VINTAGE DEAN GUITAR HISTORY
1976 - 1985


1. Dean B. Zelinsky began developing Dean Guitars in 1976 at age 19. The picture above is from inside the Dean factory in 1978 and was featured in a 1978 People Magazine.

2. In 1976 Dean began building prototype necks and bodies, trying to nail down the final specs for serialized production models. These parts were all destroyed but one neck did sneak it's way into a complete guitar build, 76 00034 a turquoise V (pics courtesy of owner Joe Ragno). Information on this guitar is limited but it is thought to have been built sometime later from a group of 25-30 prototype "trashcan necks" that were built for development purposes and never slated for complete guitar builds. The headstock on the 76 00034 V is shaped differently with the Dean logo obviously hand-done, a different shaped trussrod cover and has chrome Grover Imperial tuners. Dean Zelinsky was shown this guitar several years back and confirmed it as being built from a legit 1976 prototype Dean neck and unknown Dean body. Dean was very surprised to see the guitar and according to Joe "He gave me the impression that those first guitars got thrown in a corner of the room or warehouse, likely intended for the garbage."

Breaking News ! 2-21-14: The original owner/builder of this guitar has now been discovered !

He said that he "bought it from a guy in NJ who told me that either him or a friend worked at the factory and that it was headed for the garbage but one of them rescued it."
Further Information:
* "I lived in northern N.J. at the time and I bought it there, had it built there and sold it there."
* "The back of a the headstock was stamped either with a "2" or a "B". I always took that to mean it was a second."
* "Also the binding around the guitar, the logo and the 76 on headstock are all hand painted."
* "It was VERY raw. It was simply the neck with brass nut AND body. Neck was attached to the body. I cant emphasize enough how raw it was, roughly done. I don't remember if me or a friend or my luthier sanded it but it needed it very badly. "
* "This was either the late 80's or the early 90's. (Somewhere between 1988 and 1992). I had it for a year or two and used other parts I had at the time. I owned an old BCRich Mockingbird (I think a 76 also) and it looks like I may have used its tuners and I had late 70's early 80's Super Distortions lying around."
* "The Dean Logo AND the body pin-striping where custom painted by my uncle who is an artist and auto body pinstriping guy. He did an extra-ordinary job from photos. I choose the "76" logo he hand painted."
* "The body was painted at an Auto Body shop in Dover N.J. I knew one of the owners and he did it as a favor. I picked the color out of a book of colors and remember it being called Teal."
* "I remember that the neck was extremely - extremely thin - I mean the width of the fretboard not the thickness of the neck. It was just way way too thin and I couldn't get used to it so I sold it. I am glad that guy or his friend rescued it from the trash and I am glad I had it built. Now I am just sorry I sold it!!"

3. This is one of the very first full guitar builds attempted by the Dean and is currently owned by Dean Zelinsky. Notice some of the interesting features and mistakes in it's build that kept it from ever being completed. This may have been the first time Dean tried to use neck binding. Notice the straight section of neck binding that was never shaped into the rounded neck binding that vintage Dean guitars are known for. Also notice the rosewood fretboard and pressed in but unworked frets. If you look at the body, you can see that the holes for the pickup selector switch and control knobs were drilled too high up on the body. The top volume knob would have been right up against the bridge. Also notice the attempts at trying to figure out where to drill the holes for the tuners in the headstock.

This guitar is thought to have been the first neck/body combination to be stamped with a serial number. It is stamped 76 0001. Since it had so many problems and was never completed, that 0001 stamp was used again in 1977 on a fully completed 1977 prototype ML.

4. In 1977 a very small number of pre-production guitars were built before serialized production began at serial number 77 00101. Information on these guitars is hard to come by as they are extremely rare. Some of these guitars did not have serial numbers(including the 3 pre-pro guitars in the original 1977 advertisments, see #5 below).

At this point in time, 1 serialized pre-production guitar has been found. 77 00001 is a black ML Standard that appears to be all original and very close to what would end up being the final production specs. This guitar would be the earliest fully built, planned and completed, serialized Dean guitar found. It is so rare, no other fully completed serialized guitar has ever been found with a serial number before the start of production models at 77 00101. The 77 00001 ML has brass Grover Imperial tuners, a slightly thicker headstock, a slightly oversized brass jackplate and was equiped with the iconic Dean zebra black/creme DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups. Some of the earlier pre-production guitars were equiped with double-creme DiMarzios(more on this below).

5. The earliest promotional guitars were featured in a 1977 Dean catalog and early advertisements(see pictures below). These guitars were unserialized pre-production models with developmental specs unlike any serialized production guitars. These 3 guitars, a Black ML, Cherryburst V and Brasiliaburst Z have been the source of much confusion and the basis for some interesting mistakes over the years by Vintage Dean owners and the current Dean Company. These 3 early pre-production guitars featured non-production model specs such as rosewood fretboards, no neck binding, double creme DiMarzio pickups, slightly oversized brass input jack plates and “Standard” features on the body such as curly maple capped tops and full body binding. No production guitars were made like this ever. It is not known if any of these 3 guitars are still in existence. I asked Dean Zelinsky personally about these guitars and he had no idea whatever happened to them.

Double creme pickups were used on some of the early pre-production guitars but were already changed to the iconic zebra black/creme style toward the end of the pre-production guitars. Dean did not use double creme pickups as the standard pickups on serialized production guitars in 1977. There were a limited number of early 77's built with double cream pickups(most likely leftovers) but this would be the exception and not the norm. The vast majority of 1977's were built with zebra DiMarzios. Most 1977-78 Dean guitars you see today with double cream DiMarzios are the result of owners changing the pickups, attempting to make their guitars look original, but they actually got it wrong. We have seen this mistake being repeated over and over again for years by Vintage Dean owners and collectors. We assume these Vintage Dean owners were trying to make their guitars look like the pre-production models in the 1977 advertisements(see below). You can blame Dean for this confusion since Dean never released any advertisements in 1977 that featured pictures of actual real production models that would have shown zebra DiMarzio pickups. The first real production Dean guitars to show up in an advertisement were featured in the 1978 catalog(see #7 below).

When the current Dean company released the Lost 100 Series in 2007 (77 00001 to 77 00100), they incorrectly fit the guitars with double creme pickups, most likely making the same mistake and referring to the original 1977 catalog and full page advertisement that featured pre-production spec guitars. The current Dean company once again made the same mistake in 2012 with double creme DiMarzios in their import 35th Anniversary guitars. While the double cream DiMarzio pickups do make the guitars look unique and set them apart from other standard models, technically the pickups are incorrect.

A funny fact is that there are actually 2 guitars serialized as 77 00001, the original 1977 black ML 77 00001 and a 2007 Lost 100 Series guitar serialized as 77 00001. The black 1977 ML 77 00001 did not surface into public knowledge until 2011 so in 2007 when the current Dean Company built the Lost 100 Series guitars, they had no clue there was actually a serialized guitar made before 77 000101.

6. Dean began production model serialized guitars in 1977 at serial number 77 00101 and made approximately 85 production guitars that year.

7. Dean began production in 1978 at serial number 78 00500(skipping 400+ serial numbers) and made approximately 500 guitars that year. Even the 1978 catalog is a bit weird, incorrectly showing guitars with chrome V-plates and jackplates(should be brass). 1978 catalog below:

8. 1977 and early 1978 Dean guitars featured a super huge headstock commonly referred to as a “BFH” or Big F*cking Headstock. These BFH headstocks disappeared around serial number 78 00665. Therefore there were approximately 85 – 1977’s and 165 - 1978’s for an approximate total of 250 BFH guitars made.

9. Around serial number 78 00666, the headstocks were downsized to what is called the “Series II” which ran through late 1981. There are actually 2 different Series II headstocks. The first Series II headstocks did not have a volute. These were transitional into the beginning of 1979. From best I can tell, the volute appeared at about the same time the red sides(See #14) disappeared in early 1979, around serial number 79 01100(approximate best guess). In late 1981 the headstocks were downsized again to the Series III. In 1983, a radically different headstock appeared that is commonly referred to as the "Shrimpfork Headstock". These were used at first on Baby Series Models but eventually became widespread on fullsize models in 1984.

10. A very large percentage of original BFH Dean’s have fallen victim to headstock damage as there is literally only 3/16” of wood under the trussrod cover just above the nut and no volute. Many, many of these guitars had the headstocks snap off, quite a few during original shipment back in 1977 and 1978. One of Dean’s very first retailers, Cathy Currier of Curriers Music in Kentucky, told me that the first 3 Dean guitars she received in 1977-78 arrived with their headstocks snapped off. This problem was the basis for the redesigned Series II headstock in early-mid 1978.

11. Of the 250 original Dean BFH guitars, we would estimate that at least half, maybe more, have been destroyed and are gone forever. Of the remaining lot, probably half of those have had headstock reattachments or repairs.

12. Dimebag Darrell of Pantera had 2 BFH Deans. First is a Cherryburst 1977 V, serial number 77 00138 or 00139, modded for a Floyd Rose in standard Dime-style. This guitar is still in the Darrell family collection.

2nd was a black 1977/78 BFH ML, serial number unknown, that was also modded for a Floyd Rose tremolo. And yes, it’s headstock came off at least once. The story on this guitar is that Dime bought it for just $50 as a beater body/neck only, worn out frets, no hardware, no pickups. Dime and friends built the guitar and used it for "tune down" songs live. That guitar is thought to have been broken and destroyed as it was not found in Dime's collection recently. Dime's legendary lightning bolt Dean From Hell ML is serial number 81 03093.

13. Production guitars came in 2 varieties: “Standard” and “Flame”. The Standard was the top of the line model and featured a solid mahogany body and neck, a curly maple capped body, full body binding, ebony fretboard and Grover tuners. Flame series guitars were solid mahogany without the curly maple top, did not have body binding, had rosewood fingerboards and Kluson tuners. Many Flame Series guitars were built with a Grover tuner option however. As time went on, the Kluson tuners disappeared from the lineup. In 1982, Dean switched from Grover to Schaller tuners. 1979-81 catalog below:

The current Dean company in their infinte wisdom has recently(2013) released a "Chicago Flame" and "Chicago Standard" series with both USA and import models. To totally confuse things, they got the names BACKWARDS, calling the top of the line version, with the flame maple top and full body binding, the "Flame" instead of the correct Vintage Dean notation of "Standard". Whether this was complete stupidity or an attempted middle finger towards Dean Zelinsky is anyones guess. This is sure to cause major confusion in the future.

14. 1977, 1978 and some early 1979 Dean guitars have red side dot markers on the neck. These red side dot markers were actually cut from sticks that came from a toy game called Space Clusters(see below). These sticks were much like the sticks in a Pick-Up-Sticks game. One of Dean’s friends got the Space Clusters game(s) from his dads toy store. When Dean used up all the red sticks in the game(s), production was changed to regular black side dots.

15. Many 1977-79 Dean guitars have a small "Z" symbol written under the trussrod cover. I have seen this symbol written in pencil, pen and magic marker. That "Z" was written in personally by Dean Zelinsky himself. In the early days, Dean would not allow anyone else to set/glue a neck in. He did it himself to make sure they were set correctly in perfect alignment.

16. Dean began building a Les Paul style hybrid guitar named the E'Lite(pronounced E-Light) in 1978. E'Lites can come in just about any configuration of options as there was never really anything "standard" about the model. Some E'Lites are more like a Flame Series and some are highly optioned like a Standard Series. In 1979, a super fancy version of the E'Lite called the Cadillac was brought into production. Real Vintage Cadillac models have 3 pickups, a factory installed pre-amp, gold plated hardware and 7-ply binding on the headstock and body. Real Vintage Cadillacs are very, very rare. Since the current Dean company refers to any guitar built in this shape as a "Cadillac", people often confuse the Vintage guitar names and incorrectly refer to a Vintage E'Lite as a Cadillac. 1979-81 catalog below:

17. One thing that should be noted: There are no absolutes when referring to Dean production specs. While 97% conform to regular specifications, it must be remembered that Dean Guitars was a Custom Shop and would build to customer specs. You will occasionally find an original Vintage Dean with different pickups, tuners, top, fretboard, etc. from the standard specifications.

18. There was a little known model option in 1979-1980 that Dean had for special customers called an "Imperial". Imperials were super-Standard models that had an upgraded bridge and upgraded electronics with push-pull pots. These are very rare. The 1980 ML below has the Imperial upgraded bridge and electronics. Notice the factory original push/pull DiMarzio pot on the far left.

19. There has been much debate over the years regarding the zebra Dean DiMarzio Super Distorion pickups. Dean referred to them as "specially made" and "hotter" than standard Super Distortions but this claim has been debated for over 30 years. A report from inside the Dean shop in the very early days claims that a Dean employee would wind additional wire to the DiMarzio pickups. While we have no idea if this was true, we suspect this practice would have disappeared at some point as production increased. It's possible that the "specially made" aspect of the DiMarzio pickups were that they were "zebra" black & creme which was not being done back in 1977 on other manufacturers guitars.

20. There were approximately 7000 guitars built in the original "Vintage" years 1977-1985. That 7000 number is deceiving as much of the 1982-1985 production included baby series guitars and Bel Aires. Some baby series guitars were made in the USA but many were made in Japan by ESP in 1984-85 that have a "41" at the beginning of the serial number and continued the sequence of the USA production numbers(Example: 41 6880). Bel Aire guitars(a bolt-on neck small bodied super-strat) were made with Japanese ESP necks and also used the USA production serial numbers.

21. This story comes directly from Dean Zelinsky: In 1980, some kid named Randy Rhoads called the Dean Custom Shop to have a custom V guitar made. Dean blew the phone call off because he had never heard of a Randy Rhoads......... what could have been !

22. How about a tour of the Dean Guitars Factory in 1983 ! These photos come courtesy of Mark Winkle and Noble O'Rourke:

Who knew Dean had Samuel L. Jackson working in the shop in 1983 ???
"And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my Dean Z."
Pulp Fiction - 1994

23. An interesting case of a possible fake 1977 Dean V. In over 25 years of collecting Vintage Dean Guitars, we have never seen an attempted fake Vintage Dean. This guitar showed up on eBay on December 8th, 2012. This is an actual Vintage Dean guitar.....but is it a 1977 ???

Let's take a look at some pics supplied in the auction:

This guitar was listed on eBay as being the 40th Dean guitar ever made, serial number 77 00140. If you've read everything above, you should be able to spot a lot of problems with this guitar. Let's make a list:

a. Series II headstock instead of the BFH Series I headstock.
b. Nut area string width of 1 5/8" of the Series II headstock instead of the proper BFH nut area string width of 1 1/2".
c. The pronounced volute on the back of the headstock. BFH's do NOT have a volute.
c. Black side dot markers instead of red side dot markers.
d. Incorrect added double creme pickups.
e. Overdone Made in USA, Serial Number and Patents Pending stamp.
f. Wrong case for a 1977 Dean.

So what is this guitar ? It has to be 1 of 2 things. It's either a real 1977 that has had a Series II headstock/neck replacement or it's an attempted fake at trying to turn a 1979(volutes started in 1979) to late-81 Vintage Dean into a 1977. In addition to all the problems listed above, this guitar has obviously been modified for an additional knob and switch at some point in it's life. They even made a new control cavity cover for the enlarged control cavity route.

When looked at as a whole, this one is a tough call. If it were a re-necked 1977, why would they have gone to the trouble of adding double creme DiMarzio's in an attempt to duplicate the look of the pre-production guitars in the 1977 Dean advertisements? This guitar would have come originally with zebra DiMarzios whether it was a 77 or a 78-81. Also, the Made in USA, Serial Number and Patents Pending stamps were overdone, too pronounced and too deep into the finish. Original 1977-78 stampings will be almost completely flat and covered by clear nitrocellulose lacquer. They are somewhat difficult to see and must be looked at in the light for their dark outlines.

The final giveaway is the claim that the case is the original case. 1977 and early 1978 cases for Dean BFH guitars do not look like this. This is a case from 1979 to late-1981 for a Series II headstock guitar. And lastly, somebody was going for the big bucks, listing the guitar for $3000 with no return.

After asking the seller questions about the guitar, the seller sent this picture:

Dean never wrote serial numbers in the pickup cavities. Dean only wrote work order numbers in the pickup cavities since the guitars were not even given a serial number until the very end of their construction. Dean did not even start writing work order numbers in the pickup cavities until 1980. This is just not right.

The only way to tell what this guitar is for sure would be to look at the date codes on the original DiMarzio pots(if they are still there). If I had to take my best educated guess at what this guitar is, I would guess(and hope) that this might be an original 1977 that fell victim to the oh-so-common BFH headstock break and was re-necked in the Dean Custom shop in 1979-1981 and given a new case. One final little thing makes me think this probably is a real 1977 Dean body. Nobody knows this one little thing about 1977 Deans and even I did not figure this out until a couple years ago. 1977 Dean V's and ML's have a slightly larger brass jackplate. This guitar has that larger jackplate. We would sure like to have a hands-on inspection. This guitar has led an interesting life.

24. I have been receiving a large volume of emails asking for values on particular guitars. I would like to take a moment to thank everyone for all the emails. I have been seeing some really neat stuff and it's always fun to try to figure out just what somebody has. Putting a value on Vintage Dean Guitars is something that I have never seen done as a whole and is something that is almost impossible to do. However, I am going to attempt to take a best shot at it.

First, a disclaimer: Vintage Dean Guitars have become so thinnly traded now that placing a value on them is extremely difficult. Most all the really nice, all original models are in the hands of collectors now and most of us look at them with a "you can have them when you pry them from our cold dead hands" mentality. There are 3 key things to look for in a Vintage Dean Guitar: Originality, Condition and Lack of Breaks or Repairs.

To start, I am going to give a base value for all full size 1977 to 1985 USA Vintage Dean Guitar models of $1200 and then add or subtract for different criteria. These values should not be used for Baby Series Guitars or Bel Aires as they are worth considerably less.

Base Value: $1200, Series II headstock Flame Series in relatively nice but used condition

ML Body Shape(most desireable): +$100
E'Lite Body Shape(not quite as popular): -$100
Real Cadillac: +$1250
"Standard Series" with Solid Color: +$350
"Standard Series" with Curly Maple Top and Transparent Finish: +$500
1977-78 BFH Guitar(assume as "Standard Series") with no headstock break or repair(probably only about 50-60 in the world left): +$1500
1977-78 BFH Guitar(assume as "Standard Series") with headstock break or repair: $0 - +$750 depending on quality of repair
White paint Pre-1982(which was actually not a standard color and carried an upcharge): +$100
Blueburst, Silverburst, Pinkburst, etc finish: +$100
Non-standard transparent curly maple top finish(ie: Trans-blood red(Cherry), Trans-Amber(Natural), etc on a Pre-82 model(very rare before 1982): +$300
Non-standard transparent curly maple top finish(ie: Trans-blood red(Cherry), Trans-Amber(Natural), etc on a 82-up model: +$150
Red Side Dots: +$200
Series III headstock: -$150
Series IV Shrimpfork headstock: -$350
Headstock Binding: +$150
MOP Block Inlays: +$150
Gold Hardware: +$150
Non-Original DiMarzio Zebra Pickups: -$100 per pickup
Non-Original Tuners with no extra holes drilled: -$100
Non-Original Tuners with extra mounting holes drilled: -$200
Headstock Break and Repair(Non-BFH Guitars): -35%-60% of value depending on quality of repair
Non-Original Jackplate with extra holes: -$200
Non-Original Bone Nut: -$100

Beyond these things, condition must be taken into account. Extremely clean models that are all original with no repairs may be worth more. Dents, dings, scratches, excessive wear, refinishing, etc. will reduce the value.

25. A note on the purpose of this website: The main purpose of this website is to document actual Vintage Dean Guitar history. Knowledge on these guitars is rapidly disappearing and there is a lot of bad and incorrect "knowledge" being spread on the internet. We would like to see correct information maintained somewhere as a resource for all. I have had many emails asking for more pictures of guitars from my collection. For the most part, all the pictures on this website are from guitars in my collection or from catalogs/advertisements that I own. I have purposely tried to keep the website from being a "look at me" showoff site for my collection as many of these type sites become. As a compromise, I will try to post up one of my guitars at the bottom of this page every month or so, so you can see some cool things.

26. A pair from the site owners collection:

Haven't had a V on here in awhile so here's a super rare one. This is an all original 1982 3-pickup V Standard in Cherryburst. I searched the entire 1982 Dean logobooks and found this to be the only 3-pickup V made the entire year. In fact, I have never seen another, any year. It is in amazing condition and has a thin medium-V'd neck profile.

Here's a very nice, super clean Vintage Dean with unfortunately, my crappy pictures that don't show how nice it really is. One thing about Vintage Dean Guitars that I have never understood is why so few were built with optional features like block inlays, headstock binding, gold hardware, etc. In the grand scheme of things those individual options were not very expensive. Despite that fact, very few people ordered guitars with extra options. This 1982 Dean ML Standard was loaded with everything. Although it's hard to tell in the pictures, this ML has a nice flame maple top and flame maple capped headstock. It also has black body, neck and headstock binding, gold hardware and pearl block inlays. This one is in amazing condition and has the nice thin V'd neck profile common to most 1982 models. The person I bought if from claims that it was built for Sammy Hagar but I have no evidence to support that claim.


A note of the current Dean Guitar company:

I've held my breath on this for a long time. As of now, with this latest development, I can hold my breath no longer. Back in the 70's and 80's, Dean Guitars was a highly respected company, known for building wonderful, beautiful guitars that were super high quality and significanly better than USA Gibsons. This reputation was earned through hard work and pure quality.

Over the years, the Dean name was sold off several times and eventually became owned by Armadillo Enterprises out of Florida in the 90's. At the time, the company was all but dead and basically known only for the Dean headstock, Dean logo and for Dimebag Darrell of Pantera. Armadillo did a good job of resurecting the company and building some nice guitars out of World Musical Instruments South Korea(Korean E-Serial Numbers). The guitars were of decent quality and affordable. Over the years, we got a switch from World Musical Instruments to UnSung(Korean US-Serial Numbers) which caused a few quality issues but they were generally pretty good guitars. Some of the high end Korean UnSung guitars being built today are quite excellent. Then we started getting inferior guitars out of Indonesia and really junky guitars out of China.

Then in 2005, we started getting a flood of "Dime" guitars right after Dimebag's unfortunate death. Dean Guitars caught a lot of heat on this and as I'm sure you've read 100 times all over the interenet, was accused of "cashing in on Dime's death". I never jumped on that bandwagon as I realized that before Dime died, he had come back to Dean Guitars and was in the process of designing a whole line of new "Dime" guitars himself for Dean. Some of these guitars were very cool. The Dean from Hell ML and Dime-O-Flame I found particularly cool and bought the import models.

Now here's where things start going South. After Dime's death, Dean Guitars decided to make some USA handmade Dimebag Dean from Hell ML Models. These were limited to 150 guitars worldwide, sold for $3000 each and we were told that this was it, no more would be made, thereby guarantying their collectibility and value in the future. Over the years, I have added 2 of these guitars to my collection. I did this fully trusting Dean Guitars to stick to their word and not make more.

So what do we have now in August 2015 ??? ............ Dean Guitars going back against their word and making 100 "USA Dimebag Commemorative ML Limited Run" Dean from Hell ML guitars. This is a direct stab in the back of Dean's supporters who ponied up the big bucks for the original 150 guitars. And just who do you think bought those original 150 USA Dean from Hell ML's ? Those things were $3000 a piece and only the absolute biggest Dean Guitar fans with the biggest checkbooks bought these guitars. These were your absolute diehard Dean fans.( like me). How does Dean Guitars expect us to feel now that we have been stabbed in the back ?

This is the final straw for me. I'm done. I have continued to buy lots of Armadillo Enterprises Dean Guitars over the years but I'm done. I have watched the Dean Guitars name be dragged through the depths of hell for the past 10 years in guitar playing circles and all over the internet. I have watched what was previously regarded as a high quality guitar brand become the laughingstock of the guitar world on the internet. I kept defending this company, kept playing their guitars, kept buying their guitars. No more. I'll vote with my wallet and just stick with the Vintage Dean Zelinsky era guitars.




............ more to come.

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