Colorless writings, part 25 – Danelectro Top Five
Ok. I took a bit of time off since the 11/13 posts a month was practically starting to wear me off. I can promise the future pace won’t be as hectic it was before, but i’m not going anywhere. The comment threads will stay as slow as they have been though…
Anyway. Let’s get back to business. Some time ago i was tipped about an article that listed the best five of Danelectro pedals. If you have any interest, you could look it up. What i did find annoying about that article was that i felt like the writer didn’t know what he was talking about. Sure, there were the obvious Tuna Melts and a few others mentioned, but the foundation for “The Best” left me a bit confused. To me it sounded almost like the list was created out of reputation of certain pedals, rather than the actual sounds or features.
Let’s think of this from another point of view. The actual user. We have only five spots to make up a board and we have take that five from the Danelectro catalogue. As most would see it, the basic pedalboard that most people would want would be something like a Fuzz -> OD -> Distortion -> Modulation -> Delay. Ok, the following may not be the setup i would choose for myself, but that has you covered if you are going for your first board of five pedals. And yes. There is no wah in this setup for one big reason. None of the Danelectro wahs are to be considered as roadworthy. Also, i dropped the tuner out of the equation for similar reason. All Danelectro tuners (yes, all four of them) suck pretty bad and are not to be thought of as usable items. Same goes for the FAB series, which i’ve omitted as well. And as a disclaimer – contrary to the title, i’m not claiming these are undisputed the best five Danelectro has ever made per se. The “top five” here comes from what “I” would use to build up a board. So it’s way more a matter of taste than anything else. And the five here probably won’t be the cheapest choice for a board either, due to some models being rarer every day.
First. The Fuzz.
There aren’t that many Fuzz designs in the Danelectro catalogue. Actually there are only three. French Toast and two revisions of the Cool Cat series fuzz. And these are in fact a slightly modified fOXX Tone Machine derivative, a slightly modified Frantone Peach Fuzz derivative and a another, slightly modified Peach Fuzz derivative. With this limited set of options, we have to choose between a Gibbons style groan or a clever Big Muff recreation (Yea, i know. It’s not a Muff). Since we are now looking for a fuzz that reacts to guitar controls even remotely well, i’d go for the French Toast. In addition to having a decent ear piercing fuzz, we can switch it to cause notable mayhem with the up octave switch. In my opinion, this is the best fuzz from Dano. And the winner is: Danelectro DJ-13 French Toast Octave Distortion.
Second. The Overdrive.
This is a section where the shortage isn’t as bad as with the fuzzes. Pastrami mini OD would be a nice thing. But we do already have one plastic mini series thing in there, we may want to go for something a bit more heavy. Other thing that is somewhat surprising is that there is no TS-style box (neither is there a Dist+/OD250) in the list at all. There is the Daddy-O, which sounds pretty close to the 90’s Marshall overdrives and is up for consideration for its great blues tones. There is also one other that caught my eye. The CTO-1 Transparent Overdrive. With just some slight modifications to a certain boutique design, this was originally claimed to be a rip-off. But it might suit us pretty well. And it sure does. It delivers the modern boutique style soft and “transparent” drive many people love about Paul Cochrane’s Timmy. It also talks very fondly with a fuzz in front of it, so yes. This is where we land with our “the best” Dano overdrive. So the winner is: Danelectro CTO-1 Transparent Overdrive.
Third. The Distortion.
This one should be enough to act as a boost for those big leads and still have enough balls not to sound like 80’s adult contemporary. As this effect type goes, we have more than plenty of choices. To name a few, there’s the Fab Tone from original series, CD-1 and CO-1/2 from the Cool Cat series, plus a few others from the mini series. Fab Tone is slightly too rich on its highs for me, so that won’t do. CD-1 Distortion turned out to be slightly revoiced Maxon Distortion Master and the CO-1/2 are derivatives of something called Obsessive Compulsion Disorder. But. For this purpose and the location, i’d turn to CD-1 Distortion. Decent controls and the overall tone mimics the old Marshall amplifiers driven over the top with nice accuracy. And it is still very close to Distortion Master in its electronics topology. Others may not be that bad choices either, but this sounds just solid enough to call it. The winner for “the best” Dano distortion is: Danelectro CD-1 Distortion.
Fourth. The Modulation.
Not so easy to pick one. Why? Because there are so many different types to choose from. Even if there weren’t different types, the number of modulation effects from Danelectro is quite impressive. Should we aim for a phaser, chorus, flanger, tremolo or perhaps a vibrato? All of those are important part of certain music styles and all have their own pros and cons. For all the boost and dirt boxes, we’ve opted for vintage tones, so i see no harm in doing that here too. If we drop the Phase90 styled ones as well as the flangers and the only tremolo in the list.. It’ll be a chorus or a vibrato. Even then the choices are a bit wide. Three different vibes and two choruses. Original Cool Cat Chorus captures decently and even rivals the classic Boss CE-2, so the mini series Milkshake goes down at this point. Even though the circuits are pretty close. For the vibes, there are two revisions for the Cool Cat series Vibes with their own faults and strengths, and then there is the actual gem, the Chicken Salad (which is basically a SMD construction derivative of the classic Uni-Vibe). All four do sound extremely good. Chicken Salad will still probably win in my mind due to beautiful depth of tone in the effect. Others are not bad choices either. But since i’m apparently going for the vintage vibrato style here… The winner is: Danelectro DJ-15 Chicken Salad Vibrato.
Last, but not least, The Delay.
And we’re back to limited options. There needs to be good controls so the mini series pedals with two knob control configurations are not an option. Well, the PB&J *could* be, but since i have no experience with the sound (damned blister packaking!), i’m leaving that one out. Which means that we are down to two options. The big boxed Reel Echo and the Dan-Echo. Former has tons of options, such as sound-on-sound looper capability, but the box footprint is rather massive. Another plus side would be the control which is possible to tweak by foot while playing. On the other hand the box is still massive and far from being suited for pedal board. Both of these specimens have PT2395 chip in them, so in reality the tone is pretty close. We’ll get good controls and fairly reliable player if we go for the Dan-Echo. It’s not a bad choice, being cheap and widely available. Wide controls and not much negative to say either way. Only relatively odd thing is that the pedal works internally with 5 volts only. This isn’t an issue, since the pedal is well capable of handling heavily boosted signals without breaking the tone itself. Sure – big enough will be an issue, but it’ll handle line level signals like a champ. Even though i might opt for the bigger one for some applications, i still choose Dan-Echo for it’s footprint, flexibility in controls and, most importantly, the tone. So the winner for the Delay is: Danelectro DE-1 Dan-Echo.
So here we have our board. If we take and think about this setup in terms of the design idols, we have fOXX Tone Machine to Paul Cochrane Timmy to Maxon Distortion Master to Uni-Vibe to PT2395 datasheet example. And in reality this setup today, in 2015, would cost you something around 150 currency units, may it be sterling, dollar or euro. Sure. You won’t be getting the names i just dropped, but decently built (ok, mass produced) units that will sound pretty close. Close enough to most players. Plus the board size will be pretty neat with these.
Like i said before. This list should not be viewed as an authority. It’s just my view of what to pick when there is a need for five pedals from the Danelectro catalogue. And as such, the five that i consider to be the best of the bunch.