“In the throes of death”: future of Dean Guitars in question following court filing

Dean Guitars headstock
(Image credit: Future)

A court filing has cast serious doubts over the future of Dean Guitars and its parent company Armadillo Enterprises, which has been described as being “in the throes of death”.

Dean’s various legal issues and internal problems have been a major distraction for the electric guitar company in recent years, but this damning complaint seemingly suggests that Dean’s very survival is in the balance.

The court filing (available via the Hillsborough County Clerk website) was first spotted by YouTuber KDH, and concerns the ongoing legal issues between former business partners Evan Rubinson and his mother, Pamela Rubinson.

Evan was removed as Dean and Armadillo Enterprises CEO/President back in July 2022 following allegations of embezzlement, with a statement from Pamela stating, “Our team is committed to continuing the legacy of Dean… created by Elliott Rubinson, our founder, and my husband.”

Pamela, who was appointed CEO in Evan’s place, filed a lawsuit claiming that Evan had embezzled more than $420,000 from Thoroughbred Music Inc – another corporation founded by Elliott Rubinson – with the case still ongoing.

In a statement issued to Guitar.com at the time, Evan “vehemently and wholeheartedly” denied “every aspect of the lawsuit”.

Dean electric guitar headstock

(Image credit: Future)

This unearthed complaint filed by Evan concerns another of the pair’s companies, Kapok, for which the former Dean CEO has reportedly been trying to obtain accounting information from Pamela. 

According to the filing, Pamela allegedly used her position of Trustee of the Elliott Trust – a trust established by Elliott in 2011 to encourage Evan to become an entrepreneur – to oust Evan from his position at Dean and force him to give up his Kapok claim.

The legal filing reads, “In response [to Evan’s request for “basic financial documents and information about Kapok”], Pamela lashed out for leverage to try to bludgeon Evan into giving up his request for information about Kapok. 

“First, she decided to abuse her position as Trustee of the Trust to inflict enough harm on Evan, her beneficiary and only son, to force him to give up his Kapok accounting claim,” it continued. “She used her position as Trustee to control shares in a company called Armadillo to remove Evan as CEO of that entity without a succession plan, knowing the company would be destined to fail as a result (she later asked Evan to return once Armadillo’s failure was nearly certain).

“She used the gun she put to Armadillo’s head to attempt to extract a resolution of the Kapok accounting claim: 'Give up the Kapok claim, or I will kill Armadillo,' she figuratively threatened. Pamela’s hostage-taking did not work.”

Because of the in-fighting, the claim goes on to argue that Dean and Armadillo's very existence is in jeopardy.

“As a result, Armadillo, a Trust asset, is now in the throes of death because Pamela, the Trustee, wanted leverage over the Trust beneficiary,” the filing goes on. “That is the opposite of what a fiduciary is supposed to do with Trust assets.”

Dean guitars isn’t the only entity that would be affected by Armadillo’s demise – the company also owns acoustic guitar brand Luna Guitars, as well as ddrum.

These internal issues have been compounded by numerous other lawsuits that Dean has been embroiled in over the past few years.

As KDH notes, Dean has previously been sued by Gibson, with the court finding Dean guilty of infringing on Gibson’s Flying V, Explorer, ES and SG body shape trademarks. As such, Dean was ordered to stop producing its V, Z and Gran Sport electric guitars – three of the most popular models on its roster.

To compound matters further, Dean was found in civil contempt earlier this year for failing to comply with this trademark ruling.

In 2021, Dean was also sued by Dimebag Darrel’s estate, who ended the pair’s longstanding relationship in order to “ensure the rightful and respectful celebration of Dime's legacy and the indelible mark he and his music made on this world”.

As a result of the case, which is still ongoing, even more models have been removed from Dean’s website.

On the topic of Dimebag Darrell guitars, Dean Zelinsky – Dean’s founder and former CEO, who left the company in 2008 – recently hinted that he had been working on a new Razorback-style Dimebag model.

This new court filing can be found on the Hillsborough County Clerk website, among the documents located under case number 23-CA-000439.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.