It’s been quite interesting watching the evolution of Dean (at least, since I first became aware of them in the early 90s due to Dimebag’s rabid Dean-collecting habits). The company has gone from strength to strength since the late 90s, and now is strong enough to even weather the departure of founder Dean B Zelinksi. I think part of the reason for Dean’s success is that no matter which price point you buy at, you’re getting a guitar that says Dean on the headstock, not a lower-priced sub-brand.
The Soltero series is available in four models: USA Soltero, USA MHG Soltero, the Japanese-made Soltero SL and Korean-made Soltero Standard. I got my hands on a Soltero Standard to review for Mixdown magazine as part of a huge guitar special (60-word mini-reviews of dozens of guitars – the issue’s out now if you’re in Australia). I hung onto the Soltero for a few weeks to check out.
The Soltero Standard is made of exactly what you would expect a single cutaway, carved top solidbody to be made of: a mahogany body and neck with a thick maple cap. The distinctive carve in between the pickups on the bass side of the body provides an additional visual cue to distinguish the Soltero from other singlecut solidbodies, but more importantly it puts the pickup selector switch at a slightly more ergonomic angle, especially for flipping to the neck pickup (switch up) in the middle of a fast passage.
The fretboard is rosewood with almost tribal-vibed Soltero inlays which remind me a little of the First Act Lola. The scale length is the expected 24 ¾” and there are 22 frets which are wide but not too tall. The back of the neck has a subtle V shape, which may throw off some players used to smaller D and C shapes, but I soon found that it brought my fingers into the ideal playing position for wide intervallic stretches. The strings are anchored to Dean’s distinctive oversized HardTail tailpiece (designed to enhance sustain) and pass over a Tune-O-Matic bridge.
Pickups are Dean’s own Vintage Style humbuckers, which have a classic 50s PAFish voice with just enough of an edge to translate relatively modern playing techniques like palm muting and pinch harmonics without sounding like a mega high-gain beast. Controls are the standard three-way pickup selector and a volume and tone control for each pickup. The pickup selector switch on the review guitar was a little finicky – maybe one in every 10 or so times I used it, it would cut out on the bridge pickup setting. A quick tweak to the solder joint would fix this up nice and quick. The pickups are coil-splittable by pulling on the tone controls, but this feature wasn’t readily apparent, as the knobs seemed a little tough to move at first (thanks for pointing this out Anthony!).
The V neck shape practically forces you to play with good technique around the middle of the neck, and makes it easier and more comfortable to grip the neck for big bends. Even though the review guitar’s action was a little higher than I prefer for my own axes, I found that it didn’t really hamper my playing. In fact I kinda enjoyed having the guitar fight me a little bit. Regarding that body carve, I found that in addition to the aforementioned pickup selector benefit, it also serves as a reminder that carving a top removes wood from the picking area, allowing you to really dig in with the pick on those chugging low E string riffs without hitting the guitar and messing up your trajectory. I had a ball cranking out chuggy thrash and chunky drop D riffs on the low E.
I ran the Soltero into my cranked Marshall DSL50 and it sounded very powerful and malleable. It has its own tone, but not so much so that you will immediately sound like everybody else who plays one. The response of the pickups is fairly even across the frequency range: the bass is reasonably tight, which makes it a great guitar for riffing, while the treble is bright but not harsh, which is good for lead work, and there’s a nice round midrange but not so much that chords get mushy.
The bridge pickup has a little bite and sizzle at higher gain levels, adding to the ‘classic rock on steroids’ tone. For rhythm work there’s an almost ‘brown’ sound. If you check out my demo video of the Soltero, you’ll see what I call the ‘Please Can I Be In Queensryche’ riff, which I play through a few times using different picking strengths to demonstrate just how responsive the Soltero is to how you play. At firmer levels of pick attack the sound is thick, heavy and punchy but as you lighten up you begin to distinguish the clarity of each note. It’s a very cool effect, and one which would be totally lost if the Soltero had more powerful pickups.
The neck pickup has an almost single coil vibe, but bigger and louder. It seems especially happy when you’re playing around the 12th fret, and I couldn’t resist getting a little Yngwie here and there. I really dug how the neck pickup slightly evened out dynamics so that picking, legato, tapping and sweeping tied together if you wanted them to (by applying each technique a little more forcefully), while playing softer emphasised the differences: another example of how the Soltero works with the player.
The Soltero’s clean voice is punchy and dark, great for the quieter moments of heavier songs, and for blues and classic rock. The treble seems to hit a brick wall and stop at a certain point where there’s just enough ‘string zing’ and pick attack without losing definition or being too harsh. It’s almost like having a limiter and compressor built into the guitar.
The single coil modes are great for dirtied-up clean sounds, and add a further level of flexibility in terms of ‘fake channel switching’ – set the gain level for some grunt in humbucker mode, then pop the coil split for lower levels of drive. Here’s a little audio demo I whipped up.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While my personal preference is for Superstrat-style shred axes, I found a lot to like about the Soltero: playability, flexibility and solid construction (finicky pickup switch notwithstanding). Its tone was broad enough for a lot of different styles, and I really liked the overall vibe. This is a guitar that obviously takes its inspiration from the Les Paul, but from a defiantly Dean perspective. At the moment there are no single cutaway carved-top axes in my guitarsenal, and I would happily add the Dean to my guitar rack.
Hi! I'm Peter Hodgson. I write for Gibson.com, Australian Guitar, Australian Musician, Mixdown Magazine (including my instructional column, 'Unleash Your Inner Rock God,' which has been running since 2007), Blunt, Beat (including their weekly hard rock/metal column Crunch) and The Brag. And I'm Assistant Social Coordinator with Seymour Duncan.
I've been playing guitar since I was 8 years old, and I've been writing for magazines since I was 18. I've also worked as a guitar teacher (up to 50 students a week), a setup tech, a newspaper editor, and I've also dabbled in radio a little bit. I live in Melbourne, Australia, and my hobbies include drinking way too much coffee, and eating way too much Mexican food.
You can check out my guitar playing at Bandcamp or on YouTube, and feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org