Kerry King on new music post-Slayer: "Let’s just say Dean didn’t sign me for nothing!"

Kerry King plays his Dean USA Kerry King V Limited Edition guitar at Slayer's final show — November 30, 2019, at the Forum in Inglewood, California (Image credit: Kevin Estrada)

After a nearly 40-year reign as thrash metal’s most uncompromising band, Slayer have called it quits. The game-changing Los Angeles crew concluded their Final Campaign farewell tour November 30, 2019, at the Forum in Inglewood, California - a fiery, furious show with blistering versions of fan favorites and genre classics like Angel of Death, South of Heaven, Raining Blood and more.

While the Big 4 road dogs may have reached the end of their live actions (management has clarified that while Slayer is finished touring, they haven’t officially broken up), founding guitarist Kerry King isn’t quite ready to hang up his axe. In fact, he recently signed on with Dean Guitars and unveiled the first fruits of their partnership: the USA Kerry King V Limited Edition signature guitar.

We really went out of our way to make something unique - and not so crazy that it would turn people off

The striking six-string, prototypes of which King sported during the last tour leg, boasts a custom V-shaped mahogany body, EMG and Sustainiac pickups, Kahler KFK bridge, three-piece maple neck, 24 jumbo-fret ebony fingerboard, pearl, stone and ebony inverted-cross inlays, fiber optic LED side dots, Black Satin with Gloss Red Cross finish and more.

Only 50 of the USA Kerry King V models are being made, and, as such, each arrives with the appropriately hefty price tag of $8,666 - the number of the beast, plus.

“We really went out of our way to make something unique - and not so crazy that it would turn people off. I, for one, am very proud of it,” explains King, who, along with late founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman, was the architect behind the sinister themes, vicious rhythms and hell-raising, squealing solos that always defined Slayer’s unparalleled attack.

Throughout the final world tour, King and his bandmates - founding bassist/ singer Tom Araya, guitarist Gary Holt and drummer Paul Bostaph - were uncharacteristically silent offstage. They eschewed the typical press rounds and public goodbyes and were tight-lipped about what new musical projects might be on the horizon. 

But the week before King hit the Forum for Slayer’s finale, the guitarist agreed to open up to Guitar World about the details behind his new Dean - including why the signature six-string is a good sign that we’ll be hearing some new solo music from King in the not-too-distant future.

Why was Dean the right company to partner with for your new signature guitar?

"Well, it’s no secret that I’ve always liked pointy guitars. I’ve been friends with the Dean people for at least 15 years, so it was really a no-brainer. And Dean has given me the opportunity to create things no one has seen before."

Kerry King with signature Dean guitar

(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Dimebag was obviously a Dean guy for years, and you two were tight. Did you ever test out any of his guitars back in the day?

"I have one of the Razorback Vs numbered to 333, so yes!"

You were with B.C. Rich for a lot of years, a partnership that resulted in a bunch of iconic signature guitars. What were your requirements when you first sat down with Dean to brainstorm a brand-new guitar? From first glance the black finish is a big departure from some of your previous tribal-inspired designs.

"Well, nothing against the tribal paint - that’s been my thing for 20 years. But it was more about making something fresh - first new company in 20 years, gotta have fresh ideas.

The first body they cut for me off a drawing I sent them was way too big. We had to downsize it twice! Dean guitars for giants!

"So I had them make a couple guitars made from different woods. It was all about having to make sure what was right for Kerry now, not 20 years ago. And that also meant new paint ideas."

Dean is touting the new USA Kerry King V Limited Edition model as having a “never before seen guitar design.” Can you share some details about the inspiration behind the new V guitar body and headstock shape?

"For me, Dean has its own iconic headstock shape. It was just a little too big for my taste. So I suggested that if we were going to join forces, how about if we made a headstock more my style? And this is what we came up with. 

"Then we basically had the body mimic the headstock. Funny story. The first body they cut for me off a drawing I sent them was way too big. We had to downsize it twice! Dean guitars for giants!"

(Image credit: Dean Guitars)

Did you start with one of their existing guitars as a template and then tweak the design? Did you test a lot of different prototypes before you landed on something you liked?

"Actually, the only thing I wanted the same or similar was my neck dimensions, of course. The only other parameter I was focused on was doing something with a V. In the beginning that’s all, because that’s what I play 90 percent of the time. And I certainly wasn’t going to ask Dean to do anything resembling a [B.C. Rich] Warlock! 

"We really started nailing the design down when I was able to go to the Dean factory on a day off in Tampa on whatever tour I was on at the time. We did a lot of streamlining in those 36 hours."

You mentioned neck dimensions. The neck shape is listed as “Kerry King Spec C.” Is it closer to an oval C shape or more of a modern, shallower flat oval shape?

"I really don’t know! It’s my fuckin’ shape!"

The custom fretboard inlays are rad. What inspired that design?

"To tell you the truth, I think it was my friend Josh [Maloney] at Dean. Early on he was shooting me ideas that I believe he was predominantly responsible for. It’s two crossed stakes with an upside-down cross in the middle of them. [He] definitely stepped it up for this one."

You’ve been playing a prototype of the Dean during this last leg of the final tour. How’s it holding up? Has the live trial by fire brought to light any aspects of the guitar that needed to be tweaked?

"I play the Dean guitars for 12 of the 20 songs we play live. And, I know, everyone talks great things about new products, but I also know that my reputation is being a straight shooter. I am super pleased with the new guitars. The only thing I’ve changed from the first two Deans is I’ve finally come up with graphics."

Dean will be kicking off the line with a limited run of 50 US-made, signed models. Are there talks yet of a larger factory run?

"I’m sure there will be a larger factory run. I’ve been so busy with the final [tour] that we haven’t really discussed it, unfortunately."

Speaking of the final Slayer tour, now that you’re at the end of the run, fans are anxious to learn what you’ll be up to next. You’ve been clear in the past that you’re not retiring. Is it safe to say fans can expect to hear some new music from Kerry King and the new signature Dean guitar in the future?

"Let’s just say… Dean didn’t sign me for nothing!"

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Brad Angle

Brad is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and video producer. He is the former content director of Revolver magazine and executive editor of Guitar World. His work has appeared in Vice, Guitar Aficionado, Inked and more. He’s also a die-hard Les Paul player who wishes he never sold his 1987 Marshall Silver Jubilee half stack.