Flashy and fabulously playable, this single-cut boasts a surprising number of tonal personalities.
Surprising range of tones. Excellent playability. High-quality build.
Lack of chrome hardware option.
Dean Thoroughbred Select Quilt Top TCS
Most of Dean's new Select Series guitars are priced between $699 and $999, occupying a more accessible niche between their USA custom shop guitars, which feature guitars in the over $3000 range, and their beginner line, which offers guitars priced as low as the $200 range. The beauty of the Thoroughbred Select reviewed here is how often it blurs the line between mid- and high-pricing in terms of performance.
The Price Is Right
Select Series guitars are made in Indonesia, and the quality is, in most respects, excellent. In fact, the only quality control issue I encountered was that the input jack nut loosened early in my testing, which could just as easily have been a function of rough handling from a shipping courier. The factory setup was perfect, and playability was as good as it gets. The guitar comes strung-up light, with D'Addario .009–.042s, and the C-shaped neck, with its 12" radius fretboard and 22 jumbo frets, felt super comfortable. The satin finish on the back of the neck makes moving across the whole expanse of the fretboard feel like an effortless glide, which is nice given the excellent access to the upper frets. The Thoroughbred Select also has a 24 3/4" scale length, which, when combined with the satin finish and easy access to high frets, helps the neck and fretboard feel simultaneously compact and expansive.
Sometimes settling for a guitar in the mid-priced range means compromises in component quality. That's not the case with the Select Quilt Top TCS, however. It's outfitted with very nice and thoughtfully selected Seymour Duncan pickups: an SH-5, with a very hot 14.1-ohm output rating in the bridge position, and a mellower, alnico 2 APH-1 measuring a more modest 7.5-ohms in the neck. Both come in a satin black/parchment zebra finish with sandblasted pole pieces, which is exclusive to Dean. It's also fitted with Grover tuners and a high-quality Tune-o-matic-style bridge.
The curly maple top (which caps a mahogany body) is finished in a transparent cherry sunburst that's eye-catching, to say the least. The contrast with the black bridge, pickup rings, and tuners, as well as the zebra pickups and Dean eagle wings logo, is unusual. Some players will love the attitude of the black-hardware aesthetic. But chrome hardware, like that on Dean's USA Thoroughbred flametop model, would be a nice option for those that like a more traditional look to nicely accent the guitar's basic styling.
Off to the Races
With the SH-5 bridge pickup and a moderate amount of amp gain, the Thoroughbred Select exhibits a tendency toward darker tonalities and has excellent low-frequency response, but retains distinct midrange coloration. Solo lines reveal a real vocal quality that shines when playing lazy bends and slower, melodic passages. Classic rock and '80s metal power chords at the same settings are meaty with more than a touch of vintage humbucker flavor. With the gain set higher, though, the guitar can also readily deliver the goods for modern metal styles. Tuned way down to drop C, and with my Radial Tonebone Plexitube's very hot and mid-heavy channel 2 engaged, the Thoroughbred Select was articulate and clear—even for rhythm figures that combined very low open strings with ringing high-end note clusters.
For high-gain soloing, the Thoroughbred Select is capable of seemingly endless sustain. Shredding was a breeze—particularly legato playing, which was made so easy by the guitar's excellent setup that I sometimes felt like I was cheating. To go from a hyper-saturated sound to a lighter crunch, I had to bring the guitar's volume knob all the way down to about 3. But at these settings I still generated killer blues lead tones—which, while obviously lower in volume, still had lots of bite and liveliness.
The neck pickup, meanwhile, is robust and full of range, and with the tone control almost all the way up, funky 9th chords popped and sliding tenths sounded angelic. It's even a great match for jazz styles. Rolling the tone knob all the way off, I cooked up Pat Metheny-style tones that were dark and full (even with those light strings!), but delivered great clarity for single notes. Even with the tone off, there was a wide dynamic range and the pick attack variation was distinct rather than mushy and flat.
With its sweet playability and a pickup set that spans a huge range of tones, the Thoroughbred Select is happy in many musical settings—many more than its flashy, hard-rocking appointments would suggest. At right around $900, the Thoroughbred Select offers amazing bang for the buck and the potential to take you in many unexpected musical directions.