The History of Dean Guitars- 500 words with Adam P Hunt
500 Words Dean Guitars
How can you hate on Dean Guitars? To me Dean represents everything great about rock ‘n‘ roll because they are big, bold, dynamic and slightly idiotic (but I mean that in the nicest possible way).
Throughout it’s history Dean Guitars have made instruments for almost every major rock act during the last forty years including Dimebag Darrell, Michael Schenker, Kansas, Leslie West, The Cars, Heart, Doobie Brothers, Jefferson Starship, Dave Mason, Triumph, Iron Maiden, Sammy Hagar, Nils Lofgren and ZZ Top.
Founded in 1977 by Dean Zelinsky in Chicago Dean Guitars was on the forefront of the handmade electric guitar revival during the 1970’s.
In my opinion Dean Guitars are criminally overlooked and I think that’s partly because they stood out like a giant middle finger in a way that Hamer or PRS never did. Take a look at some of Zelinsky’s original designs like the ML or the Cadillac there isn’t anything subtle about them.
Named as a memorial for one of Dean Zelinsky’s friends, Matthew Lynn, the ML is the most striking of Dean’s early designs. The ML is a mutant cross between a Flying V and an Explorer that sported a giant “v” shaped headstock that was clearly at odds with what other contemporary builder were making.
For me the other early standout design was the E’lite and it’s upscale brother the Cadillac. The E’lite /Cadillac was a riff the classic Les Paul design but had a more aggressive lower bout, an angular upper bout and the massive f* you Dean headstock.
It would be one thing if these guitars were all show but no go but Zelinsky’s guitars used classic building techniques such as high quality tone woods, long tenon neck joints, and high quality hardware and electronics.
While Dean did catch some flack during his early days for using some highly suggestive ad campaigns that featured scantily clad bikini models this approach worked and eventually his guitars found their way into the hands of high-profile players including one Randy Rhodes.
As Dean’s profile rose demand eventually outstripped the small company’s ability to keep up with demand so as was with the case of B.C. Rich Dean started importing lower price point versions of their guitars from the Far East.
In 1991 Zelinsky sold his company in order to spend time with his wife and family.
Nine years later Zelinsky returned to Dean as a consultant and was involved with marketing, US production, guitar design and artist relations.
By 2008 Zelinsky had left Dean for the final time only to start DBZ Guitars and in 2012 Zelinsky formed Dean Zelinsky Private Label. While Dean’s current guitars are considerably more subdued than his previous designs it’s any one’s guess how resonant players will find them.
Love them or hate them Dean Guitars are a uniquely American guitar, loud, obnoxious, outrageous and very rock ‘n’ roll.
For more of what Dean Zelinsky has been up to check out:
For people who are more interested in more “Dean” like guitar check out