Back in the late 1950s, in an effort to reduce the cost of its already inexpensive guitars, Danelectro began dabbling with an interesting semi-hollow design. The new construction method, which incorporated a Masonite top and back attached to a plywood frame, put the guitars within reach of budding young rockers. But in an unexpected upside, it also created a wealth of distinctive sonorities. Despite the bargain-basement prices, top-shelf players were drawn to Danelectros and their bright, idiosyncratic twang. Jimmy Page used a 1959 DC in his work as a session guitarist and for playing select tunes live with Led Zeppelin. More recently, Ira Kaplan and Yo La Tengo released a single called “Danelectro,” and Nels Cline had a selection of vintage Danos at his disposal for his album Instrumentals.
Danelectro has been owned by the Evets Corporation since the late 1990s, and there have been a lot of near-exact reproductions of the brand’s classic guitars over the last decade or so—including the 1959 DC that Page played. In the last few years, the company has even reissued more obscure models such as the Hornet. With the new ’67 Heaven, Danelectro delivers an updated take on the student-model Hawk that was originally produced in the late 1960s. It features souped-up pickups and better hardware than the originals, but it retains the original’s modest price tag and old-school vibe.
The ’67 Heaven is similar to the old Hawk in several key respects—it has an asymmetric, offset semi-hollow body with those trademark vinyl side strips, two single-coil pickups with lipstick covers, a single-ply white pickguard, and a set of two concentric knobs that control volume and tone for each pickup. But there are critical differences between the re-issue and the originals, too. The neck on the ’67 Heaven is affixed to the body with four bolts as opposed to three, and it also has an adjustable, double-acting truss rod rather than a fixed one. It also has 21 frets rather than 18.
Like most recent Danelectro guitars, the ’67 Heaven features hardware that’s a definite improvement over vintage models in terms of adjustability and practicality. Though some hardcore Dano fans might insist that the 1-piece bridge and fixed wood saddle of old were integral to getting the vintage Danelectro sound, today’s average player will likely appreciate that the new, more substantial bridges that have six saddles you can adjust for both intonation and string height are infinitely more usable. And instead of the crappy six-on-a-plate tuners of yore, the ’67 Heaven uses individual Kluson-style machines.
In another deviation from tradition, the ’67 Heaven is available in four different “alligator” finishes—red, blue, orange, and creme—each with a matching headstock. The textured faux-reptilian appearance was a sort of antecedent to the krinkle finish used on Danelectro’s Coral Sitar. This rather more heavy-handed twist on the idea might scare off those who prefer a vintage-correct look, but luckily such players can also choose a plain black gloss finish.
As on the originals, the Heaven’s outer control knobs are red plastic to match the finish—a smart detail that makes the white inner knob pop visually. It would have been cool if Danelectro were to have retained the original raised script metal logo on the headstock but instead there’s a silkscreened logo that looks more contemporary and cost effective.
Fretwork on our review guitar was without the roughness at the ends that’s all too common on guitars in this price range, but the crowns could’ve been a little more smoothly polished. A little more attention to detail would have helped at the neck pocket, which has a rough edge and is cut a little too wide for the neck—a situation that could result in extra strain on the four screws that hold the neck in place. Also, it sounds as though there’s something loose rolling around inside of the guitar, a problem that could have arisen in shipping, but which is disconcerting all the same.
Anything the ’67 Heaven lacks in craftsmanship at the detail level it makes up for in playability and sound. Unlike the skimpy necks of the past, this one, with its classic C profile and 1.68" nut, has ample girth without being cumbersome. Action is as easy as can be—1/16" of an inch at the 12th fret on the sixth string—and it feels effortless to play stretchy, barre and thumb-fretted chords as well as speedy lead lines.
The semi-hollow build makes the ’67 Heaven feel lively before you ever plug it in. The notes ring true and clear, though there is a slight buzzing at the lowest frets on the sixth string. Still, you can bend strings beyond a whole step without experiencing any fretting out, and tuning remained stable after both deep bends and rubberier alternate tunings like DADGAD and open G.
Plugged into a Fender Pro Junior, the ’67 does not disappoint in the slightest. The neck pickup, while actually further from the neck than on a lot of electric guitars, is at once warm and brilliant—perfect for all kinds of roots-rock stylings. The bridge pickup offers an awesomely sharp twang that happily hangs out on the country end of the spectrum. Engaged in tandem, the pickups—which are wired in parallel rather than in series—lend a meatiness and definition to your notes. All the pickup configurations pair nicely with distortion, too—in this case, a cranked Ibanez Tube Screamer—without any stridency or loss of harmonic clarity.
In the ’67 Heaven, Danelectro offers a guitar that retains the sonic and stylistic essence of a late-1960s classic but improves considerably on its functionality. Like the originals, it’s surprisingly at home in a variety of musical settings. And its sonic versatility and off-kilter but distinctly vintage looks mean it’s likely to end up in the hands of everyone from garage rockers to blues, roots, and Americana players. Considering how increasingly hard it is to find a good-playing original Dano Hawk, anyone interested in exploring the Dano vibe, sound, and feel would be remiss if they didn’t at least audition a ’67 Heaven. It’s a cool little guitar, and there’s a lot more going on than you might guess. Indeed, surprises await, and they go way beyond that alligator finish.