Great Tone, Great Price: Top 5 Danelectro Boxes

It's not something I would want to do, but if I had to ditch all of my precious vintage, boutique, and otherwise "fancy" pedals, I could assemble a serviceable pedalboard for under $100. If that time comes to pass, a large chunk of that board would consist of Danelectro pedals.

From the diner-themed series, to the Cool Cat pedals, and on to the FAB effects, Danelectro has spent the better part of the last 20 years providing a slew of great tones at shockingly cheap prices. And sure, some of these pedals suffer from tone-sucking bypass, laughably delicate switches and pots, and cheap plastic casings. But for cool tones on the cheap, they are worth every penny. And believe it or not, in the days before I was a pedal-obsessed gear junkie, I enjoyed the use of all of the pedals mentioned below.

Tuna Melt

For many years, I had the pleasure of an amp with beautiful, built-in tremolo, then came the urban apartment living years. I ditched the big amp and adjusted to the modeling life, AKA playing guitar through a Line 6 Pod and headphones. When I bought a house and had the option to once again have a loud tube amp, I went with an amp without built-in trem. After a while, I grew tired of using the Pod for my trem tones. Luckily, the Danelectro Tuna Melt could be had for cheap. I like to think that when designing these pedals, Danelectro decided to scrimp on the case, pots, and switches but splurge on tone. As such, the Tuna Melt comes in a cheesy plastic (yes, plastic) yellow box, and has pots that are ready to crack off if you look at them funny.

But even with all of these shortcomings, the Tuna Melt sounds great. With knobs for Speed, Depth, and a switch for selecting between Hard and Soft tremolo, the Tuna Melt offers a surprisingly wide range of trem tones. I tend to like my tremolo on the more subtle side, so I usually keep the switch on the Soft side and the depth at a little above half-way up. Here, the Tuna Melt is great for approximating Fender blackface amp tremolo sounds. It offers a range of speeds that is both a little faster and a little slower than my Fender Princeton Reverb at the extreme sweeps of the dial. If you want to dial in choppier, harder tremolo sounds, just flip the switch to the Hard setting. Here, it sounds awesome following distortion, overdrive, or fuzz. However you dial it in, the Tuna Melt provides tasty tones.

Cool Cat Fuzz V1

The Cool Cat series of Danelectro pedals set off quite the firestorm shortly after their release. First, people were shocked at how great they sounded at such a pedestrian price point. They also came in a very rugged (by Danelectro terms) enclosure, featuring true-bypass switching, and rather cleverly, rear-mounted jacks and knobs. The DIY crowd did a little circuit tracing and discovered that more than one pedal in the series were based on some popular boutique stompboxes. Shortly after this revelation (and much hand wringing), Danelectro released revised versions of the pedals in question.

Luckily for me, I bought the Cool Cat Fuzz long before all of the controversy. I was in the market for a fuzz pedal, and at $29, the Cool Cat Fuzz seemed way too good of a deal to pass up. It was the pedal that sent me into the fuzz wormhole. And after trying and owning lots of $200+ fuzzes(!) I still love this little bargain. The Cool Cat Fuzz has controls for Volume, Tone, and Fuzz. The rear-mounted controls take a little getting used to (turning to the left is equal to turning them up), but it also makes it less likely that you will accidentally bump them.

Sound wise, the Cool Cat Fuzz is very Muff-like. The lows aren’t quite as thunderous and it has more kick in the midrange, but the lower gain textures are sweeter and the guitar’s volume knob clean-up is better. It’s also surprisingly low on noise for the amount of fuzz available. At its original $29 price point, the Cool Cat Fuzz was one of the best bang for the buck pedals ever. At $50-60 on the used market, it’s still a pretty great deal.

French Toast

If you want a really nasty, biting, screaming fuzz tone for $35, it's hard to beat the Danelectro French Toast. Based on the venerable Foxx Tone Machine, the French Toast is a ‘70s-style fuzz that offers a switchable upper octave effect. For some reason it doesn't have an LED, but you'll know when this thing is on. The sound without the upper octave is slightly scooped in the mids like a Muff, but with a scratchier, Velcro edge to the fuzz. With the octave switch on, the French Toast adds a screaming upper octave overtone. Like most pedals of this ilk, it works best on the neck pickup, above the 12th fret, and with the tone on your guitar rolled back. It's not a pleasant tone and it goes berserk when you play more than one note, but it will certainly bring lots of attention to your guitar sound.

FAB Echo

The FAB Echo is part of the Danelectro Fab series. It's accompanied in this series by the FAB Fuzz, FAB Metal, and a few other "FAB" pedals. The FAB Echo can be had for roughly $15. Note that it's not called a delay, and is instead called an echo. That's because the FAB Echo only offers about 75-90 milliseconds of delay. So while it won't do anything remotely ambient, it's perfect for quick, rockabilly slap back effects. In fact, it sounds pretty damn good, especially for $14.99. The plastic case, switch, and jacks won't stand up to heavy use, but I've used one for more than a few live shows. And if you're the tinkering type, there's quite a few mods available online that will allow you to expand the features and tones of the FAB Echo. Heck, even JHS Pedals offers a mod for adding a Delay Time control to this pedal.

Chicken Salad

I saved the best for last. And yes, the name (along with most of the diner series Danelectro pedals) is horrible. But the sound, oh the sound. The Chicken Salad sounds as good or often better than many pedals that are two and three times its price.

One of the reasons the Chicken Salad sounds so darn good is that the circuit utilities are a variation on the lightbulb and photo resistor design of the classic UniVibe. As such, it sounds three-dimensional and offers up that classic slightly off-kilter watery swirl. In fact, the Chicken Salad sounds so good that there is a cottage industry that grew around rehousing its guts into a sturdier metal box. Because while the Chicken Salad sounds so great that you will want to use it all of the time, the crappy plastic housing and pots won't stand up to much in the way of heavy use.

It's been discontinued, but the price for the Chicken Salad when new was $40, give or take a few dollars. You can find them used for $30-70 depending on condition and how rare the seller believes them to be. If you can find one for at or around the original asking price, the Chicken Salad offers outstanding value and great vibes.

If I were to construct an economical pedalboard, these Danelectros would be some of my first choices. Slapping a few of these on the IKEA Brada Laptop Stand “pedalboard” and powering them with a Visual Sound 1-Spot can certainly get the job done.

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