When Dean B. Zelinsky left the guitar company that bore his name, a lot of things were uncertain. What would he do next? Would any well-known Dean endorsers follow him? Would his new designs be similar to the old ones or a complete departure? But then again, a few other things were certain. 1: Whatever he did next was bound to get a lot of attention. 2: Much of that attention would come from metal guitarists. 3: Those guitarists would be from all walks of life and would be buying guitars at all price points. Dean Z’s new venture, DBZ Guitars, designs guitars with all three of those points very much in mind, from relatively low-cost guitars like the Barchetta LT FR to the high-end, USA-crafted Bird of Prey – along with some surprisingly jazz and classic rock-oriented models.
The Cavallo on review here is from the reasonably-priced, Asian-built Premier series. The body is an artfully routed chunk of mahogany, with a mahogany neck and ebony fretboard (the latter a surprising inclusion at this price). The scale length is a slinky 24.75” and there are 22 frets. Tuners are Grovers and you have the option of the string through (ST) or Floyd Rose (FR) models. Pickups are a set of DBZ’s own DBZB and DBZ5 humbuckers. Controls are brutally simple: Master volume, master tone, and a 3-way switch. But what’s this? The tone control pulls up to split the humbuckers for single coil operation – a surprising feature since it’s not listed on the DBZ website. Cool! Ergonomically, The whammy bar itself might get in the way of the controls for some players, and the fretboard is a little too narrow for larger hands, but these are very much style and player-dependent issues rather than a design flaw. Aside from a few small rough spots in the finish (which could probably be buffed smooth, including a little bubble in the finish on the back of the neck which would probably wear down with regular playing) the workmanship was of a quite high standard – especially the fret finishing.
There are three features which really stand out about the Cavallo. The first is that wicked headstock, with the 3D DBZ badge (an eagle holding a big DBZ logo in its talons – pretty badass); the sculpted body contours – which don’t feel overly ergonomic but certainly go a long way towards setting the Cavallo apart from everything else on the market – and the V-shaped neck profile. This isn’t the first guitar to feature this shape and it won’t be the last but I’m always surprised which I encounter a guitar that has it. That surprise always gives way to a knowing nod though when I remember just how perfectly this shape places my fretting hand for speed, comfort and reach – and that knowing nod gives way to the metal horn hand gesture when I realise that playability-wise it’s almost ridiculous how quickly and cleanly you can play on this type of neck in general, and the Cavallo in particular.
Plugged in, the Cavallo sounds a lot smoother than you would expect. On the bridge pickup there’s a very refined, dry ‘grind’ character to the tone which makes for perfectly thick, chunky power chords and punchy extended voicings – it actually reminds me a lot of my old Japanese-made 1993 Ibanez RG370 with Ibanez V6 pickups. It’s a great sound for 80s/90s thrash and current metal styles, but it has surprising adaptability for more conventional rock tones too. In fact, back off the distortion a bit and you’ll find some surprisingly useful classic rock sounds. While some pickups and body woods combine to emphasise the separation between notes in a chord, there’s a very cool ‘unity’ to the sound here – voicings are knitted together nicely without any one note jumping out above all the others.
The neck pickup has a similar smoothness to the bridge unit, augmented with a bit of a midrange spike which enhances articulation of speedy alternate-picked lines, and really allows sustained and bent notes to scream. It’s equally at home with Slash-style bluesy soloing or intense metal shreddage. Flipping to single coil mode I was instantly taken by the neoclassical girth of the tone. Think of a certain Swedish virtuoso – that’s the kind of character these DBZ units have in single coil mode. This is a sound that would work really well for cleaner textures in the studio, but also has enough cut and character for great dirty blues and country tones (believe it or not!). It’s not a particularly sparkly clean tone: more coarse, fat and gritty.
The DBZ Premier Cavallo FR is individual and unique in both looks and character, yet extremely adaptable in playability and sound. It may look like it wants you to play metal on it and nothing but, yet if you’re game enough to try other styles you’ll be rewarded with a great-playing guitar that can cover a surprising number of musical bases without losing its own identity.
PS: I’ve shot some video of me noodling on the Cavallo. I’ll post it on YouTube when I get a chance to edit it, hopefully some time this week.
LINK: DBZ Guitars