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A mid-fifties, yellow Danelectro U-1

Hey Zach,

I’ve got an old Danelectro that I picked up as part of a trade on a few other instruments. I can’t seem to find too much information on them, so I thought you might be able to tell me what it is. Is this guitar worth anything?

Frank in Tupelo, MS

Hey Frank,
There is just something so cool about Danelectro guitars, especially when they have a Yellow finish! Unfortunately, you don’t find too many of these at vintage guitar shows while tables are overrun with Gibsons, Fenders, and other more expensive instruments. However, Danelectros are very much a part of the 1950s and 1960s guitar boom, and it is important to know the details. I’ve dug up a little history on Danelectro, and found out what guitar you have and what they are worth today.

Danelectro founder, Nathan I. Daniels, took an interest in electrical circuits and instrument amplification at an early age in the Bronx (NYC). In 1933, he began assembling amplifiers at Thor’s Bargain Basement. Daniels built his amps for $2 a piece and Thor’s would supply the parts and sell the completed amps. In 1934, Daniels went to work for Epiphone, where he worked with them on their Electar guitar amplifier line. Daniels is credited with creating the first push/pull amplifier circuit, first guitar amp with tremolo, and the first reverb unit for a guitar. Aside from working as a civilian engineer for the Signal Corps during World War II, Daniels continued to work at Epiphone until 1946 or 1947, when he decided to start building amps under his own company, called Danelectro.

Shortly after forming Danelectro, Daniels started building and supplying guitar amplifiers to Montgomery Ward and Sears. In 1948, he began building amplifiers with more than one trademark—Silvertone was developed for Sears, and Danelectro was used for Daniels’ own distribution and retailing. This phenomenon became known as “house branding,” where manufacturers would build and supply guitars and amplifiers under different trademarks for department stores and mail order catalogs. Because of multiple trademarks, many guitars and amplifiers that are labeled or branded individually are actually the exact same piece.

In 1954, Daniels introduced his first solidbody electric guitar, and similar to his amps, he built one for Sears under the Silvertone brand and one under the Danelectro brand. The first Danelectro guitar featured a solid poplar body with tweed covering, a bell-shaped headstock, a baked melamine pickguard, one or two pickups, and separate controls. Danelectro’s line continued to improve, and in 1955, the C Series of guitars was introduced. This line was replaced in 1956 by the U Series, which is the series your guitar is in.

The U Series features a single cutaway Masonite body with vinyl edging, a bolt-on neck, a “Coke Bottle” headstock, a clear pickguard with a perimeter stripe, and was available with one, two, or three pickups. Standard finishes include Antique Bronze, Bermuda Coral, Gleaming Black, Grained Ivory Leatherette, Jade Green, or Lagoon Aqua. Your guitar is a U-1, which stands for one pickup, and although Yellow is not listed as a standard finish, custom colors were available and are occasionally encountered.

From these pictures, your guitar is no doubt a player. It has a lot of neck wear and some buckle rash—evidence of a lot of use, but not necessarily abuse. Due to Danelectro’s industrial- strength construction, I have no doubt that this guitar is in fine playing condition today. According to Danelectro’s 1956 catalog, the U-1 sold new for $75. Today, in the condition your guitar is in (Very Good, 70%) and with the rare Yellow finish (assuming it is original from the factory), it is worth between $700 and $850.

The U Series was phased out by 1958, when the long-running Longhorn and Shorthorn models were introduced. Daniels sold Danelectro to MCA in 1967, and in 1969 MCA closed the Danelectro factory at the end of the 1960s guitar boom. In the late 1980s, Anthony Mark bought the Danelectro trademark, but never produced any guitars, and in late 1995, the Evets Company bought the trademark and still owns it today. Currently, Danelecto produces a few new models each year, based on vintage Danelectros, in limited quantities.

While many vintage guitar collectors do not acknowledge Danelectro as a guitar to have, it is unquestionable that Nat Daniels was an important part of electric guitar and amplifier development. This Danelectro U-1 is a great example of Daniels’ innovation, which should make this guitar a treasure for years to come!

Information courtesy Guitars From Neptune by Paul Bechtoldt and Doug Tollach. A new, more extensive book on Danelectro called Neptune Bound is also available.

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