Most guitar companies have an obvious identity, both in styling and tone, and usually offer a few time-honored shapes and variations on a theme.
Dean Guitars has so many models and shapes that it can be hard to pigeonhole the guitarmaker, something that becomes clearer when you consider the range of artists who play the company’s instruments—from Dave Mustaine to Eric Peterson to Michael Schenker to Leslie West.
But the common thread running through all Dean guitars is updated yet traditional American styling and a palpable tonal edge.
The new Gran Sport and Thoroughbred Stealth exemplify Dean’s in-your-face niche, honoring the spirit of long-established vintage instruments with an attitude that satisfies a more aggressive audience.
The Gran Sport’s slightly offset and asymmetrical horned cutaways resemble the classic styling that we associate with massive open chords and stinging lead lines. A Fifties-style C-shaped, set mahogany neck keeps the tuning stable and adds some tonal girth to the relatively thin mahogany body. The rosewood fretboard is bound and features 22 extra jumbo frets on a 24 1/2–inch scale.
Dean’s overwound DMT Equalizer bridge model and DMT Nostalgia neck model humbuckers pump the saturation beyond vintage standards, with a standard three-way toggle and dedicated controls for volume and tone. Players who sweat the details will like how Dean’s designers created consistently artistic morphs of the Dean Wings, beginning at the headstock and continuing in the non-trapezoidal pearl inlays and pickguard.
Some of the thinner mahogany guitars with lightweight vintage hardware are known to ring excessively in high-gain and high-volume situations, but the Gran Sport’s sealed Grover tuners and modern stoptail and Tune-o-matic bridge negate this tendency. Although it exhibits enough clang to deliver convincing vintage clean and overdriven tones, the Gran Sport really comes alive when driving a bright high-gain lead channel, offering fat mids, excellent string separation and thick lows.
Dean’s Thoroughbred Series includes about a half-dozen single-cutaway variations, some with demeanors that are sweet and happy, others that are sleek and nasty. The black satin-finished Stealth model falls squarely in the latter category. It’s built expressly for the player who wants nothing less than intense high-gain tones, serious low-end girth and wicked harmonic squeals. Note definition is enhanced by the mahogany body’s arched maple top and classic, low mass Tune-o-matic bridge and mini Grover tuners. The set mahogany neck is carved into a substantial C shape and set into the body on a 24 1/2–inch scale.
The Stealth is extremely fast, thanks to an ebony board, round crowns on the 22 extra jumbo frets and Dean’s Ultra Access neck joint, which effectively removes the neck heel so that the neck’s hill seamlessly blends into the contoured lower cutaway. Active EMG pickups include the usual pairing of a model 81 in the bridge slot and a model 85 in the neck position, each with its own volume and tone controls.
The Stealth’s amalgamation of mahogany, maple, ebony and active EMGs is a common configuration in the world of metal guitars, but this Dean’s base tone strikes a lower bell than other guitars of the ilk. It’s in no way muddy or lacking the EMG-powered upper-harmonic thrust—it’s just darker and more sinister through its range, and sustain is always better from guitars with a naturally low-resonant pitch. Plugged into any of the high-gain offerings from Mesa, ENGL or Hughes & Kettner, to name a few, the Gran Sport delivers gut-punching low-mid chunk and deep solo tones.
List Price Gran Sport, $599; Thoroughbred Stealth, $699
Manufacturer Armadillo Enterprises Inc., deanguitars.com
Extra body length and a substantial C-shaped neck help the relatively thin Gran Sport sound as full and deep as bulkier mahogany planks.
Active model 81 and 85 EMGs infuse the tone with preamp-born harmonics while simultaneously delivering the Thoroughbred Stealth’s innately deep resonance and long sustain.
The Bottom Line
For players who want radical tone and slick playability but prefer the feel and look of a traditional package, Dean’s Gran Sport and Thoroughbred Stealth individually offer classic styling with the teeth-baring tonal snarl that we’ve come to expect from this Tampa-based company.