Retro-Rama: 1968 Silvertone 1443
By DAVE POMEROY
Fri, 9 Mar 2012
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FOR THOSE WHO STARTED PLAYING music in the ’50s and ’60s, Silvertone was an iconic brand name that meant quality instruments at an affordable price. They were sold through the Sears catalog to thousands of eager beginners, and many professional blues and roots musicians who could not afford to buy major brand-name instruments used them as well. Over the years, many different companies built guitars for Sears, including Kay, Harmony, and Valco, but the best-known solidbody Silvertone basses and guitars, including this one, were made by New Jersey-based Danelectro.

Founded by Nate Daniel in 1947 as an amplifier company, Danelectro sold its first products through Montgomery Ward. In 1954, Daniel landed a contract with Sears to build Silvertone basses and guitars. He also marketed the same models as Danelectros, but by the mid ’60s, the vast majority of his instruments were made for Sears. The company was sold to MCA in 1966, and went out of business in 1969.

The passage of time has done nothing to diminish Silvertone’s reputation for affordable, playable, and eminently funky guitars and basses. The vast majority of Danelectro basses were short-scale models made with a poplar frame, stapled-on masonite tops, and vinyl sides. One particularly innovative instrument was the 1373 model 6-string bass, which was tuned EADGBE, an octave below a guitar. It was often used as a baritone guitar or a “tic-tac” bass, played palm-muted pickstyle, and can be heard on countless late-’50s and early-’60s country records.

The 1443 bass guitar was introduced in 1966, and like its short-scale little brother, the 1442, was a true solidbody. It was one of the last models Danelectro made, and was the only long-scale bass the company ever produced. It features the classic “lipstick tube” pickups the Dano reputation was built on, and features a more substantial construction than the company’s previous semi-hollow basses. I found this one at Rogue Guitars in New York City, and just had to take it home to Nashville. It’s a total gas to play, and roars like a lion. This bass has seen some miles, but still plays great and sounds amazing. From its amoeba-like contours to its chrome pickup surrounds, the 1443 is about as upscale as a Silvertone can get. The tortoiseshell pickguard is the perfect match for the classic red-to-black sunburst finish, which is dinged up but still proud. The original metal volume and tone controls have been replaced with ’70s-era plastic knobs, and the bridge cover has long since been removed, but these cosmetic changes are far outweighed by the totally cool overall vibe of this bass.

The neck is thin enough to make palm muting easy; it’s a cinch to conjure up classic tic-tac sounds using the rear pickup. The action is low and the neck is very straight. The intonation is remarkably spot-on, especially considering the primitive bridge and wooden saddle. The lipstick-pickup tone has it all, from woofy lows to midrange growl.

Nate Daniel made a huge contribution to the bass world with his instruments, and in collaboration with Sears, he was able to create a demand for them that kick-started the career of countless musicians by providing them with an excellent-quality bass or guitar at a very affordable price. Nothing says “retro” quite like a Silvertone! Until next time, peace, love and grooves to you.

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