The past decade has seen the popularity of reissue basses continue to grow. While some of the most noticeable have come from Fender (such as the ’51 and ’57 Precision Bass reissues), in the ’50s and early ’60s Fender wasn’t the only game in town—a fact I remembered when listening to some early Who recordings. In the past few years, Danelectro has reintroduced its most successful basses (see April ’08 for our review of the long- and short-scale Dano ’63 reissue), and with its Dead On ’58 Longhorn, Danelectro offers its third reissue of the bass made famous by John Entwistle.
As its name implies, this particular reissue seeks to offer players an exact replica of what Entwistle would have been plucking at mid-’60s Who performances. And, aside from the addition of a much-needed trussrod, the reissue remains pretty much true to the original. The Longhorn sports a hard-maple neck, a rosewood fingerboard bolted to a plywood body, a masonite top and back, and retro vinyl siding. These are unorthodox materials, perhaps, and a choice that surely contributes to the bass looking and feeling like a “toy” to some—but I found them a welcome respite from “the usual,” and they work nicely with the instrument’s overall atypical look.
The “lipstick” pickups and simple electronics are passive, but still fairly hot (another improvement from the original, it seems). These single-coil alnico bar-magnet pickups derive their name from the fact that they used to be covered with actual surplus lipstick tubing. Volume and tone for each is controlled via the stacked concentric plastic knobs. The knobs tend to stick and move together, though, and at times I found myself unintentionally tweaking the tone while changing the volume or vice-versa. The single-piece rosewood bridge rotates for adjustment, thanks to a swivel point in the middle. Dialing in perfect intonation is impossible with such a setup, but I was able to manipulate the bridge to get fairly close on each string. (A previous reissue of this bass added a more easily adjustable bridge.)
Testing this Dano provided a unique opportunity in that it coincided with a 3,200-mile road trip from San Francisco to Anchorage, Alaska. Before leaving, I ran it through my Genz-Benz rig to see how it performed under “normal” circumstances, but thereafter played it either through my pocket bass amp, the stereo system in the van (we rigged it to work with the bass), or acoustically. I got the chance to learn how the bass performed under a variety of circumstances (and temperatures—the Yukon Territory is damn cold in March). In each instance, I was pleased with this historic instrument, especially for the price. The attraction of the Longhorn centered on its high-register tone; Entwistle must have appreciated its ability to cut through Pete Townhsend’s wall of guitar. That characteristic is certainly present in the reissue, but I was also pleased with the instrument’s sonic range on the low end. Relying on the front pickup, I was able to get a boomy tone reminiscent of nothing that I normally play. You know how people often compare neck-pickup tones to Fender P-Basses? Can’t do that here. The Longhorn’s design, materials, and electronics have little in common with such basses, which is why I think I could dig having something like this groovy little thing in my arsenal. The lowend tone has that airy quality that often accompanies hollowbody instruments, which also makes it delightful to play acoustically. The high tones retain enough of the mids to make it work in rock and country. The short scale (293/4") works well for young players, of course, but it also proves handy if you want a bass to cart around on, say, a five-day journey through the most remote parts of North America. Its light weight and short stature work well for travel, and yet its full sound surpasses many “travel basses” I’ve played.
In the end, this bass was a blast to have on the road and even stood up well under some pretty harsh conditions. When our camper heater went out during a Yukon snowstorm, we woke up the next morning to –5° F with everything in the van frozen (including us)—but once warmed up, the bass played fine and required no adjustments. Sure, the Dead On Longhorn reissue is inexpensive, looks funky, is made of relatively unimpressive materials, and has a distinctive tone that might not work for everyone—but it’s hard to fault an instrument that is, first and foremost, a recreation of a piece of bass history. Try to track down an original Longhorn; it’s not very easy (or cheap). But for a few hundred bucks, a player can have something unlike anything else. Your friends will either dig it or not, but I guarantee they will notice it. And don’t be afraid to take it out for spin—it sounds just fine. —Rod Taylor
DEAD ON 58 LONGHORN
Pros Compact, lightweight, inexpensive bass with unique tone
Cons Stacked knobs get stuck sometimes
Weight 6.5 lbs.
Made in China
Warranty One year