Danelectro is one of the rare bass brands that’s associated with a definitive instrument and sound, one that has proved its worth on countless hit records. Its baritone guitar, first released in the late 1950s, became an indispensable facet of the nascent rock and country genres, often doubling an upright or electric bass in a style dubbed “tic-tac” bass. This early success—coupled with Danelectro’s singular construction from synthetic materials, not to mention low prices—has made the brand’s signature quirky twang and jet-age look an iconic part of the pop aesthetic in the decades since. Dano’s latest bass, the D64, is in the spirit of the company’s iconic products: eccentric, but broadly useful.
If the D64 looks familiar, that’s because it is essentially a copy of a cult-favorite instrument of the ’60s, the Mosrite Ventures bass, so named because of a sponsorship agreement with “the band that launched a thousand bands.” The unusual design is vibey and bizarre, looking somewhat like a Fender Strat turned upside down and then injected with a small hit of (period appropriate) LSD. Unlike the Mosrite, the D64 is a full-scale instrument, although it’s otherwise pretty similar. The hardware quality is decent, and while the “top-hat” tuners don’t feel especially robust, they do the trick and look the part. The electronics design and pickup placement is appropriately countercultural. The passive system utilizes a 3-way switch to govern pickup selection and a push/pull tone knob to engage the bridge pickup’s coil split. The pickups consist of a humbucking dual “lipstick” in the bridge and a big P-90-esque single-coil in the neck. Dano’s “lipstick” pickups sound sharp and edgy, with a good midrange bite, and the coil-splittable version on offer in the D64 is well matched to the bass and its likely players—rockers who want to cut. (Trivia: Danelectro “lipstick” pickups originally used war-surplus lipstick containers, hence the name.) The neck pickup is the perfect foil to its aggro bridge partner. It sounds soft, woolly, and hollow—a nice first step in getting the kind of thwonk that characterized a lot of groovy ’60s tones. Peeking behind the big pickguard revealed a fairly messy installation, although there was nothing that impeded the bass’ function.
Our D64 had excellent playability and only exhibited a small bit of neck dive, due in part to the lightweight headstock hardware. Construction and fit-and-finish was average for the price; as I’ve said before, these days of CNC-machined instruments mean that egregiously terrible build quality is virtually extinct. Overall there was nothing to prevent the bass from lasting many generations, given proper maintenance.
For some reason, I was less inclined to test the D64 with my usual suite of high-end reference gear than I was to turn to the vibier amps in my collection. Not to say it sounded bad with the hi-fi stuff, it’s just that I imagined the typical player of a high-personality bass like the D64 would be open to making the amp a part of the fun. I plugged the D64 into my vintage Echolette M40, an all-tube German PA that I repurposed for bass amp duties. Cool combo! The plush envelope and grind of a panting all-tube head was just the ticket for the Dano, especially with the high-output bridge pickup in the mix. With a Fender Bassman reissue, I was able to coax deliciously warm and woolly tone out of the neck pickup—an excellent studio sound for a vintage-style soul or R&B cut. Plugged into a Neve DI, I explored the D64’s recording prowess more thoroughly. It sat well in tracks, especially when I enhanced its already florid midrange with a touch of grit courtesy a Darkglass Microtubes pedal.
The D64 isn’t for everyone, but the players who get it will absolutely find a ton of use for the instrument. While it’s a departure from Danelectro’s own rich heritage, bringing back a well-made and solid-sounding instrument from rock’s childhood could be just the thing for modern-day hep cats.
Pros Perfect look for a surf band; solid construction; lovably quirky tone with surprising diversity
Cons Mildly messy electronics installation
Bottom Line This rehash of a ’60s classic hits all the right notes.
Neck width at nut 1⅝"
String spacing 19mm
Bridge Adjustable stop-tailpiece
Pickups Bridge, Danelectro dual-lipstick humbucker with coil-split switch; neck, vintage-style single-coil
Scale length 34"
Controls Volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector
Weight 8.0 lbs
Made in China