Interview with Dan Strain, Danocaster Vintage Replicas
For any electric guitar player, owning Danocaster Vintage Replica is a dream come true. Hand-made and completely unique, Danocasters give you the look, feel, and sound of some of the most sought after vintage guitars with the playability of a brand new instrument. We had the opportunity to talk to Danocaster owner/operator Dan Strain about his thoughts on guitars, inspiration, and worship.
WL mag: Tell us a little about yourself…what is your experience with music, guitars, and church?
DS: Well, first off, I’m a preacher’s kid, so you know I’m trouble right away! Being the kid of a pastor, I grew up in the church and my first experience seeing “rock bands” was probably seeing The Sons Of Thunder at my dad’s church as a young kid in Washington, DC. I saw the lead guitarist playing a blonde tele and was like “WHOA”. Sort of like my version of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan!
Not long after that, a woman in the church wanted to get us started and gave my brother a snare drum and gave me a Martin baritone ukulele… I kind of wanted the snare drum but looking back – I scored with the Martin!! And that started it all off. I was hooked! Digging thru friend’s record collections, I soon discovered all the classic late 60’s and 70’s guitar icons and really kind of became obsessed with them all. I was in several young bands and had a real quest for those classic vintage tones of my guitar heroes. By tenth grade, I had a ’70 blonde strat and a ’71 50 watt metal front Marshall.
WL mag: What inspired you to start Danocaster Vintage Replicas and how long have you been in business?
DS: Fast-forward 20 years. My wife and I had a rock band together. We were signed to a major label and we were starting to tour regionally and I didn’t want to take some of my favorite older guitars on the road, so I started experimenting with making some road guitars and wanted them to feel and sound like my older guitars. I was baking bodies in the oven, leaving them outside in all sorts of weather… just shooting in the dark. But eventually I started to figure some things out and guys were wanting to buy the guitars I was making for myself. So I would sell it – and keep experimenting. That was in ’98-99 and it’s just been snow balling since then.
WL mag: When you build a guitar for a client, what are the key things you have in mind?
DS: Even though the whole “relic thing” is probably how many people categorize me, it’s really about getting guitars to SOUND and FEEL like nicely worked in old instruments. That was my goal. And I have to admit, I really love the look of an old worn instrument, but the look isn’t the MAIN thing I’m shooting for…although it’s certainly part of the appeal.
I really want to deliver a guitar that can immediately feel like an old friend. One that has a comfortable neck that helps you “connect” to the instrument. One that has a set-up that feels just right; not sterile, not “new”…but something that just gives you a “yeah…this is MY guitar” kind of feeling.
Clients can often get off track trying to dream up something crazy – especially with all the possible options out there. But that’s not really what I do. I really just offer some fairly limited parameters (body wood, finish color, neck profile) and then ask that they trust me to finish the guitar and make some choices myself for this particular guitar based on their own tone preferences of course. Just working off of somebody’s checklist doesn’t usually ensure the best guitar. I want to be able to make changes to make the guitar the best I can. Sometimes just changing saddles or pickups can make a profound difference and sometimes the perfect pickup in one guitar won’t be that great in another nearly identical guitar. I want to have the freedom to experiment and I want to be able to make changes that will allow me to deliver the best guitar I can.
WL mag: Are all your guitars completely custom? How long does an average guitar take to build?
DS: I have certain models, like my ’55 whiteguard, that are very popular and usually aren’t too “customized” by my clients. The neck profile may vary as well as the pickup set, but that model, as well as several others are a proven combination of variables and they are really pretty consistent. Occasionally I will get a client with some weird one-off sort of idea – and sometimes it happens and sometimes not. But I usually keep pretty true to the classic designs of the 50s/ 60s – with a few modern tweaks that improve playability.
I do spend a lot of time on each guitar but I work in batches, doing a bunch necks at a time, or painting a whole bunch of bodies at once, so it’s hard to calculate the actual man-hours into each guitar. Once the bodies are cut, they need to be grain filled, then sanded, then sealed, then sanded again, then painted, and then they need to sit and cure for a month or two…so there’s a lot of waiting in the process. Same with the necks – there’s a long process with them as well.
WL Mag: How do you feel your products fit into a church/worship setting?
DS: You know, I’m flattered they are consistently being used in a modern worship environment. I’m happy to be part of it. I think they are versatile instruments so that should help them fit in, whether what is called for is a heavier rock sound or a lighter janglier sound…but I mean, really, you should be able to worship with a banjo or an autoharp! I believe worship is in the heart more than anything, but I’m glad to know that my guitars are being used in a way that can hopefully help people connect with their Creator. That’s certainly an encouraging thought.
WL Mag: Your guitars really nail the vintage Fender look and sound. Do you have any plans to build replicas of any other vintage brands or maybe a design of your own?
DS: Maybe in the future. No plans for that now though. I really just love “old stuff”. I love the old classic tones and those classic sounds can so easily be used in just about any genre of music. I just am very attached to feel and sound of all things “yester year”. I’m sure I’m a bit of a contradiction because I love so many new young modern bands, but I also ditched all my cds and pretty much only listen to LP records so…I do have running water in my house though.
WL Mag: What’s one of the most fun guitars you’ve built in the past few years?
DS: Man…that’s a tough one. I tend to get pretty attached to them all as I’m making them, but then you have to send them off. So they are all like puppies you are raising in order to send them off to somebody else, you learn not to get too attached. But I think I have the most fun when I’m trying a new color out, trying to match some cool vibey old 60s guitar that has faded into a quirky odd shade of green or silver, one that is equally super cool and awful at the same time! If guys are asking: “ What color is THAT ?“ I think that I may have achieved my goal.
WL Mag: Do you have a favorite guitar/amp combo at the moment?
DS: About a year ago, I stumbled into a ’56 Tele – super worn blonde finish, white guard, worn maple neck – and it’s just a killer desert island guitar. If I had to sell them all but one, the ’56 would be the last man standing. That guitar into my ’64 Deluxe Reverb (the same amp that I test EVERY guitar I build through) is quite a tone to behold. I have guys that start throwing $100 bills at me when they hear that combination… I’m lucky to have it. But then again not every guitar is right for every situation, that’s why everybody needs MORE GUITARS!!
Another favorite combo is my ’65 Jazzmaster into a pair of old 60’s Vox AC-10s. It’s really kind of like “Indie Rock heaven”.
WL Mag: As someone who has been around the church music scene for a few years, do you have any advice for aspiring worship leaders and songwriters?
DS: I would say BE YOURSELF. Be influenced by your favorites, but don’t try to emulate them too much. I would say strive to find your “voice” whether that is you playing a guitar or singing into a microphone. Bob Dylan didn’t have a great voice but influenced generations and some may argue that U2’s Edge isn’t the most technically adept player, but he found his voice and influenced generations as well.
Find what or who inspires you and be inspired. But don’t “worship” any player or sound so much that you begin chasing after them. Rather, be led to a new place where you are excited about what you are coming up with and in turn, you may excite those around you and truly be leading others into a new place with you.
For more information about Danocaster guitars visit danocaster.com.