Dean Guitars began producing instruments over thirty years ago in Chicago, IL under the supervision of owner Dean Zelinsky, and was founded on the idea of modernizing the classic designs like the Flying V and Explorer guitars. Aiming to produce a more original design, Dean combined the shape of the two guitars—half V and half Explorer—and named the new guitar the ML (after Matt Lynn, a friend of Zelinsky who passed away from cancer). The forward half of the body is the Explorer and the rear half is a V. Among the greatest admirers of this guitar was a luthier from Arlington, TX named Buddy Blaze. He acquired a used Dean ML that had once belonged to Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott and made quite a few alterations to the instrument, including sculpting a V-shaped neck profile, adding hotter pickups, a Floyd Rose tremolo and a snazzy graphic paintjob. Blaze gave the guitar to Abbott and the rest is history: Abbott took that guitar into the annals of rock with his groundbreaking metal band Pantera.
Blaze went on to design a guitar for Kramer named the NightSwan in the ‘80s that featured a Strat-influenced body. Along with other trendsetting standards of the time—low-action necks and Floyd Rose tremolos— Blaze designed this guitar to have two humbuckers, one at the bridge and the other in the middle position rather than the neck position, which is more typical of a two-humbucker design. Another distinguishing Blaze feature was the offset fretboard position markers that swoop diagonally along the length of the neck. The new Dean Buddy Blaze ML wraps all of these design elements into one guitar similar to his original Dean, painted blue with a striking chrome flame graphic. This guitar was definitely designed for speed, volume and visual appeal.
The Dean Buddy Blaze ML is a set-neck design featuring a mahogany neck and body. Despite its size, the body is a mere 1.5" thick, unlike the 1.75–2" thickness of most guitars of this type. The size of the body makes up for it in the guitar’s overall mass, although it isn’t really that heavy when you strap it on. The weight feels evenly distributed and well balanced. The scale length is 24.75", with a two-octave neck and 24 medium-height frets on a rosewood fingerboard.
The pickups are made by Dean’s DMT division (Dean Magnetic Technologies). In the bridge position is a Blaze Bucker, codesigned with Buddy Blaze. It has an Alnico 8 magnet with a hot output of 15.7k. The middle pickup is an old-style humbucker called the Nostalgia that has a low output of 8.1k. Like some other classic guitars, offsetting the outputs of paired pickups can offer some tonal benefits. A single Volume knob controls the output of this guitar. It’s positioned quite a distance away from the right-hand playing position, way past the bridge, which could be a good thing if you’re an arm-swinging windmill strummer, but a bad thing if you need to do volume swells with your pinky. It in the same location as the bridge Volume knob on most all Dean MLs, and Blaze says that he chose to keep it there for the benefit of ML fans and players. He also notes that he kept the full, traditional control cavity of the ML so that an additional Volume or Tone control could be easily added if the owner desired.
Rounding out the construction features is the all-black hardware. Grover Rotomatic tuners are standard on all Dean high-end guitars. An original Floyd Rose tremolo is top-mounted and non-recessed—like all the classic hot-rodded guitars—with a 37 mm sustain block inside the body.
Because of the V-shaped spine along the lower fretted area of the neck, chording is palpably easy, as is accenting single notes. An innovation from ‘50s-era strats, it has a very vintage feeling. In the upper register, the neck gets rounder and fades to a comfortable U-shape where the neck joins the body at the 22nd fret. Even with these attributes, though, playability becomes somewhat cumbersome because of the use of medium-height frets. Bigger, taller frets are more common on a modern “shreddable” guitar and would increase speed and agility on the fingerboard. Wretching out single-note bends is a little more effort-ful than effortless. According to Blaze, however, the aim was not to simply modernize the Dean classic, even through there are many design improvements in the Buddy Blaze ML. The fretwire he chose is similar to that found on the original Dean from Hell, and other Dean MLs of that era. “Darrell and I both loved the feel of that fretwire,” he explained.
What is a breath of fresh air to guitars of this type is the non-recessed Floyd Rose. With the neck-to-body angle pitched properly, the Floyd is aligned parallel to the surface of the body with enough clearance to pull up or down. This is the way the Floyd was originally intended to be mounted on a guitar, and recessing it into the body is somewhat unnecessary. This also means the Blaze ML’s Floyd Rose is so much easier to maintain because of top mounting vs. recessed mounting.
Matched with the mass of the guitar, the Blaze Bucker bridge-position pickup is quite a screamer with its super high output, without any chimey peal to the tone. Plugged into a gain-enhanced amp, the sound of this pickup by itself is full-metal-jacketed, high-octane metal. When coupled with the middle- position pickup, the tone is chug city. Thrash metal never had it so good. All of this is great, except when the middle pickup is selected to perform on its own: where this pickup is positioned, the physical, vibrationary movement of the strings just seems to be too unusable in a high-gain application. It lacks clarity when playing rhythm lines and treble definition when soloing. Its main benefit is in adding lower midrange to the bridge pickup when both pickups are on. This is perhaps the most distinguishing thing about this version of the ML against all the other ML models in Dean’s product line.
The Final Mojo
The Korean-built Dean Buddy Blaze ML is a well-made guitar, and the design elements are well thought out with a particular kind of guitarist in mind. It seems that this reviewer would be the old-school metal instead of modern metal type, but with the advances in guitar technique, even the old-school metalists have matured, and for ease of playing this beast would be better suited with bigger frets (the fabled Dunlop 6100s). Altogether, this is a great demonstration of Dean’s gift for modernizing a classic guitar design—in this case their own.
you’re looking for a visually striking guitar with the tone to match.
you’re into more ordinary guitars with less output and inconspicuous looks.