The Dean European Custom Cadillac Ultima
DURING THE LAST DECADE, WE'VE SEEN GUITAR manufacturing traverse the globe, heading out of Japan and the United States, and into Korea, Malaysia, China, India, and beyond. The latest "hot" zone for guitar building is the former Soviet bloc, notably the Czech Republic. To American-based companies, glasnost translates into "affordable labor," and that means bigger savings for U.S. consumers. This brings us to the Czech-made Dean European Custom Cadillac Ultima, which aims to put a higher-end solid-body in the hands of rockers for less than the price of an American- or Japanese-made axe. Did Dean pull it off? Let's find out.
Construction-wise, this Cadillac is a straightforward rock and roll machine in the Gibson tradition. It has a set-in, one piece mahogany neck, a 22-fret ebony fingerboard (16" radius, 1 11/16" nut width) and Les Paul scale of 24 3/4". Inlays are mother-of-pearl block, somewhat like a Les Paul Custom. The oversized Flying V-like headstock is fitted with Schaller tuners, and the guitar also features Dean Vintage Zebra pickups, standard controls (two volume, two tone), a three-way toggle switch, and even a five-year warranty. Finally, the half-Les Paul/half-Explorer-styled body is mahogany with a figured arched-maple top and a bound body and fingerboard. Overall, this solidbody isn't shy about revealing its Gibson-influenced heritage, though its outrageous shape and eye-catching finish are Dean all the way.
This Dean wins big points for playability and tone. The beefy neck is ripe for heavy rock riffs of all sorts, from screaming solos to deep power chords. The flat radius contributes to the neck's speed factor, which should please the shred contingent as well as rockers interested in an easy-playing instrument. You don't have to fight the Cadillac to get good playability-it's just part of the design.
Tonally, there are few surprises-when you put an arched maple top on a mahogany and throw in a decent set of humbuckers you get a certain, well, Les Paulish tone. Either you do it right or you don't, and fortunately Dean does it right. Cranking through a big Fender tube combo, the Cadillac roared just as is should, creating the kind of crunchy tonal authority that metalers all over the planet crave. Put it through a Marshall stack and prepare to wipe out the first three rows.
If I have to deduct any points, it's for minor finishing details. The cherry-colored stain wasn't applied with absolute neatness, and there are small dots and smudges of color here and there on the crËme binding. The binding, too, has an uneven hue in places, suggesting that some areas were sanded harder than others. I'm also not crazy about the appearance of the fingerboard ebony. It's very grainy, showing white-ish streaks in the wood-personally, I prefer ebony that's all black with very little of the grain showing. Granted, this is one person's view, but keep these cosmetic factors in mind when you test out the guitar.
And FYI, for you finish junkies out there, we tested the Flame Red model, but you can also grab Flame Green, Flame Amber, Flame Blue, Flame Honeyburst, Ruby Sparkle, 24K Gold Sparkle, and Silver Sparkle.
At the end of the test session, the Dean European Custom Cadillac Ultima achieved what it set out to do-provide a guitar with a high-end appearance at a mid-range price to consumers. Aside from my finishing quibbles, the guitar is a straightforward rock axe and appears to be very solidly built. Without question, it's a guitar designed for hard-rock concert work, and there, it hits the mark squarely.
You've also got to revel in the irony that Ted McCarty's old Gibson designs from Kalamazoo, Michigan, have now been ably absorbed by guitar-factory workers in the Czech Republic. I guess it is a small world after all.
So for those of you who want an electric that melds Gibson-fueled tones with the fabled, over-the-top looks of Dean, this guitar may have your number on it. See you at the next Heart gig.
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