Danelectro Mutant Convertible
May 17, 2011
TOP: Could this be the love child of a Danelectro Convertible, a double-lipstick Dano U2, and a Les Paul?
BOTTOM: Though it looks like a humbucker, this add-on bridge pickup is actually a ’70s single-coil.
I’m always scouting for cool inexpensive guitars and gear. If you’re patient and know where to look, you can find some great guitars out there for $300-$400, and sometimes even under $100.
A few months ago, I saw this guitar on eBay and had to do a double take. It looked like a mutant cross between a Danelectro Convertible, a double-lipstick Dano U2, and a Les Paul. Peering at it, I realized some crazy person (or genius) had apparently taken a U2 reissue and cut a giant round soundhole in the top—so upon first glance it resembled a Dano Convertible thinline acoustic-electric. But the owner had also added what looked like a bridge-position humbucker. Huh? A humbucker mixed with a lipstick pickup? Surely you jest. What mad scientist could have concocted this recipe for sonic disaster?
The guitar was listed with a BIN (Buy It Now) price of $149.95 and $22.95 for shipping. I wasn’t sure I was ready to pull the trigger, so I bookmarked the auction in my eBay Watch List and went about my business. But every time I got on the computer, I found myself checking the auction to see if someone had bought it yet. No question about it, that guitar was starting to haunt me. Finally, after three or four days, I could stand it no more. I broke down and bought it before someone else snatched it up.
When it arrived, I was impressed by the guitar’s looks as I unpacked it. The previous owner had painted the front (and inside the soundhole) a beautiful blonde color that slightly resembled an old Fender Tele, and the finish looked even cooler in person than in the pictures.
But I immediately noticed the guitar had one major problem: the bridge. The action was very high, and when I tried to lower the old-style, 3-pivot bridge, I found it was out of alignment with one of the height-adjustment screws. This rendered further adjustment impossible on the treble-string side. This was a perplexing problem I’d never encountered before on a Dano.
I studied the situation for a moment, then removed the strings, took the bridge apart, and re-drilled a correctly aligned hole for the offending screw. That did the trick—now I could lower the bridge where I wanted it.
Bottom Feeder Tip #2251:
Never be afraid to drill a hole or two to make a guitar play or sound better. I didn’t bother to fill in the old hole, mainly because it is not outwardly visible. And because I’m lazy.
The next step was to check out the electronics and the amplified sound. After plugging it in, right off the bat I noticed a huge volume imbalance between the neck and bridge pickups. Upon closer examination, I saw that the weenie-sounding lipstick pickup was sitting too far away from the strings. Because of the new soundhole, the old pickup-mounting hardware was now ineffective at raising and lowering the pickup properly. Double-sided mounting tape and longer pickup-mounting springs allowed me to bring the lipstick pickup closer to the strings.
Now the balance between the pickups was normal. When I re-read the auction’s item description, I learned that the bridge pickup was actually a single-coil from a ’70s Global clone of a Les Paul, and not a humbucker, as I originally thought. Interesting.
However, there was one more problem: When both pickups were on, they were out of phase. This didn’t bother me at first, but after a while that nasally out-of-phase sound started to bug me. So back to my workbench I went. All I had to do was reverse the hot and ground wires on one of the pickups. But which one? I chose to reverse the neck-pickup wires, because sometimes reversing a pickup’s leads will cause it to hum if you touch it. I figured I’m less likely to accidentally touch the neck pickup. I was lucky—that took care of the problem just fine.
And how is the Dano now? It’s really fun. It’s a joy to bend strings on the flat fretboard, and the guitar has a nice, Fender-ish sound when amplified. It took only a few hours to get all the bugs worked out, and it was well worth it.
I love the challenge of taking a cheap, problematic guitar and turning it into something special. If you’re a bottom feeder, you get used to problems. The trick is to overcome them while staying within your cheapskate—er, I mean limited—budget.
So is it a keeper? Yep. For now it is. But you know how that goes. There’s always another guitar around the corner. And I want it cheap.
Will Ray is a founding member of the Hellecasters guitar-twang trio. He also does guitar clinics promoting his namesake G&L signature model 6-string, and produces artists and bands at his studio in Asheville, North Carolina. You can contact Will on Facebook and at willray.biz.