Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dean #1 - 'Baby ML Dean from Hell'

AKA piece of cheap Chinese tat #1

I had been discussing with a friend which 'iconic' guitars I'd like to own a replica of and the Dean from Hell was one of the obvious ones. I'm not a Dimebag fanboy but I did really like the Cowboys from Hell era Pantera. I lost interest around Great Southern Trendkill.

There was no way I was going to pay what Dean were asking new for the official full size replica, even a Chinese one, but this came up very cheaply on eBay and I thought it'd be a bit of fun. It's a 3/4 size ML body but with a standard scale length and decked out as a DFH replica.

Except as it came, admittedly secondhand, it was shit. The neck was bowed and the pickups awful. I started tinkering with it and found the truss rod completely loose in the neck. So I tightened it up and fixed the bow.

Even with this done the intonation and action were all over the place and with a bit of setup I've improved it. However the bridge simply doesn't offer enough adjustment to get it spot on. It seems to be forced forwards by harsh angle of the strings as they go into the body ferrules, perhaps down to the fact it needs to be set quite high. I think I may have to buy a 'Nashville' bridge to work around this this. Although tighter fitting bridge studs may help too, it's all rather sloppy.

Speaking of the ferrules, it was missing one when I got it. The seller mentioned this so I was expecting it. The reason it was missing is that Dean didn't bother to fix them securely and it must have gone pingfuckit when restringing. Thanks Dean. They'd also used the same style of 'cup' ferrule for both the top and bottom of the body, which is a bit rubbish as the string presses into the side of the ferrule and body of the guitar as it emerges. I managed to get some suitable replacement ferrules from CH Guitars. When I restrung it I glued the ferrules all in and turned the top ferrules around so the strings emerged cleanly from the hole in the middle, keeping it away from the body and at a very slightly shallower angle to the bridge.

Next up, even if the pickups were OK, and they're not, they simply didn't fit the replica theme. They were two bog standard black open coil humbuckers. To be a Dean from Hell it has to have a zebra pickup at the neck and a Bill Lawrence style blade one at the bridge.

I've now replaced the original pickups with a GFS zebra neck and Axesrus blade at the bridge. Not only do they sound better, even though both were cheap as chips, but it now looks more the part. It did have a Bill Lawrence USA L500XL at the bridge for a while, which is the right thing for a DFH, but that's a stupid size. The special surround didn't cover the route in the body and in a standard surround the L500XL flapped about.

The lightning bolt design is a nasty decal but from a distance it looks kind of OK. It now plays averagely for a cheap guitar instead of barely at all. The neck has a pleasant satin finish and some nice grain but the frets are a tad uneven and sharp at the edges. I may use this to practice working on fretboards.

Unless Dean have improved Baby MLs since this one was made (2007) I wouldn't recommend buying one unless you're willing to spend some time sorting it out. There are much much better budget guitars around. Luckily I positively enjoy tinkering with guitars and see things like this as a challenge.

Update: I've just played this for about 90 minutes and that bridge pickup is great, especially since it was only £10 because it was a second. I reckon it's better than the Bill Lawrence.

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