The story of Dean Guitars has had plenty of ups and downs over the years, starting as a small operation in Chicago in 1976. Currently owned by Armadillo Enterprises in Tampa, Florida, Dean is going pretty strong at the moment with artist signature models for the likes of Leslie West, Dimebag Darrell (see my review of the Dean From Hell here), Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine (and man oh man I want me a Dean Zero or VMNT), Michael Schenker, Michael Angelo Batio and Michael Amott – not to mention iconic shapes like the ML and Cadillac.
The Dean Custom 550 Floyd is six-stringer in the ‘Superstrat’ category, and it definitely appears to be aimed at the heavy rock-/metal crowd, from the aggressive pointy headstock to the none-more-black finish (a white version with black binding is also available for an equally aggressive look).
Since it’s a neck-thru instrument, the Maple neck goes all the way down to the rear strap pin, flanked by Mahogany wings and capped off with an arched Mahogany top. The Ebony fretboard carries 24 huge frets, and the bevelling of the treble side cutaway ensures that they’re all easily reachable.
I’ll note that the Ebony appears to have been stained, which is no big deal really – Ebony has a wide range of colour variation in the wild but guitarists prefer the look of nice dark Ebony – but whatever they’ve used to stain it left dark marks on my fingertips. This is pretty common so I wouldn’t get too worked up about it: in previous experience it’s only an issue for about a week or so of play, and really, is anyone who’s likely to buy this guitar going to be wearing white? Nah. The only real workmanship issue I could find on the test guitar was a little bit of overrun on the clear coat on the side of the neck over the binding, but this is basically a non-issue.
The neck shape is Dean’s C profile, which is not too deep and not too shallow. And the neck heel area is carved for extra-comfortable upper fret access, if the cutaway didn’t already make it so easy. The black hardware includes a Floyd Rose 1000 Bridge and a pair of EMG active humbuckers – an 81 in the bridge position and an 85 at the neck, controlled by a 3-way selector and master volume and tone pots.
If you’ve ever played a guitar with EMGs, you can pretty much forecast what this Dean is going to sound like. EMGs have a way of superimposing, to varying degrees, their own tonality on a guitar, and it’s a great sound: the bridge pickup has a certain ‘grind’ to the attack and a fullness to the note body, aided by the pickups’ natural compression, which makes it perfect for metal rhythm. But travel up the neck and the 81 almost morphs into a different pickup, with a smoother high end and a harmonically rich midrange. The natural sustain of this neck-thru design and the effect of all that Mahogany means the Custom 550 Floyd is very harmonically active, with pinch harmonics leaping off the strings, and lots of great shifting transients when you use legato techniques.
Meanwhile the 85 in the neck position is a very articulate pickup with almost a flute-like sound (compared to the EMG 60 which to my ears is more like an oboe – a big heavy metal oboe), and it tracks particularly well for high-speed licks using advanced techniques like string skipping, sweep picking and eight-finger tapping. When played through a clean sound the Custom 550 Floyd has a good mix of punch and body, just perfect for those metal intros but not quite suited for classic rock tones. But again, that’s probably not going to be an issue for the kind of player likely to buy this axe.
Aside from that extremely minor clearcoat issue over the binding, the Custom 550 Floyd is a very well-made guitar which fulfils its intended purpose – shred-friendly metal guitar – perfectly. Every feature has a reason for being there that enhances playability or tone, from the comfortable carving to the neck-thru construction to the neatly clipped fret ends, and the tone is archetypal metal.
Paul from Guitar World has given this guitar a spin too. Here’s his video: