Upgrades to Give Your Vintage Danelectro or Silvertone New Life

2012-12-22 16.53.30Vintage Danelectro and Silvertone guitars have gotten a lot more popular in recent years as players have discovered their unique tones. These were always budget guitars, but as necessity is often the mother of invention, the original designers created some great sounds on the cheap. Thankfully for budget-minded guitarists, prices on these spare-parts beauties haven’t climbed as much as their vintage contemporaries, so you can still get into all the trashy grind and round cleans of those lipstick pickups without breaking the bank.

Unfortunately the cost-saving measures taken at the original factory really start to show after 50 years of wear. They may sound great but it’s not rare for an old Silvertone or Danelectro to have some tuning and intonation issues. Luckily there are retrofit options that bring these guitars up to modern stage playability standards. The tuners and bridge can both be updgraded with a little work, to give a lot of benefit.

2012-12-22 15.35.45

The original 6-on-a-plate tuners leave something to be desired to say the least, and for years replacements were tough to find because of the tighter spacing of these old tuners. Luckily there is a quality replacement on the market from Kluson. A little careful reaming is required to fit the bushings but then they press into place and work better than the originals ever did.

The very top decorative edge of the tuners protrudes above the headstock (the original plate was squared off at the top) so the Klusons are ground and polished to follow the headstock profile. Wouldn’t want anyone to nick their fingers doing neck bends…

2012-12-22 15.36.21

The old rosewood bridge is not adjustable for radius or individual string height and can only be tilted for rough intonation. The modern Danelectro bridge is more stable, adjustable, reliable, and offers better sustain with its steel saddles. With the upgrade, that Silvertone lipstick chime really shines through. The machining is slightly different, but the bridge is height adjusted the same way as the original. Care is taken during installation not to drive the new, longer screws through the body.

2012-12-22 15.37.21

The chrome really looks nice with the bridge, pickup, and tuners now matching. Some Dan-Os and Silvertones are more adjustable than others; many lack a truss rod, but this one has a micro-tilt adjustment to help dial in the action and it works great. The aluminum nut however has the string slots cut way too deep. The strings are buried in the slots which can deaden them and prevent them from returning to pitch when bent. I file down, reprofile, and polish the nut, burnishing the bottoms of the slots to keep things smooth.

2012-12-22 15.48.592012-12-22 16.42.01

With all the pieces in place we can set the guitar up for a nice low action.

2012-12-22 16.41.35

The electronics on this one are crackling and cutting out. Often the only issue is years of dust and sweat in the controls. The pots, switch, and cap are all enclosed in a clever little copper-shielded cardboard enclosure. These have never been opened, the original yellowed tape is still intact.

2012-12-22 16.43.13

I like that look, so I’m careful to preserve the tape when I open the enclosure and clean the pots. Vintage tape is the key to tone, as everyone knows 😉

It goes back together with a little new adhesive hidden under the old.

2012-12-22 16.49.31

All told this guitar plays better now than it probably ever did. As a cheap workhorse, it’s hard to beat, and it was long overdue for some TLC. The parts and labor involved are a worthwhile investment, and now the guitar should stand up to touring and recording while performing like a champ.