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Reviews: Dean EVO Special

Many would agree that the vintage origin of the electric guitar would be born from either the Gibson Les Paul, or from the Fender Stratocaster. The Les Paul is known for its full-bodied rich tone; while the Stratocaster delivers more cutting, twangy, vocal-like tones. Throughout the decades many guitarists and guitar makers have found their preferences leaning towards one side or another-the perennial, "do you play a Paul, or do you play a Strat?" The Dean EVO Special blends elements from both camps. The EVO ("Evolved from Vintage Origins") has a curvy single cutaway body, giving it a sleek Paul-like appearance. The Special's mahogany body is relatively lightweight, in the Strat range. (The EVO Premium offers a 1" to 1.5" thick flamed maple top, which brings its weight up into the heavier range of the Les Paul). The Special is available with either a quilted amber maple top, or a flamed red or black maple top. All of the finishes are gorgeous; rivaling finishes of guitars closer to the $1000 range-very pretty!

The set-in mahogany neck has a medium-slim profile, and features a very slim neck joint. Access to the upper regions of the neck is unobstructed, and is actually one of the slimmest neck joints I've ever seen. The EVO's neck is comfortable to play, and is crowned with Grover tuners, another noteworthy feature on most of Dean's $250-and-up guitars.

The Special's pickups are the silver-cased vintage-style humbuckers, and they sound great. As hums, these deliver a brilliant, full-bodied sound, definitely reminiscent of some EVO predecessor's tones (a la Paul): big fat notes that sound great clean, with a round, jazzy tone; and that when overdriven, produce a warm saturated tone. The only drawback is the single volume and single tone controls, which prevent individual adjustment of the neck vs. bridge pickup. On the other hand, the most notable feature in the electronics is that the volume and tone controls also act as coil taps for the pickups. By pulling out the control knobs, you can split the hums into single coils, and enter the world of the Strat-like tones. I was immediately impressed with the twanginess of the bridge pickup. It proves worthy for playing steely country and surf riffs. I especially like the neck pickup as a single coil: it comes alarmingly close to sounding Strat-like, delivering a bluesy articulate, vocal tone. With the 3-way selector switch set for center, the two singles worked great for funky rhythm playing. Splitting the pickups from double to single coil mode does incur a drop in signal output (a normal tradeoff for the distinctive single coil tones). The EVO does offer a diverse array of tones though, with the clever use of coil tapping the pickups. (Again, I just wish there were separate volumes and tones per pickup. The tonal possibilities would be pretty scary to imagine!)

The Dean EVO is a lot of guitar for $549, right down to the awesome flame or quilted finishes. A guitar of this caliber would have been much closer to the $1000 range seven to ten years ago. Higher standards of production overseas (the EVOs are made in Korea) may be responsible for this new class of quality electric guitars in the $500-600 range. Whatever the case, the EVO Special is an all around great value for the ears, the eyes, and the pocket book.

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