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This article was originally published in issue #24
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With demand for 'extended range' guitars hitting all time highs, manufacturers are constantly coming up with new variations of design and technology and Dean, always one of the more popular brands among the metal fraternity, is no exception. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present the very stylised Dean Modifier 8-string.
The first thing I want to address in this review is that body design. Dean is known for its flamboyant signature models, particularly the Dimebag Darrell artist series which features a variation on one of Dean’s unique body shapes. The Modifier 8-string follows that general shape and, let's be frank here, it's going to be an acquired taste. Some will love it, some won't. In my opinion, with most 8-strings on the market being essentially superstrats this style adds a fresh breath of variation to the constantly developing extended range market.
Practically, the Modifier's body design has advantages and disadvantages due to its size, shape and the fact it’s an extended range instrument. I personally found it more comfortable to sit in a classical position, with the guitar on the left leg, in which position the rear horns of the guitar make this style of sitting very comfortable. The top rear ‘horn’ proves quite comfortable to rest your picking hand forearm on. However, sitting with this guitar on the right leg in a regular playing position proved uncomfortable, as the horn stuck up under my armpit and got in the way of my picking. There's an added bonus, though as the classical playing position is great for your posture, wrists and long practice sessions!
Spec-wise, the Dean features a mahogany top and body, ebony fingerboard, pearl dot inlays, solid Grover tuners, a sturdy Tune-O-Matic bridge and a set of active EMG 808 pickups.
EMG was one of the first pickup manufacturers to make a wave in the extended range world, bringing out some of the first 7-string, 8-string and now even 9-string active pickups, so it's clear the company understands a thing or two about the range of the 8-string and what kind of voicing suits this added range best. The 808 is one of the first 8-string active pickups that EMG made and is one that many guitar manufactures have used so it's a tried and trusted source for Dean to have turned to. In use, the pickup has a very clear and tight low end response, so when you're chugging on the low strings, your notes keep definition without breaking up into a muddy mess. When higher notes are played the pickups sing with a nice sustain, while chords with distortion ring clearly and evenly. One of the great advantages of active pickups is that the voicing is even over all of the guitar strings, no string is particularly louder or quieter than the other when playing an evenly strummed chord, which is very important for a guitar like the Dean Modifier with its monstrous set of 8-strings.
The pickup switching is three-way: bridge, both pickups and neck. The Bridge position gives a great tight low end for rhythm playing, or a cutting lead or clean sound. A combination of the bridge and neck gives a slightly scooped sound which I feel would be great for clean tones that can be used with modulation effects such as chorus and ambient effects such as delay and reverb. The neck position gives us a thick creamy punch that is ideal for soaring leads and fast picking.
One of the burning issues of extended range guitar and their accessibility is the consideration of scale length and neck structure. For lower tunings, a longer scale length means the strings can resonate clearer, have a tighter response and more tension, which creates an overall better tone from the low end. The only issue with longer scale lengths is that the neck becomes longer which can mean it could be a little unfamiliar to get used to at first, and maybe with smaller hands a little more challenging to play. The Dean Modifier 8 string has a modest 26.5 inch scale length, which is an inch longer than your average 6-string but not as long as other 8-strings. This means you are getting the best of both worlds: not losing too much playability but also not sacrificing too much of the extra length needed for clarity in the low end.
The neck design on the Modifier is listed on the Dean website as a ‘Slim D shape neck’. Normally a D shape neck is a quite thick and it gives a you a little more grip on the neck, which would seem an odd choice for a chunky 8-string had Dean not made the D shape slimmer in profile so you can easily get to the lower notes without doing your wrist any damage.
Clearly, the Modifier is mostly aimed at Metal guitarists who are looking for something that really stands out from the crowd. It comes with solid hardware, great pickups and a good scale length. It sounds fine and really the only issue I can find is the body shape might not be the most comfortable for an extended range guitar - it really is a bit of a beast! But if you can tame it, then it’s a fantastic metal machine but I recommend trying one before buying and seeing if its comfortable for you to play.