Thursday, 3 December 2009

What Is And What Should Never Be

Hey, good evening folks, and welcome, welcome to the show, big old down-home Dunfermline welcome to each and every one of you, oh yes - and we've got a really special edition of the show for you tonight, folks - in fact, we're going to be mixing things up a little around here. Yes, indeed, that we are. Keeping it real, keeping it fresh, throwing out the stale bits of breakfast cereal that somehow escaped from the inner plastic bag and got stuck down at the bottom of the packet for the last 3 weeks, yet you still just couldn't resist having an exploratory nibble on 'em, could ya?

(cue pathetic audience laughter at the host's terrible scripted 'spontaneous wit')

Yes, tonight we've got a really special guest for all you "pro-gear-at-bargain-prices" fans out there... All the way from China, its got almost NO tonal depth, absolutely NO sustain, but hey, who cares when it looks this funky, am I right, or is that just a feeble sales pitch? Good people of internetville, let me hear you give it up for Mid-Life Bassist's new king of "whatever you do, don't buy this!" - the Danelectro '58 "Dead On" Longhorn Bass!

This is a truly terrible attempt at a musical instrument. It really is. It's so bad I hardly know where to start...and yet, from a distance, its got fantastic out-there funk/crazed improvisational prog-a-thon styling. Hanging on the music shop wall, the retro-futuristic looks provide welcome relief from the tedious crowd of unimaginative-yet-often-hugely-expensive Fender-clones (did someone mention "Lakland"...? Couldn't have been me, I'd never be so rude).

But that's exactly where it should stay, stuck firmly to the wall, resembling nothing so much as a reproduction prop from 'A Clockwork Orange', 'Barbarella' or any one of oh-so-many 50's 'B' movies, depending on your age/pop culture frame of reference.

As soon as you touch it, there's an immediate 'red flag' - it's incredibly light, mostly because it's made from the mysterious-sounding substance 'masonite', although sadly this isn't some fantastical "super-molecular-polymer-based-compound" found only in the core of meteorites, it's a type of hardboard. And it shows. (At least it doesn't require you to play the bass with one trouser-leg rolled-up, and using very peculiar hand-positions - apologies to any foreign readers who aren't familiar with the Scottish 'masonic' traditions being mocked in this aside). This is the main reason for the previously-mentioned absence of sustain and tone (or, to be more specific, the predominance of thin, treble-and-high-mid frequencies only). The rest can be ascribed to the fact that the (non-adjustable, wooden) bridge doesn't even sit directly on the body, but 'balances' instead on three screws. I'd speculate that this design was originally chosen because otherwise the body would shake to pieces whenever a low 'E' was hit, but that would be mocking the afflicted, and needlessly cruel.

What else?

The control knobs are flimsily made from the cheapest plastic known to mass-production, and the 'exciting' arrow-pointers have finger-laceratingly sharp edges...although since there's no depth of tone anyway, you wouldn't be bothering with one of them at all, so that's 50% less chance of losing a fingertip on stage straight away. The aluminium nut is equally sharp, so woe betide anyone fancying a dramatic slide down the neck on the higher strings - that'll be a couple of stitches, and about 4 & 1/2 hours in A&E. Oh, and the whole body is bound/trimmed in tolex (I think...?) that looks just like the kind of embossed vinyl wallpaper even my parents wouldn't have had in the house. Which apparently regularly suffers from adhesion 'issues'. So it's a bad design, poorly manufactured.

Ok, now I'm going to try (through gritted teeth) to be "fair and balanced" - in the Danelectro's defence (that should be a chess strategy), it is only a short-scale bass (29 + 3/4"), so it's always going to have difficulty reproducing a big bottom end. And, back in 1965 (for about 5 minutes), the incredibly brilliant John Entwistle of The Who used one of its ancestors (but he kept breaking the strings, and back then he had to buy a new bass every time it happened because he couldn't get replacement strings, so after 3 of them he gave up - info courtesy of

It also can't be denied that people who own them, and have taken the time to post reviews over at Harmony Central seem to love these beasts. Of course, that's quite a self-selecting little sample, and let's face it - there are guys out there who enjoy having women in stiletto heels goose-step around on their scrotums, and I'm sure that afterwards they'd rate that particular experience 9/10 too. (Suffice to say I'll be sticking to testing equipment of a strictly musical nature...)

But why, you might be asking, did I bother excoriating this guitar? Why am I so angry, genuinely angry with it, and its makers?

Because, depending on where you go, it'll cost you between £250 and £300, that's why.

Which is scandalous.

If it was a bargain-basement, no-brand model you'd bought off eBay for under £100, then I would care not a jot. Caveat would have been Emptor-ed, good luck to you, ach, well, nae mind, so it doesn't play so great, or sound so good, but bizarrely brilliant looks for the money, etc, etc...

For the same price as the gimmicky, 'toy' Longhorn, you could have a Yamaha RBX374, (which is a really good bass for the money), or a Cort GB34A, Peavey Millenium 4 AC BXP, a mad Traben Array Attack 4, lots of solid options from Aria, assorted Ibanez's, Schecter's, ESP's...the list of alternatives is a very long one indeed.

So, sorry for dwelling on the negative side of things. Sometimes banging-on about gear's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it...and since I've accumulated plenty of practice unblocking outside drains and changing nappies over the years, you could say I'm ideally qualified.

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