Danelectro vs Rickenbacker Guitars: A Cheaper Alternative?

The Danelectro and Rickenbacker have been around for almost the same amount of time and it’s generally accepted that the Rickenbacker is the better of the two. 

But is it really better just because it costs more?

In my opinion, the Danelectro makes for a great cheaper alternative. It may not share the same tonal quality as a Rickenbacker 12-string, but it has its own unique sound and feel to it.

The differences between these two guitars are many, from the materials used to the look and feel of each guitar. 

It’s quite a contentious topic, but today we’re going to be taking a look at both guitars and try to answer the question of whether a Danelectro is an alternative worth buying.

A brief history of Rickenbacker guitars

Rickenbacker is a string instrument manufacturer in Santa Ana, California. The company is credited as the first known maker of electric guitars- a steel guitar in 1932 – and today produces a range of electric guitars and basses.

The company was founded in 1931 by Adolph Rickenbacker and George Beauchamp as the Ro-Pat-In Corporation (ElectRo- Patent-Instruments) to sell electric Hawaiian guitars. Beauchamp had designed the instruments, assisted by Paul Barth and Harry Watson, at National String Instrument Corporation.

It wasn’t until 1933  that the company name was changed from Ro-Pat-In to Electro String Instrument Corporation (ESIC), and then altered to Rickenbacker ESIC in honor of the company’s principal partner.

The early instruments were nicknamed “frying-pans” because of their long necks and small circular bodies. They are the first known solid-body electric guitars. They had a single pickup with two magnetized steel covers, shaped like horseshoes, that arched over the strings. 

By the time they ceased producing the “frying pan” model in 1939, they had made several thousand units.

Rickenbacker continued to create many innovations through the decades, but it was in 1963 that Rickenbacker developed an electric 12-string guitar with an innovative headstock design that fit all twelve machine heads onto a standard-length headstock. In the 1960s, Rickenbacker also experienced great growth when their guitars became synonymous with the sound of the Beatles.

Partly because of the Beatles’ popularity and their consistent use of the Rickenbacker brand, a lot of sixties guitar players adopted these guitars as well. The Rickenbacker fell out of style for a time, after the ‘60s calmed down, but has experienced a resurgence in recent years as new wave and jangle pop groups turned to them for their distinctive chime.

Players that use Rickenbacker guitars

Rickenbacker 12 strings were favored by:

  • George Harrison of the Beatles
  • Pete Townshend of the Who 
  • and Tom Petty.

Other notable guitarists who used Rickenbackers were:

  • John Lennon,
  • Paul McCartney
  • John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

A brief history of Danelectro guitars

Dan Electro was founded by Nathan Daniel in 1947. At first, they started out producing amplifiers for Sears, Roebuck, and Company, and Montgomery Ward, but later Danelectro added hollow-bodied guitars to their repertoire.

Their guitars were made out of cheaper materials overall to save costs and increase production speed, intending to produce straightforward guitars of reasonably good quality at a lower price. 

Sadly, due to poor marketing aims, Danelectro closed down in 1969. In the late 1990s however, The Evets Corporation purchased the Danelectro brand name, marketing recreations of old Silvertone and Danelectro guitars along with effects pedals and small amps made in China.

At first, they sold well, but eventually, sales slowed and Danelectro officially stopped selling guitars after 2004 to concentrate on effects pedals instead. In 2006, new owners of Evets decided to sell Danelectro guitars again, trying a new marketing model of selling a limited number each year.

Players that use Danelectro guitars

  • Eric Clapton used a Danelectro 59-DC
  • Richard Barone played a Danelectro on his Clouds over Eden album.
  • Jimmy Page used a modified 59 DC on a number of his songs.

Why do some players think of Danelectro guitars as Rickenbacker substitutes?

I think a lot of it has to do with the difference in build quality and price. People often tend to associate high prices with high quality, even if it’s not always the case. In the case of Rickenbacker guitars though, it’s an accurate assumption.

Rickenbacker necks and bodies are made out of Eastern Hardrock Maple with Walnut, Vermillion, and shedua used for decorative features. The fingerboards are traditionally made out of rosewood, but some newer models sport maple fingerboards instead.

The method for building Rickenbacker guitars is also quite costly compared to a Danelectro, using the art of binding to create their memorable appearance. They also use a neck-through-body construction, which gives their guitars a greater sustain and better overall sound quality.

All of the above brings a feel of weight and quality to a Rickenbacker guitar. Danelectros, on the other hand, are not only made out of cheaper materials, but their construction is cheaper too. 

The Danelectro guitar is made out of masonite, vinyl, and Formica. Instead of being reinforced by an adjustable truss rod, the thin, bolt-on poplar necks relied on two heavy-duty steel bars installed under the fretboard to provide stability. 

The nut was made out of aluminum and Danelectros didn’t come with any adornments or decorations like other guitars of their time.

The innovation of Danelectro was in their lipstick pickups though, made with Alnico magnets wrapped in tape and stuffed inside of the chrome plate tubes. 

These pickups gave Danelectro their distinctive sound and despite being of cheaper materials, they were a well sought after tone and still hold up today.

Holding a Danelectro after holding a Rickenbacker is where the difference is most noticeable. Due to the cheaper materials, Danelectros feel a lot lighter and their fingerboards don’t have the same quality feel that Rickenbackers have. 

If you feel is a big issue for you, then you might not like Danelectro guitars, but it can’t be said that their tone and sound are cheap, only their materials.

Do Danelectros and Rickenbackers sound similar?

It depends on which models you’re comparing, but overall, there is quite a tonal difference. Rickenbackers have a full bass section, with an airy sound to the mid-range and treble, whereas Danelectros are very bright and twangy. 

Both guitars have great clarity, and personally, I prefer the sound of a Danelectro to a Rickenbacker, but I generally like tonal clarity. 

Overall, they both sound like two good 12-string guitars, but they don’t sound similar enough that you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart once you’ve heard both.

Here’s a sound comparison:

Are Danelectros really a cheaper alternative to Rickenbacker guitars?

I think so. I think if you’re not planning on investing your whole sound into being “that guy with the 12-string guitar,” then you’re better off getting a Danelectro. It’s way cheaper and it makes for a great guitar if you’re just looking to use it here and there. 

If you like your guitar to look great and have a weighty, quality feel, then you will want to go for a Rickenbacker. They are more expensive, but if you can afford them, they’re worth their price tag too.

For a price comparison: currently, Danelectro is selling a Vintage 12-string model for $599.00.

Rickenbacker has their own current 12-string models going for anywhere from $2,695.00 – $ 7,695.00

Which one should you get?

Of course, picking a guitar is such a personal journey, and I don’t like pointing blindly in one direction for you, if you insist, here’s a table with recommendations:

If a high-quality finish is a must,

If the price doesn’t matter to you,

If you like ornamentation and the look of your guitar,

If you like a warm, bassier tone to your music,
If you aren’t worried about the materials your guitar is made from,

If you’re on a budget,

If you care more about function than aesthetics,
I recommend a RickenbackerGet a Danelectro