Pick of the Month - January 2004
2001 Dean Tonic S

There's a plethora of Korean-made electric guitars on the market right now, so it's a joy to find one that I can genuinely enthuse over and recommend to anybody on a budget looking for something that plays and sounds great, and that's not just another Strat or Les Paul copy.

I'll be honest - it was the bizarre carving and striking colour scheme that drew me in. Could it possibly sound any good, I wondered? I was surprised to discover that it could and did, less than sixty seconds playing through a clean amp enough to sell the guitar to me. Equipped with two American Dean "Silver Rail" humbuckers, genuine Grover tuners and a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic-style bridge, the 300-quid price tag was irresistible.

The body is of a light-weight mahogany 1½" thick, but milled front and back to create a two-tier effect, the upper surfaces sprayed cream, the inner surfaces and sides fire-engine red McDonald's-stylee (other paint schemes available if you don't go for the kitchen-fitting effect). Though gimmicky looking, much thought has obviously been put into the design of the body, which sits very comfortably in the lap and is perfectly balanced with the bolt-on one-piece maple neck. The frets are HUGE; now, I love a set of jumbo frets, but these are ridiculous! Having played on them for a few months, they're just starting to get comfortable but I may still get them dressed to a more player-friendly standard. The nut, too, is poorly finished, with sharp edges that could do some damage were you to wipe your left hand down the neck too rapidly, but these are minor quibbles in a guitar of this price. A flimsy 5-way switch selects the pickups; full forwards and backwards gives you neck or bridge in humbucking mode; the middle 3 positions give standard Telecaster-style switchings in single-coil mode.

Another neat design feature is the layout of the tuning machines, which pull the strings in a straight line through the nut into the stock, which continues the two-tier, two-tone colour motif. All of the hardware appears to be black enamelled, and of top quality.

Picking the guitar up for the first time perhaps doesn't inspire that reassuring sense of opulence that some of the more expensive brands might; it's extremely light in weight, and doesn't feel remotely "posh". Acoustically, it resonates very loudly, with a sonorous sustain; plugged in, its true colours emerge - a rich, mid-rangy rock'n'roll wallop from the hot bridge humbucker, and a warm, funky Fender-like punch from the neck. The neck unit works best in "tapped" mode, as the two coils together can sound a bit sludgy. The single-coil option in the bridge pickup is the perfect fusion of Tele and Strat, further enhanced by the warmth of the mahogany, all in all combining to create a very versatile instrument. Fans of Jimmy Page's early sounds should definitely check this out - the bridge pickup alone does the lot!

When I brought this guitar to the h-Band rehearsals in September last, Steve Hogarth took one look at it and said "If Noddy was a guitarist, that's the guitar he'd play!". I love the idea that an instrument this wacky-looking should prove nonetheless to be a serious player, and be available at such a generous price. Check one out soon - you can't afford not to!