Dean achieved its finest hour when ZZ Top recorded their landmark Eliminator album in 1983 using Dean guitars, among others. The album’s seemingly endless flow of brilliant singles was supported by legendary promo videos – the perfect showcase for Dean’s penchant for reworking classic Gibson styling into aggressive new shapes.
The Dean story is an interesting one: Dean Zelinsky began building guitars in his native Chicago at a very young age and launched his own company at the tender age of 19, becoming very successful by his early 20’s. After peaking spectacularly during the early 1980’s, changing fashions left Dean guitars somewhat adrift, but it’s great to see them now fully revitalised, with Dean Zelinsky back at the helm.
BODY AND NECK
Dean still produces a small number of instruments in the USA, but the majority of today’s guitars come from the Far East, and both guitars reviewed here represent the Korean-made branch of the family tree. The ML is the most visually stunning of the pair and could easily be construed as the result of an illicit back-stage liaison between a Gibson Explorer and a late ‘Fifties Gibson Flying V The sunburst finish flame maple top is a veneer surrounded by aged-looking cream binding, concealing the join between the top and the main portion of the ML’s mahogany body. With a maximum depth of 36mm (1.7/16 inches), fractionally slimmer than a Gibson Explorer’s 38mm (1.5i nches), the ML duly feels amazingly light and agile, inheriting the Explorer’s easy balance once worn in the playing position.
The glued-in mahogany neck feels very different from a typical Gibson; using a very shallow and ultra-fast ‘D’ profile with a fairly flat 12-inch fingerboard radius that players with smaller hands will probably enjoy if bulkier vintage necks are a struggle.
The large inverted ‘V’ headstock is one of Dean’s most recognisable trademarks, and the strings are widely splayed before they meet the chrome plated kidney-button Grover machineheads. This distinctive feature also crops up on the Dean V and to my mind it looks much better; probably due to the way it mirrors and compliments the guitar’s body-shape. Again we find a slim mahogany body, this time finished in a searing white with black binding on the fingerboard and the body’s upper edge. This white-on-black finish dates from Dean’s original 1979 catalogue and is part of a whole group of colours resurrected from the period to help evoke the spirit of Dean’s heyday. In common with the ML, the V’s 22-fret rosewood fingerboard is trimmed with edge binding (black in this instance) and the fret ends are neatly profiled with no annoying traces of binding hanging on at the edges.
HARDWARE & PARTS
Dean ML79 GuitarBoth of these guitars share a similar choice of hardware, with an obvious nod towards Dean Zelinsky’s admiration for vintage Gibsons.
The strings load through the rear of the body and pass through a distinctive V-shaped steel plate before resting on a standard tune-o-matic style bridge. The strings have a fairly steep break angle where they meet the bridge saddles, which – besides guaranteeing less chance of strings jumping off the saddles under heavy picking – transmits better string vibration to the thin mahogany body, thus aiding sustain.
Both open-coiled zebra humbucking pickups are linked to a regular three way pickup selector toggle switch, which is wired for bridge only / both pickups simultaneously / neck only operation; a tried and tested formula that remains surprisingly versatile by today’s standards.
The trio of rotary knobs running down the lower body wing on each guitar consists of two volume controls and a master tone at the bottom. The first volume pot controls the neck pickups’ output while the middle knob takes care of the bridge pickup, allowing dramatic level jumps for soloing if the volumes are balanced accordingly.
Dean 1979 Series V LowdownGiven both guitars’ close similarities in construction and design, you might assume that choosing between either guitar will hinge more on aesthetic choice than any truly critical tonal differences. It ain’t necessarily so…
The ML’s maple top definitely adds a touch of sheen to the mahogany body’s bassier thud. It also benefits from an extra bit of timber in the form the lower bout, and combined with maple top, this appears to give ML an edge in terms of overall clarity and projection.
The V sounds tighter and less strident strummed acoustically but my ears it has the edge when plugged in, sounding warmer and re even than the somewhat edgy-sounding ML.
Perhaps players demanding a shade more flexibility might find themselves warming to the ML. The maple top’s shimmery treble finitely seems to have a positive effect on the guitar’s dynamic range, slightly boosting the treble and upper mids, but these subtle differences aren’t so discernible in e midst of a howling maelstrom of band at full-tilt.
Certainly the V is no slacker when it comes to the live fray; a weekend’s gigging proved it to be a surprisingly able and versatile guitar. Why surprising? Well; the clean sounds are brisk and cutting with a pleasing warmth compared to the thin, cold tone of a couple of Flying Vs I have owned previously. That distinctive, slightly honking midrange is still evident but this helps add punch to the delivery when whacked through an overdriven amp, ‘Schenkering up’ with the sharp and yet creamy signature tone that characterises the very best from a really good V
A few years ago, both of the Guitars would probably have been greeted with howls of derision, but now that hard rock and metal are cool again, those with a flair for dramatic-looking Guitars can enjoy sticking a V-shaped headstock up at their critics. Both these Deans look and sound great – there’s something about strapping one of these babies around your neck that includes the most amazing behaviour from even the most conservative of Guitarists. Feet previously rooted to the floor now itch to find a monitor to rest on, hips thrust forward and lips pout in the time-honoured style of lam rock’s finest. Joking aside, these are both excellent-sounding and easy playing rock Guitars that deserve a second look among a host of Strat-clones.