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Dean Guitar’s Dean Zelinsky (LA Special)

Dean Guitar’s Dean Zelinsky (LA Special)
March 15, 2008 | Author: Greg Phillips

dean-dimebag-630-80The NAMM show had barely opened its doors on day three, yet the Dean Guitar booth was already ablaze with colour, sound, movement  and fun. The walls exploded with larger than life size effigies of rock stars lending their name to the boldly designed guitars which stood proudly next to them. A camera crew and compere Lacey Conner of VH-1’s “Rock of Love” captured the activity and beamed it live around the world via a real-time webcast. Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine. Vinnie Moore, Trivium’s Corey and Matt, Tom from Hell Yeah, and John from Sevendust, were all there during the day to show support for their axe of choice. This is the kind of excitement Dean Zelinsky always wanted associated with his guitars. First and foremost, he wanted to build the world’s best guitar, but what was the point if it wasn’t going to be fun too.

Zelinsky’s interest in guitars began as a ten year old in the suburbs of Chicago. “Well I guess I was the kind of guy, that when my parents bought me a record player, I would take it apart before I’d even played a record,” recalls Zelinsky. “Then I would buy beat up old guitars and pretty much put them back together and had a little side business while I was at high school working on guitars … buying them, fixing them, re-selling them.”

As rock in the 70s became heavier, Zelinsky felt that the guitars available on the market weren’t sympathetic to the music. He was a fan of the old Zs and Vs, Explorer shaped guitars that were kicking around in the 50s and 60s, and thought that those style of guitars were more appropriate for the times.
“Rock in the early 70s was staring to get serious,” explains Dean. “There was no such thing as metal music but rock was starting to get heavy. My basic feeling was that the guitars they were playing, didn’t really fit the music. My concept was to bring back some radical shaped guitars and debut them properly, with materials like flame-maple tops, and ebony boards. Back then nobody knew what cool necks were. In my custom shop I used to hot rod necks and shave them. The other thing was that pick up technology was really bad. Everybody was looking for vintage pick ups on old guitars. The pick ups on the market in those days were really weak. I found this guy in New York called Larry DiMarzio who was winding some cool pickups. We were literally the first company to put DiMarzio pick ups on a production guitar.”

Once Dean had arrived at the product he desired, he needed to tell the world about it. But this was the rock and roll business and he didn’t want apply the same corporate mentality to his brand as everyone else. He was a young guy, into rock music, cars and girls and needed to connect with like minded souls. His plan was two fold, get to the market and get his guitars into the hands of the coolest players he could find. Dean began using scantily clad girls in their advertising to grab attention and it had an immediate effect.  “We got a lot of heat,” said Zelinsky. ” But it actually helped us. Guitar Player was pretty much the only magazine back in the 70s and for nine months straight the letters to the editor were dominated with talk about the Dean ads. I never thought anyone would have objections to an ad that was pretty much common place in any other magazine.”

In a couple of short years Dean had gone from a fledgling guitar company to a well known brand. Dean rode a wave of success for a decade but as manufacturing moved to Asia, quality control standards across the board began to drop. Zelinsky had got into the business to build quality guitars, didn’t like what he was seeing and turned his back on the company, preferring instead to build high class furniture. Zelinsky reflects on the period. “With globalisation it was a race to the bottom and we were making high end guitars. I didn’t get into the business because I could sell a guitar real cheap. I got into the business because I could make a great guitar. So I sold the business. I wasn’t in the business of how cheap I could sell a Floyd Rose with a Strat shape attached to it. Then Elliot (Rubinson) bought the company, brought me back and now we are rockin’ and rollin’.”

Dean guitars are indeed back in the game. One of the reasons they were able to infiltrate the market so well after being out of favour for a time was the loyalty factor. Dean was always loyal to it’s customer base and in return, the players were true to Dean. One of the most loyal of Dean players was the late great Dimebag Darrell. Zelinsky describes the association. “Dimebag had played my guitars from the beginning. We used to sell a lot of guitars into the Dallas area and Dimebag became a legend down there. He was winning a  lot of guitar competitions. We were sponsoring a lot of guitar contests and he was winning them all. We knew about him and he had this band Pantera and he just played my guitars. Next thing you know he became Dimebag Darrell. Then I was out of the business and he was getting famous. A few years ago he was ready to get back in action. Ready to come back to Dean guitars and we reconnected. We got it rockin’ and rollin’, building models, designing finishes, doing the whole thing. It was just a few weeks before the whole line was due to be debuted. A life gets cut short tragically.”

While Dimebag is not around to advocate the Dean name in person, his legend lives on through an array of signature model Dean guitars. The new Cemetery Gates model featuring a hidden Dimebag image was a talking point at NAMM. “He left a  huge mark in this world for the short time he was here. I kind of feel like he left it all in my hands because he had to go somewhere,” says Zelinsky of his mission to keep the Dimebag name alive.

For Dean guitars, the future looks bright. They previously had issues keeping up with demand, but a new state of the art factory in Florida has been built to address those concerns. In the decades that Zelinsky has been involved in building guitars, many things have changed, but not his story. “We’re not trying to be the biggest company, we are trying to be the best. Since 1999 when we made this resurgence its been straight up hill and it’s been a lot of work … but also a lot of fun.”