I originally wrote this review and thoughts on September 14, 2008… This guitar sold to a local buyer – I got tons of “have you sold it yet?” notes just after I had sold it. Oh, if I only had made a bunch of them!
Dean Vendetta CUSTOM XM Review And Update!
Sometimes I feel the need to fashion sound and playability in a way that is not offered in commercial instruments. In most instances, a custom instrument is a luxury, costing lots of money or having excellent connections with good guitar manufacturers and luthiers. My budget doesn’t generally allow for anything approaching custom status. So… I make them for myself from stock instruments and specialized parts.
The Dean line of guitars is a good choice for customization because they are affordable new and especially on the aftermarket – they are generally very inexpensive used. I enjoy customizing my Fender, Squier, Epiphone, and Jackson instruments – but for some reason, Deans are just plain fun to turn into custom axes.
Quick Opinion: One of the best custom guitars I’ve made or played… Simple, sonically-interesting, plays well, and was a lot of fun to conceive and create. Want one for yourself? Send me an email through our contact page here. I’d love to make another.
What can it do? Imagine a nice 60’s-70’s era mini humbucker sound with several split-coil twists. A little dirtier than the Gibson mini humbucker setup, but very pleasing and crunchy in its own right.
Features: What’s not to like? Here’s the lowdown on the XM Custom:
The host guitar
A Dean Vendetta XM dual-humbucker in “natural” finish (reviewed here🙂
Read more information about Dean XM guitars at zZounds.com
The sound stuff
GFS AlNiCo V bridge pickup, mini humbucker
GFS ceramic neck pickup, mini humbucker, smooth cover (no poles showing)
DiMarzio PRS-style two-wafer 5-position rotary switch
Switchcraft USA input jack
CTS USA potentiometers
Genuine Sprague Orange Drop capacitor
All-copper USA connective wiring and silver solder
Lots of loving experimentation and effort with these paws
The fun stuff
Medium-ratio green-key Kluson copies (someday some real ones?)
Nice graphite nut
Beautiful hand-made ebony-and-abalone truss rod cover
Re-sanded and nitrocellulose-coated neck profile (yay! Fixed the neck!)
DiMarzio speed knobs (Goes to 11!)
Old-fashioned bolt-clamp chicken head knob on the rotary
Schaller strap lock strap buttons
Gibson-creme humbucker rings used as mini-adapters
Quality: Well, my work isn’t perfect – I’m not an amateur, but I’ve only got 7 years experience: I make some mistakes sometimes. That said, a great deal of thought and experimentation goes into the execution of my instrument modifications and customizations. A lot of time goes into getting the sound I’m after. A lot of little parts go into making things better. From the standpoint of the customization parts, the whole thing is high quality, no doubt.
I could have done a better job cutting and dressing the graphite nut. It could still be better if I popped it off and did some more work – problem is, I play it too much and don’t want to mess with the success of it.
The pickups are just perfect and are extremely well made. I think the only parts that aren’t top notch are the tuners and the bridge. I could drop another $60-$75 on it at some point and really shake things up.
The wiring is good on this one. No extra buzzes, no funky flaky unexpected sounds. Nice solid silver-based solder drops. Not the prettiest solder, but very well-connected. Solid instrument and custom job, overall…
BTW, I did my wiring based on my interpretation of this diagram from GuitarElectronics.com. They’re cool people, by the way. I’ve bought lots of parts from them and highly recommend them for their customer service and selection. Don’t forget to add a beer to your shopping cart when you shop with them 😉
Playability: The guitar is the lightest thing I’ve ever played (next to an acoustic). The fit and feel is perfect for my body and for sitting. The venerable Stratocaster-style shape is perfect for 24-fret access and the subtle cutaways are really comfortable.
After spending a reasonable amount of time on the neck, the overall playability of the guitar is pretty good. I won’t rate up there with a nice USA-made Gibson Standard or USA-made Fender standard, but the XM Custom feels good in the hands and is a pleasure to play.
Sound: I spent quite a bit of time researching what I was after. I started with wanting the sound of the awesome and beautiful Firebird VII (three minis)… I needed a budget donor (but with something different in body wood), and I still wanted the playability and flexibility for a recording instrument. The addition of splitting and the minis REALLY fit the bill.
How does it sound? Incredible. The quality pots, switch, jack, and wiring really make for a good transparent sound set. The mini humbuckers are dirty, skanky, crunchy, grimy, and just perfect for the task. The combination of the AlNiCo V magnet and the ceramic magnet really shines out here. It’s not the sound you want for sweet smooth love music. The sound is for making your feet tap and getting your endorphins on.
Value: Priceless. This one is likely to be one of the permanent members of my sound library (update: had a good offer for it… it’s sadly no longer in my loft). The sound is just what the doctor ordered, it’s light, and it feels pretty good to play. So many sounds in one package… and you gotta love having mini humbuckers in your sound library!
Wishes: I’m ready to make more of these. I’m likely to do an active pickup version (with either EMG actives or Seymour Duncan Blackouts) and perhaps a nice, spanky DiMarzio version…