned Decca Records and Universal Pictures, among other properties.

Unfortunately for all the greedy corporations, the bloom started to fade from the guitar business almost immediately. According to the Music Trades magazine, guitar sales began to decline in 1967 followed by an even bigger drop in 1968. That year Valco/Kay went belly up. MCA wanted out, but there were no takers to buy the brand. In 1969, MCA simply locked the doors of the factory and that was it.

Which links up with this guitar. Dan Armstrong was a well-known repairman nee guitar designer who had a shop in New York. He and his then girlfriend Carly Simon came up with this idea for a plexiglass “see-through” guitar which would be sold through another area amplifier company, Ampeg in 1969. Armstrong was hired to personally inspect every guitar before it left the plant, but, reportedly, Armstrong was, shall we say, not very interested in showing up for a regular day job shift. Ampeg had trouble meeting demand for the plexiglass guitars and basses. There may have been other production problems.

In any case, a part of the Ampeg design was a series of interchangeable pickups that slid into a slot on the front. These were cast in epoxy to help cut back on feedback.

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

1969 Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro Electric Guitar

The rest of the story is a little murky. Some sources say that Armstrong purchased a bunch of leftover parts from the closed Danelectro factory and assembled between 650-700 guitars outfitted with his epoxy-potted pickups. Some stories link this to Ampeg’s supply problems, but why they don’t then say Ampeg is a mystery. Other stories have these guitars being sold out of Armstrong’s New York shop, which probably makes more sense, given the identification on the pickguard. One interesting clue is that Ampeg used Danelectro bridges on its see-through guitars. This has always struck me as odd, that such an advance guitar concept wouldn’t have a sophisticated bridge.

Somehow, this all ties up with the fact that Unimusic, Ampeg’s parent company, ran into financial troubles about this time. They couldn’t pay Armstrong. Had Ampeg purchased those Danelectro parts to use the bridges and save money? Did Armstrong get the parts to make these guitars as part of the pay Ampeg couldn’t give him? We may never know the whole story.

All this came tumbling down in 1971 when the Ampeg see-throughs bit the dust. Along with the company. Ampeg was sold to the consumer electronics giant Magnavox that year. Magnavox operated the company until 1980 when the brand went to Ernie Briefel’s Music Technology, Inc. (MTI), distributor of Westone and Vantage guitars from Matsumoku Moto in Japan, as well as Giannini from Brazil. In 1985 the brand was sold once again to St. Louis Music, where it still resides.

Following the see-through debacle and the brief fling with these Danelectros, Dan Armstrong moved to London where he produced some mahogany versions of the see-through designs.

So, that leaves us with these Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectros. As you can see, they do exist! I’m pretty sure these date from 1969, but that’s far from certain. The timing fits. They could date from slightly later, but probably not much.

Basically everything on these guitars is vintage Dano except for the pickups. They are smooth, rich and quiet. Unfortunately, a Dano really needs cheapo lipstick-tube single-coils to sound right. These high-tech units kind of leave the guitar with no soul. I have no idea what the three-way toggle is supposed to do. It may have already been installed!

Nevertheless, like those anthropological missing links, this Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro fills in some curious connections between some of our most famous brand names and innovative guitar personalities. Maybe some day we’ll know the whole truth about this oddball.

Nathan I. Daniel: Danelectro Founder

Nathan I. Daniel
September 23, 1912 – December 24, 1994
Danelectro Founder and SuperOutrigger Inventor
By Howard E. Daniel

Nathan I. Daniel: Founder of Danelectro

Nathan I. Daniel: Founder of Danelectro

A lot of people know about Danelectro – especially the now-retro-looking electric guitars, which have become collector’s items and have even given rise to that sincerest form of flattery, a company of the same name as the 1940s, 50s and 60s Danelectro, which manufactures reproductions of the original instruments, and another company that also issues reproductions, albeit without the name.

Fewer people, however, know much about Nathan I. Daniel, my dad – and the genius behind Danelectro. Nor is my father’s contribution to the history of electric musical instruments widely known. He was devoid of interest in fame or publicity, and after Danelectro closed down in 1969, he simply got on with his life. As a result, most of what has been written about Danelectro has focused on the appearance of the guitars, right down to the shape of their heads and the style of knobs, pick guards and tuning pegs.

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.

Early Years

Nathan “Nat” Daniel was born in New York City in 1912, a year to the day after his young parents arrived in the United States, immigrants who had come to this country to escape the anti-Semitism of czarist Russia, which then ruled their Lithuanian birthplace. The younger of my father’s two kid sisters, my Aunt Ray, tells how one of their parents’ first words in English was “learn,” and how, when they were children, their parents would take all three of them around to New York’s many wonderful museums, urging them to “learn.”

Because my father could not yet speak English when he entered school, he had to repeat the first grade. At some point during his second time around, as he later told me, “it was as if someone turned the lights on one day, and suddenly I understood everything.” A bright, mischievous child, hardly a devoted student, he nonetheless went on to skip several grades and graduated from high school ahead of his contemporaries. (My dad often ignored homework assignments but aced exams, much to the irritation of certain teachers – most notably a high school math teacher who wanted to flunk him but couldn’t because of his near-perfect score on the New York State Regents Exam.)

My dad developed an early interest in radio, still in its infancy during his teenage years. He built the first crystal radio set in his neighborhood. During the Great Depression, he dropped out of City College of New York and began assembling and selling amplifiers of his own design. It was during this period, in the mid-1930s, that he designed and began manufacturing a push-pull amplifier circuit that eliminated the input transformer that had made it impossible to achieve good high-frequency response. His amp tested “flat” (i.e., provided equal response across the full range of sound frequencies) to the limit of then-existing equipment. He did not try to patent his invention because he could not afford the expense.

My father’s first “factory” was his bedroom in his parents’ New York apartment. Later he moved his small manufacturing operation – Daniel Electrical Laboratories – to a loft in Lower Manhattan. His first big customer was the well-known guitar maker Epiphone, second only to Gibson at the time.

During World War II, Nat Daniel served as a civilian designer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Among the other problems he worked on at that time, he found a simple, economical way to equip military jeeps and motorcycles with shielding to prevent the electronic “noise” their engines generated from interfering with the reception of critical battlefield radio messages. Protected from the draft by the critical nature of his work, at one point he considered enlisting in the Marines. His boss – and my mother, Mollie – talked him out of it. As a kid, I once asked about his work during the war. His response: “I saved the government a million dollars.” Whatever the exact amount, clearly it was not a trivial sum.

Danelectro

At the end of the war, my father left the Signal Corps and reopened his amplifier manufacturing business in Red Bank, N.J., near Fort Monmouth. He called it the Danelectro Corporation (coined from “Daniel electric”) and over the next nearly two and a half decades produced what writers Jim Washburn and Steve Soest in the July 1983 issue of Guitar World called “an impressive number of electric instruments … distinguished in their design innovations [and] their quality at a budget price….”

After supplying Epiphone again for about a year, he won contracts to make amplifiers for two major national retail chains, Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward…

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Note: Excerpt, reproduced here with the author’s permission, from a tribute to Nathan I. Daniel by Howard E. Daniel. Copyright © Howard E. Daniel, Pen-For-Rent, 2007-2009. May not be reproduced in whole or in part without the author’s express written permission. The author may be contacted at info@pen4rent.com

Odd’s & Mod’s

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 Eastwood’s and Airline’s. 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.

While I spend most of the time in this column writing about very cool pieces that came as they are from budget factories in the 60’s, sometimes a piece begs for modification. Sometimes (adding a Bigsby on anything I can, for instance), the mod is minimal and reversible. Sometimes, a beat up guitar or amp shows up begging for more than a simple mod and they become a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster. Case in point: this Silvertone (Danelectro-made) 1448 (i.e., the one pickup “Amp in Case” guitar).

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (Before)

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (Before)

As you can see in the “before” pictures, this one came with no electronics, a smashed in Masonite top and years of major neglect. I grabbed it off Craig’s list for $50, figuring I could at least use the neck. But then, other than the smashed top and no electronics, it seemed like it could be an interesting project on its own—not just a parts donor. What was there to work with/keep? A short but good list:

  • One good neck—with Brazilian rosewood we can’t get anymore. Odd to see on such a low rent “cheap” guitar. But Danelectro necks were incredibly study and stayed very straight—which is good, since they didn’t have truss rods, after all. And, it may seem minor, but Dano’s aluminum nut contributes to the tone and is a very cool part.
  • One set of tuners. The Dano/Silvertone open back key tuners are not the best ever made but they actually hold tune of the guitar is set up well.
  • Original Dano bridge, with the “semi” (emphasis on semi) adjustable rosewood slab for intonation. Or something kinda close to intonation.
  • The back of the original guitar and the pieces of wood that all hardware would/could anchor in to. I’m no expert on Danelectros, but the wood used in the Amp-in-Case models (the hollow ones, at any rate, before the solid wood versions of 67 and 68, after the MCA takeover) is usually quoted as pine or poplar. In any case, there’s not much wood in there—enough to anchor a bridge and to hold down the Masonite top.

So what did I need? Electronics and a new top. I had the cracked and beaten old Masonite top, so I used it as a template to cut a new top.

My options were to restore it and find some old Danelectro pickup, if I wanted to keep it original. OR, I could add two lipsticks and make it a custom job, while retaining the materials of the originals.

Or, the option I went with, I could make it a total one-off custom job. A buddy of mine owns a custom car shop and he was headed to a junkyard and then a metal yard and asked if I wanted to come along. Figuring a day at a junkyard and a sheet metal shop were more fun than a day of working on a book, I jumped at the chance.

Along with a bunch of crap I probably didn’t need, I left the yard that day with a nice sheet of brushed aluminum. I used the old, broken top as a template and cut the meal the shape of the top of the guitar. Then I ground down the sides, so no metal would come sharp off the edges.

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (After)

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (After)

On the old Danelectro body, there was about a ¼ inch of wood—perfect for mounting the new metal top with some sheet metal screws, which gave it a cool (to me, at least) industrial look.

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (After)

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (After)

Now for electronics. The first version had some top-mounted old DeArmond Silverfoils off an old Harmony that was broken beyond repair. These sounded ok, but the look wasn’t quite right. So, next, I took off the metal top and cut out its center and mounted a modified after-market loaded Stratocaster pick guard. This took some trimming of the pick guard so it would fit the top properly but, once it did, it looked pretty snazzy. The meal also offered some of the best shielding I’ve EVER heard on a Strat-style guitar. The single coils sounded great with almost no single coil hum or buzz—not even when standing under neon sage lights. Go figure.

And the best thing? Something odd happened when I put the Strat electronics onto the Dano body and neck: the tone became a strange hybrid of both guitars. It sounded sort of like a Strat, but the short scale neck, along with the odd bridge and aluminum nut and (probably the biggest factor) the hollowed-out body made it sound different than any Strat I’d ever heard. It had the twangy jangle and snap of a Dano, but higher output on the pickups. A very cool combo—all for under $100 in parts and a little fun work.

If you’ve got a busted up old Danlelectro, it’s a modification/custom job I’d highly recommend. You’ll have the only one on your block, and it’ll sound pretty darn good, too. Happy hod-rodding!

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

One of the very cool (for gear heads) fallouts of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan was the great amount of small, oddball guitar makers trying to strike it rich in the 65-68 era. Plenty of small makers from all over the world got the idea that they would go into the guitar business. 1965 was, by far, the biggest year in guitar production up to that point. But then a strange thing happened. Even though garage bands were cropping up all over the place, guitar sales started to shrink (slowly at first). Then, by the late 60’s, you started to see cheap imports from the Asian market competing with the lower end US made guitars (Kays, Danos and Harmonys and so on), putting a serious hit on the US budget brands. And these new makers (budget and high end) who started in the wake of ’65? Most went belly-up within a few years, but left for collectors some very neat-o guitars for our collections.

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

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.

Other cool features include stereo pickups. That’s right – the guitar is wired in stereo, so that the neck pickup is one channel and the bridge pickup the other. With a stereo cord that has a “Y” splitter, that means you can send your bridge pickup to one amp and your neck pickup to another. There’s a traditional 3 position toggle to select the pickups, or set it for both and use the blender knob on the treble side horn. It’s a trippy sound to stand in between two amps with the split signal. Put the tremolo and reverb on one of them, and it’s a great sound. You can also run both pickups, of course, into one amp with the proper cord.

Each pickup has a rocker switch labeled “Jazz” and “Rock”. Predictably, the JAZZ setting cuts the output and trebles, offering a m ore rounded mellow tone. The ROCK setting opens the tone up a bit, boosting the treble and volume. It’s a very versatile guitar, with a high end feel.

The vibrato, with its very stylish W cutaway feels like a cross between a Bigsby and a Mosrite. It has the position under the hand and sound of a Bigsby, but with a hint of the feathery lighter touch of the Mosrite. The bridge has separate plastic posts that intonate very well and allow for the vibrato to return to pitch consistently. The balance is wonderful as well. It’s an odd shaped guitar, but it’s very comfortable to play standing or sitting.

And, obviously, it’s one of the best looking guitars to come out of that king of all great-looking-guitar decades, the 1960’s (sorry all you pointy 80’s fans). If the Airline Reso-glass futuristic model most associated with Jack White earns the nickname of the Jetson model, well what is the Gemini? It out Jetsons the Jetson model itself. Maybe it’s the Spacely model. Or the Cogswell’s Cogs model.

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

So why didn’t they catch on, if they’re so great? Well, a lot of great companies couldn’t withstand the relative slump of the late 60’s and the birth of quality imports. Think of Danelectro, Valco and Kay all going south within a year of each other. Also, maybe they didn’t have enough capital to make enough noise outside of their Kansas factory. Maybe they just weren’t lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

But if you’re looking for any areas where the guitar itself hurt its own chances in the hyper-competitive guitar market of the late 60’s, there are a couple. Wurlitzer could have done better in the finish and the pickups. The finish on all three Wild Ones models had a habit of peeling and cracking. This white Gemini (all three models came in Red, White and Blue) is in surprisingly good shape. It does, however, have the same pickups as the other models, and this isn’t a great thing. While the pickups (the same as one the famed LeBay 2X4 – they were made at the same factory) look to be between the size of a DeArmond Silverfoil and a P-90, sadly they don’t share tone with either of those great pickups. They are clean and solid, tone-wise, but their output is very low and they can’t overdrive the dirtiest of amps. They can get a pretty good snarl going with a nice preamp or a good overdrive pedal, but they aren’t going to sound too tough going straight into most amps. Power and tone-wise, the popular guitar they sound most like (output-wise) is the Fender Mustang.

These are incredibly rare. Most estimates put the entire Wild One line at under one thousand guitars. Of those, the Cougar was the most popular, followed by the Wildcat, leaving the Gemini as the rarest of the rare.

Cool shape. Awesome retro vibe. Stylish. Super rare and hard to come by. And they could use a pickup upgrade. Maybe the more standard MONO wiring. Sounds like a guitar that might be just right for a cool company that re-issues rad guitars from the 60’s (hint, hint, Mike). If enough of you make enough noise, maybe this one could come back from the past.

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

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.

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

These were cheap, crap box guitars made at a price point to that every kid who saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan could get one for whatever holiday or birthday was next. They were product, churned out at an alarming rate. They were also, lucky for us, pretty damn cool sounding little guitars.

So, a “rare Silvertone” is a bit of an oxymoron. The best Michael Bay film. A tall jockey. The thinnest sumo wrestler. The most competent politician in Washington. The least annoying morning DJ, and so on.

But by 1968, the post-Beatle guitar boom of 64-66 had waned. The wave had crested and you started to see some of the biggest names in little guitars (Kay, Valco, Danelectro) starting to suffer and, within a year, all die quiet deaths. (Chicago enormo-manufacture Harmony would slump on into the early 70’s before limping to a public auction death knell in 1975).

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

In their last years, all of these companies would make some changes, hoping desperately to cling to their former market share. In Dano”s case, the biggest change when ownership switched hands to MCA in 1966 was the end of the poplar and Masonite guitars that had so defined the Neptune maker”s sound for over ten years. The last year and a half, Danelectro produced actual WOOD guitars, the top of the line being the classic 3 pickup Vinnie Bell signature model with the wonderfully psychedelic pickguard and the zippy quick neck.

The bottom of the line? The wood one-pickup Silvertone model from the Amp-in-Case line. This was still called the 1448 in the 1968 SEARS catalog, but it is a slightly different sounding little beast from its earlier and more prevalent semi-hollow 1448’s. The AC/DC (sans power transformer) amp in the case is the same (not nearly as cool at the great 1457’s single-ended 6V6-driven amp with tremolo. BUT, this guitar is arguably a better little axe than its predecessors. It’s at least as good and different enough that you should get one if you can.

It’s a killer blues and garage guitar. The skate key tuners hold surprisingly well, so long as you drop some graphite (or the lube of your choice) on the sticky, but great sounding, aluminum nut. The rosewood bridge is just like on the older models… simple, but effective. And, of course, the key to the tone is still there – the brilliant lipstick tube low-output (with plenty of volume…ohms ratings and volume are not the same) Danelectro pickup is worth all of the hype it receives. There’s just nothing quite like them, and if you want that full voiced twang and snap…well, you need an original lipstick Dano. There is truly no substitute.

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

And in a wooded solidbody, rather than the more common (and great, make no mistake) hollow Masonite-topped models, the pickup really shines. Crank your amp and turn up the guitar volume for some great smooth overdrive. Roll back the volume knob and the guitar cleans up, while retaining its treble response (unlike many great vintage garage guitars like Harmonys, which get muddy and murky very fast with their original volume knobs turned down at all). This is a clear, clean and articulate tone monster that responds well to every amp in the house (at least in this house of too many amps, it does).

The short scale makes for easy playing, smooth bends and surprisingly good intonation up the neck when set up well. Plus, this model, like later Danos, has a very cool, very figured fretboard for a “budget” instrument. And, of course, it comes, like its older Masonite siblings, in a wonderfully cheesy black metaflake finish.

This is one pawn shop surprise you should pick up when and if you see it. Like I said, they’re rare – or they’re “Silvertone Rare” at any rate. They show up on eBay a LOT less often than the standard, more common 1448’s, so if you see one in good playable shape, do yourself a favor and dig this last-of-the-breed from Neptune.