Dean Zelinsky startte als negentienjarige knul met een eigen gitaarmerk, omdat de bestaande merken niet de modellen boden die hij wilde bespelen. Naarmate de tijd vorderde werd zijn fabriek, Dean Guitars, steeds meer een gevestigde naam en de grootste namen in de heavy metal wereld verbonden hun spel aan zijn gitaren. Er leek geen eind te komen aan de opmars van Dean, maar op het hoogtepunt van zijn succes stapte hij uit zijn eigen bedrijf. Maar je weet waar het bloed gaat, dus korte tijd later startte Dean Zelinsky een nieuwe gitaarfabriek. Waar het vorige merk zijn voornaam droeg, wordt nu zijn hele naam gegeven aan het merk en sinds 2008 is hij de trotse eigenaar van DBZ Guitars. Het gitaarmerk maakt conventionele modellen weer fris en heeft daarnaast een lijn van eigen modellen die, op z'n zachtst gezegd, nogal indruk hebben weten te maken op bovengetekende. Hij heeft twee fabrieken, eentje in Houston voor de “reguliere” bestellingen en een custom fabriek in Chicago die de meester zelf runt. Een aantal vragen brandde op mijn lippen, waaronder uiteraard of hij al langer met het idee rond liep om een nieuwe lijn te starten en nog belangrijker, wanneer zijn gitaren eindelijk in ons land verkrijgbaar zijn.
Welcome to Lords of Metal. You sold your old brand Dean Guitars in 2008. Did you already have this new brand in mind when you did?
Yes I did. My partners in Dean did not want to do serious guitars, just keep milking what they had. Sign any artist and do an artist model. That works with Michael Schenker and Dimebag Darrell but not every guy who had fifteen minutes on stage with a guitar. I wanted to take guitar into the future I had a lot of good ideas for new models and new concepts in guitar design and did not want to share them with a backwards thinking company, so I needed to start DBZ.
Was it hard to leave it behind, since you started it when you were just a kid?
Not really. I love new projects and change. Its kind of like music. Artists can't hold their whole existence on songs they made popular last year or a decade ago. It becomes old to them, they are most excited with what they are doing currently. Same with guitar design. I love the Dean ML for the 80s, but now its 2011 and the world needs new guitars that fit with these times.
Are sales picking up a bit already?
Yes, very well worldwide. We have only been shipping guitar for 24 months and we are selling in 40 countries. DBZ are showing up on stages around the world. Most new guitar companies don't see this type of response for five to ten years.
How many people do you have working for you now?
About 32 here in the USA. Outside the USA we have distributors handling sales and marketing.
How many factories does DBZ have, worldwide?
Three electric factories and one acoustic factory
You established a great brand in the past already, did you feel you accomplished just about everything you could accomplish with it, or did shareholders start pulling your shoulders to cut quality in order to make more net profit? In other words: why did you quit the brand that was with you your entire mature life?
I kind of answered that but at Dean Guitars, it became all about money and hype and the guitar was left in the background. It was how cheap can we build this and how much hype can we create to sell this modified piece of ****. I am a guitar builder/designer first. Money is just the byproduct of what I like to do on a daily basis. At DBZ, it's all about the guitar. The guitar is first, everything else is second. So cool guitars that have more 3d carving, lasered surfaces, floating logo heads, ultra thin semi hollowbodies are all what was born out of paying attention to the guitar.
I once asked you about the abbreviation for your legendary model, the ML, what it stood for and you said those were the initials of your childhood friend. Wasn't that model particularly difficult to leave behind?
Yes, that one is a sore spot. Not only did I name it for my best friend who died at seventeen, but my good friend Darrell Abbott cut his teeth on the ML and actually died with it in his hands. But nothing is forever and like most things in life, in time, with fate… It will probably be returned to its rightful owner. If not, I can live with that too.
As said, you started out this new brand in 2008. Didn't you have some sort of non-compete clause of any kind breathing down your neck?
No, non-compete. The people at the old company were not that sharp.
What was the first model you designed and developed?
In life, it was the ML. At DBZ, it was the Imperial.
Again, did you already have an idea for the models laying around?
Yes, the Imperial was an idea I had since the 80s. It is a round body guitar but it is based on the ML. When I made the first three models at Dean, it was the V, Explorer and ML. So I am a young guitar builder and not real experienced in how a body shape effects a solid body guitar. So in my experience of bringing guitars to rockstars to test out, everybody told me the ML sounded way better than the other two bodystyles. Even Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top recorded the whole 'Eliminator' record with an ML that I made him that he never toured with. Both he and his producer Bill Ham told me they had ten guitars in the studio but they kept going back to the ML. And you know, he had his 50s Les Paul “Pearly Gates” there. So with some research, I came to realize that the special sound had to do with the body mass over the thinness. The concept was to make a round body guitar with the same principles. That became the DBZ Imperial. Lucky for me, I had not gotten around to build the guitar and eventually forgot about it. Forming DBZ, the concept came back to me. I finished out the design and since has become the Crown Jewel of the DBZ line worldwide.
You have models that are in general quite affordable, compared to the gear you stashed on it. Was it the main objective to keep things affordable?
Yes, you need to keep things affordable in this economy. Plus you really haven't done the guitar world justice if all of your instruments are not affordable to the majority of players.
Is that also the reason why you sell guitars with both active and inactive pickups, and some with fixed bridges still?
Guitar players have a lot of styles and likes and dislikes. If you are going to be in the business, you need to address many types of players. If I don't offer a Floyd Rose or an active pickup, players who gravitate to these things may never pick up a DBZ and see that is has a better neck design than what they are currently playing. So they may never experience the DBZ brand.
I like to talk about the Dark Side of Dean in particular. The models are awesome and it has been a long time since I was so impressed with the mere image of an instrument. Especially the Bird Of Prey and the Venom, I couldn't believe my eyes, but the other models are smashing too. That's not really a question is it? Will the Dark Side of Dean family get more brothers and sisters?
Dark Side guitars are to satisfy my metal fan base from my Dean days. DBZ is not the heavy metal guitar company. It is designed to be more diverse. Kind if like a company that makes luxury cars and sports cars. But if DBZ was going to have a metal guitar, it had to be the most awe inspiring metal guitar. So I imagined what an ML or V would look like today, especially with the technology we have for building guitars. I am the first to use CNC technology to improve the designs as opposed to ease of manufacturing. Thus the Bird and Venom. In short, no plans to expand on these unless the market begs me.
What's your own favorite model, both visually and as a player?
I like them all, I am partial to the Bird and the Imperial lately.
If I gave you a guitar this very second and ordered you to play a part, which would that be?
Imperial Aliento ( the semi-hollow body). People are coming unglued over this guitar. Not only because it is so unique and unlike anything else out there, but I am told by everyone who owns one that the tone is like players only dream about.
You do have a model based upon the Les Paul, but not one on the Stratocaster. Couldn't you be bothered, or did rights stand in the way?
No rights on Strats, that court battle was lost by Fender. However, Fender players do not cross over to other brands as easily as others so we kind of stay away. I have some ideas, mostly with my Z Glide neck that might steer me more into that direction.
There seems to be a rat race between guitar manufacturers about which one gets the most and the most renowned artist to play their brand. You don't seem to go along with that (yet) do you?
We have an artist program but do not promote it that much. I lost respect for the program and think lots of players did as well. Guitar companies will make anybody an artist model so they can keep their artists on their roster. I think that cheapens the whole guitar game. There are probably only about ten or fifteen artists in the world that are of a caliber for an artist model, based on talent and popularity. My prior company was making artist models for Internet shredders, guys who never toured outside their bedroom. I like to reward the guys who put it all together, make good records and tour their ass off for no money for years and pay their dues. So I won't compete for artists with lame ass guitar companies who are diluting the concept of a real artist.
Which artist, living or not, would fit your guitars the best?
All of them.
Have you ever considered taking particular artists with you, say a Dave Mustaine?
Not really. Would take Michael Schenker but that is about it from the old camp. Plenty of artists out there and more being created every day.
Aren't you getting fed up with all the endorsement requests?
I don't really like the guys who think because they can play they should get an artist deal. Being a great player is not the ticket. That is a given, you got to be a great player. It is doing all the other things that make you a Rock Star that make it worth an artist deal. Every town I go in to there is a guy in a back of a music store who can build a nice guitar, try building a guitar company. Same thing, every town has a great guitar player, try becoming a big artist… Whole different ball game. I see these ten year old kids from Japan on YouTube that can smoke most players anywhere. So don't show me how good you can play, show me you influence millions with your playing. And not over the internet!
You are personally overseeing the custom shop in Illinois. Couldn't you find the reliable people for it, or do you do that because you wouldn't want it any other way?
I live here, my factory is here and we have only “A list” luthiers here. And I have a waiting list of top builders that would like to build at DBZ. So I oversee it but I also work in the shop coming up with new ideas, prototyping and building guitars for the NAMM shows.
Apart from the new models, you have another special feature, which is the Crocodile skin. You stress out that no animals were harmed for that, so a lot of people from the industry would thank you for that. How did you come up with that idea?
I saw a guitar once that had been hacked up with a knife or a small axe. Thought it looked like croc skin. At the same time, I was experimenting with lasers in guitar building. Took one look and thought I could do a croc on a laser, the rest is history. Did you see the snakeskin?
Can't say I have, but is the croc-skin available for any model?
Yes, on a custom basis.
What is revolutionary about the Z-glide neck and am I right in saying it is named after you, rather than after its structure?
Yes Z is for Zelinsky. I am the first to aggressively deal with the tackiness of the back side of the neck. The Z Glide concept is to reduce the surface area of the neck so your hand glides more than sticks like on glossy necks. Another aspect is it tends to increase traction on your thumb when you need it like for bending notes. About 70 - 80% of DBZ USA guitar buyers are requesting Z-Glide since we introduced it.
When will you be over in Europe to promote the guitars?
It's a big world and we are in 40 countries. Will let you know.
Will you be doing this after you reached the age of retirement?
YES, in some capacity… that is the plan.
You are being quite successful with DBZ already, but when is the time you acknowledge the term success?
Success is when the brand drives you and you no longer need to drive the brand. Then you just work on the product. Kind if like Apple.
Thanks a lot for your time. It was an honor to nag you about the brand, I hope I gave you ample opportunity to get off your chest what you wanted off. And if I did my job right, even a bit more than you wanted to reveal. I'll say goodbye for now, hopefully until the next time. Is there anything you would like to say to close the interview down?