There’s no skirting around the issue here, so let’s just tackle it head-on. The DBZ Bolero looks a lot like the Dean Soltero (see my review here). That’s no huge coincidence, because both guitars bear the involvement of one Dean B. Zelinsky. Dean may have sold his namesake guitar company in 1992 (returning in an advisory role from 2000 to 2008), but his design philosophies live on in DBZ Guitars, his new collaboration with partners Jeff Diamant (of Diamond Amplification) and Terry Martin. So it’s no surprise that the Bolero and the Soltero share some similar features. Having said that, I’ve spent a lot of time with the Soltero, so how do the two compare?
The Bolero is an abalone-bound, mahogany body/maple top, 24.75” scale instrument with a set neck. The pickups are a set of DBZ’s own humbuckers, the DBZB and DBZ5. Like the Cavallo V-style axe I’ll be reviewing soon, the Bolero features only master volume and tone controls (the latter of which splits the humbuckers to single coils when you pull up on it) and a three way pickup selector switch. The mahogany neck is topped with an ebony fretboard (it actually looks like very tightly grained rosewood), and the 22 frets are neatly bound and perfectly crowned. There are a few signs of rough finishing around the fret ends themselves and a little fleck of black paint which made its way onto the binding before clearcoat, but nothing that particularly distracts from playability. Of special note is the chunky D-shape neck profile, which forces your thumb into the most ergonomic angle whether you’re flattening your hand out to execute wide stretches on the thinner strings, or getting right up there to fret bass notes with your thumb over the top of the neck, Jimi style. The only string anchoring option is a stop tail and tune-o-matic type bridge, but I’d love to see a Bigsby or even Kahler-loaded option some day.
Theoretically we should all know how this type of guitar sounds by now: Weighty bass, present but not shrill highs, and sustain for days, right? In other words, despite the visual flair, on paper it looks a lot like a Gibson Les Paul. Well, that’s where the Bolero diverts from the more straightforward Soltero. It’s actually a little lighter in the bass frequencies than you would expect, and while the notes tail off in a very natural and musical manner the sustain is not particularly exaggerated. The bridge pickup has more bite and snap than you might expect, and while there’s plenty of growl it’s a little sharper and browner than a Les Paul. It’s great for Alice In Chains style rhythm grind and for Dethklok-style pinch harmonics. The neck pickup has more articulation and angularity than you might expect, making it a great rhythm pickup for clean and dirty tones as well as a very handy lead pickup, especially for strict alternate pickers or sweepers. Each pickup has plenty of headroom, giving them a great dynamic range when you use the volume control to regulate the amount of hurt you put on your amp, but even moreso when you leave the volume wide open and vary your picking attack. In single coil mode the sound becomes grittier and lighter but with more attack and impact – an interesting rebalance of the guitar’s natural acoustic tone. It’s more Telecaster than Strat in single coil mode.
While the Bolero is well suited to chunky rock and metal rhythms, I’d also be quite comfortable playing this guitar in a blues or jazz setting, where the extra treble and reduced sonic heft give it exactly the kind of cut you need for those styles. The playability is also very impressive and the fretwork is generally beyond expectations for a guitar in this price bracket (slight finishing issues notwithstandiing – like I said, the occasional rough end doesn’t impact playbility, otherwise my opinion would be rather different). Give it a try.