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Dean Zelinsky might not be a household name among guitar nuts. But the company he started in 1976, Dean Guitars, is familiar to anyone who’s tracked the development of the electric guitar over the last 30 years. Zelinsky’s creations—undoubtedly some of the most visually striking guitars ever built—have been played by high-profile guitar heroes including Billy Gibbons, Michael Schenker, Elliot Easton, and the late, great Dimebag Darrell.
After leaving Dean, Zelinsky started DBZ Guitars. His aim was to build highly individual instruments with a custom feel—but in numbers that would make them more widely available to players. Since then, DBZ has created guitars ranging from relatively traditional (but luxuriously appointed) axes to designs that could fairly be called otherworldly. One of DBZ’s latest, the Peacemaker Cavallo, sits somewhat in the middle of this spectrum. It combines the basic V body style that Zelinsky has favored over the course of his career with stylistic elements that manage to seem timeless and radical all at once.
There’s always a rush of anticipation that comes with popping open a new guitar case, and the 24 3/4" scale Cavallo is not a letdown. The incredible, intricate etching on its maple top simultaneously evokes Old West leatherwork and the spooky art of H.R. Geiger, and it’s impeccably cut with absolute precision. Both of wings of the V feature a snakeskin-like dimple pattern, and I was extremely impressed to note that each one of the hundreds of bumps was rolled off and smooth to the touch. In a way, the design is in the spirit of cowboy guitars of the ’50s or Clapton’s psychedelic SG, where each small section of the guitar tells a story.
But while the whole instrument is an eyeful, I was astounded to see that it weighed in at only 6 1/2 pounds—despite its mahogany-slab and maple-cap construction. Many DBZ instruments are very thin and contoured, and the Cavallo represents a very effective evolution of that design philosophy—it’s one of the most comfortable guitar bodies I’ve ever played.
The chrome-covered pickups are customwound DBZ units controlled by a 3-way selector switch and single Volume and Tone knobs. The neck pickup is similar in specification to standard PAF-style pickups, with a moderate output of around 7.95 kilohms resistance and an alnico 5 magnet for a sweet tone. The bridge position is a different beast altogether, with a whopping 15.10 kilohms and high output. Not satisfied with single-magnet construction, DBZ designed this particular bridge pickup with three ceramic magnets for added punch and attack.
The 12"-radius mahogany neck is topped with DBZ’s signature dual-horn headstock and features an ebony fretboard and a deep-carved heel that flows flawlessly into the ornate body. The fretboard felt flawless, and there were no pores, dimples, or visible cracks, and the mother-of-pearl inlays—the largest of which is a Mark of Zorro-like “Z” at the 12th fret—were set with jeweler’s perfection. Further, despite the Cavallo’s oversized headstock, the balance was perfect while standing up, and the body’s rear contours were comfortably snug against my midsection. And the Cavallo’s smooth, ergonomic feel didn’t stop at the body. The neck’s soft, v-shaped profile felt fantastic for chording and lead work.
Fistful of Tone
To test the Cavallo, I rounded up a Dave Friedman Naked 100-watt head and a Bogner 2x12 oversized cabinet and got to work. One of the first things I noticed was that, for such drastically different resistance, the pickups’ volume balance was surprisingly even. With the guitar’s aggressive looks, I’d been expecting a fire-breathing metal monster. But what I heard was a surprisingly versatile, organic, and full-bodied tone. It could hang with the heaviest rock riffing that I could muster, too, but it really excelled at fluid lead playing and slower, more refined melody work. The midrange output of the pickups gives the guitar excellent tonal balance, with highs that are less spiky than you’d expect in a guitar of this style and a full—but not muddy—bottom end. Imagine the natural, assertive vibe of Warren DiMartini’s guitar tone, rather than the harder, more acerbic nature of Kerry King’s, and you have some idea of this guitar’s tonal persona. Lower-gain blues work also sounded and felt great to play on the Cavallo. It’s almost as if DBZ were giving props to Albert King, who helped make the V shape famous.
For many players, the V style is an acquired taste. And even though the design dates back over 50 years ago, it still puts off a lot of players who are quick to associate it with metal guitar gods. So it’s refreshing that DBZ’s Peacemaker Cavallo breaks out of that mold. The tones are superb, and the balanced, lightweight construction makes it a joy to play. For players looking to break away from the pack with panache, it’s a top-quality and expressive instrument that delivers a thrill every time you take it out of the case.
you need a versatile, quality instrument with PAF-style tones and distinctive flair.
you prefer more traditional styling or a large neck profile.