Do I like my Dean 5 String Acoustic Bass Guitar? Yes, but being that this a hybrid type instrument that really never existed until quite recently, I think its quite early in its evolution and it will be some time before the general concept has worked out the idiosyncracies of this type of instrument.
Before I can review this, I need to talk a bit about Bass Guitars in general.
Until the early 1950's, there really were no Bass Guitars. There were large acoustic upright basses and a mexican instrument that is used in mariachi bands for acoustic bass accompaniment. Leo Fender pretty much invented what a Bass Guitar was all about. It was a solid body instrument, with 1 or more wire wound/magnetic pickups on it. Leo somehow managed to get most of the details of the instrument right. If you handed one of the first Fender Precision Basses to any current Bass Guitar player, they could make music with it and it would work (except that most bass players I know of would have an issue with the thud that you get from Flatwound Bass Guitar strings). Thats quite an accomplishment for anyone. Most Bass Guitars you see today are variations of the original Precision Bass concept, even if they look quite different.
Over time, people started trying different things with Bass Guitars. The Original 6 string Bass Guitar (made by Danelectro around 1958) was basically a long neck guitar (30 inch scale) with 6 strings tuned an octave lower than a regular guitar, still with the lowest note being an E. Fender even tried a variation of this in the 1960's that had a Vibrato (along the same concept as used on their Stratocaster) - this never caught on. Later, people added a low B string to get a bit more range out of the Bass, and discovered that you needed a pretty long scale length to make it work well (34 inches or longer). This is what the configuratuion of the Dean 5 String Acoustic Bass Guitar is - tuned as (from low to high) B E A D G. There are quite a few custom Basses with 35 or 36 inch scales to help the B string work better.
The tuning on this type of 5 string Bass Guitar allows a Bass Guitar player to use the E A D G strings as they always have, and to use the B string if they needed it for lower notes. So, its fairly easy for an experianced Bass Guitar player to switch to a 5 string Bass Guitar and get used to having some extra range. I had never played a 5 string Bass Guitar before buying this one. I found it easy to adapt to the extra string.
When I call the Acoustic Bass Guitar a Hybrid, what I mean is that some things have been adapted from other instruments. Back in the early 1970's, Ernie Ball made an Earthwood Acoustic Bass Guitar; like Leo Fender, he worked out what it needed to be to really be effective - the problem with an Acoustic Bass Guitar is that the body needs to be fairly large in order to get the deep notes out. This makes it hard to hold onto as a Guitar. The Earthwood Bass body is much larger than the Dean Bass.
It appears that manufacturers got the idea that you could simply scale up an Acoustic Guitar and turn it into a Bass Guitar. This is the route that the Dean Guitar took. Its nowhere as large as the Earthwood Acoustic Bass Guitar, but as a result, it does not have the Bass response in acoustic mode. Neither of them (Earthwood or Dean) have the deep Bass response of an Upright Bass (I've played an upright Bass in the past, I was impressed at what it could do; however it was massive), but that was not really the goal. All guitars are compromises of different things - thats why you have so many variations available; everyone is looking for things that suite the way they play or the style of music they like. Each solution has its place.
Dean 5 String Acoustic Bass Guitar Construction
Its made in China.
The Neck appears to be made of Maple (with the finish its really hard to say exactly, but it looks like it to me). On my guitar the neck is straight. It has a truss rod adustment inside the body (hex key - the guitar comes with one). I have not adjusted the rod at all at this time - no need for it yet. The nut is black material; I assume its some kind of plastic. The neck joins the body at the 17th fret. The neck does not appear to be screwed on (as some Martins and other high end Acoustics are); it looks to be fully glued in place.
The tuning keys are copies of Gotuh Bass keys. So far they seem good quality. If I have any problems, at least I know I can get replacements that will look the same.
The Fretboard looks to be Indian Rosewood. It has 24 frets and Perl dotmarkers as you would find on many guitars. The fretboard has white plastic binding - you don't often see that in a lower end guitar unless the Rosewood is a very thin veneer instead of a slab of Rosewood; since I'm not planning on pulling it off to check, I'll assume thats why its there. The Frets look nice, but as is common on most production guitars, they are slightly uneven and need some work to level them properly (many guitars have this need - so I don't consider this to be a serious issue).
The Top is solid spruce - not a plywood top - that is good news; many low end acoustic guitars have plwood
tops with a thin veneer of spruce on them to make it look like better wood than it really is. There is plastic
Binding around the top. Apparently there is a glue thumb print on the top near the neck; under the finish.
You can see it's ghostly image in this photo.
Overall, the finish is ok to good, Its got a few shiny patches here and there, but it is a Satin finish. This seems a popular finish for a number of chinese guitars I have seen lately. I don't mind it. We will see how it wears. There is filler material noticable in between the mahogany sides and the binding - thus is commonly done on guitars with binding, but there is usually an effort to match it up better colorwise. You can see this filler in the picture that shows the bridge (dark stripe between the binding and side wood) - below.
The Guitar has a cutaway that allows access up to all 24 frets - in my opinion these cutaways don't appear to alter the tone of acoustic guitars very much and improve playabilty (I like having access to all the frets - why else would they put them there). Maybe its because I play electric guitar that I expect cutaways and high fret access, but personally, I would not buy a guitar that does not have reasonable access to all the frets - I have an old acoustic guitar without a cutaway and I find it irritating when I run out of neck access.
The Top is X Braced - This is common on many well known Acoustic Guitars. It was invented by Martin Guitars in the mid 1800s, and generally is considered a good choice for sound quality and strength of the top. I think that the bracing is a bit on the lighter side to get better bass response; the side effect of this is that the strings that came on the bass appear too heavy for the bracing. There is some sort of fiberglass tape holding some of the braces together. (I'll add an inside picture in in the near future). I can also see that some of the wood braces are not using wood that was cut correctly as brace wood.
The Bridge has typical flat top string anchors that are friction fitted into the Rosewood bridge unit.
The actual bridge support is made of white Plastic and is bent towards the neck a little, basicly because
the strings are pushing it that way. I'll replace this with a Bone bridge. The intonation is right on for all
but the G string, which is a little sharp. I'll see what I can do about this when I remake the bridge piece.
There is a Piezo transducer under the plastic bridge; these only work well if the bridge pushes
down on it evenly - this is not happening because its bent forward.|
What you can't see well in this picture is that the top wood behind the bridge is pulled up slightly. This suggests improper bracing for this size string - I plan on replacing the factory supplied strings with a lighter gauged string set. It did come with round-wound strings, so I will assume that its ok to continue using that type of string.
The back and sides are Mahogany. the back appears to be 2 single pieces joined together - on many lower end guitars, this is plywood. A solid back gives you better response as it couples with the top when you play notes on it. I'm not sure what the sides are made of yet; I suspect plywood.
There is a strap peg at the back end of the guitar, but nothing for the other end of a strap to connect to. I play this more centered than I would an electric bass, so using a strap in anyway I could imagine it being attached would make it very akward to play standing up. For me, it's better played sitting down.
In general, its well made and uses high quality woods, I paid around $200.00 US for this; its worth that easily.
Playability: This is where setup comes into the picture.
Its very very big. If you are used to playing something the size of a Fender Precision Bass, this has an extra 10
inches (approx 24 cm) sticking out behind the bridge that you will not be used to. Its also very deep. It does
sit well on your leg however when sitting down to play it. The picture shows my Re-Issue 25 inch scale length
Danelectro U2 next to the Bass. - this will give you some idea how big it is. If you have only ever played a regular
sized guitar before - it will take you quite a while to get used to the lower neck fret spacing.
Very few bass players will have had much experiance playing an Acoustic Bass Guitar - I never had before this was delivered to me.
The construction of Electric Bass Guitars usually has the neck/fret board as a single entity - ie. all of the frets and fretboard are attached to the same piece of neck wood. On an acoustic guitar, there are 2 surfaces for the fret board; The nut to the body, which is glued to the neck wood, and the last length of the fret board is glued to the top of the guitar. Where the fretboard connects the neck to the body, the fret board has a tendancy to be angled slightly different than the rest of the neck. Depending on how its attached and how the frets are dressed, this body/fretboard part can cause problems with fret buzz. There are all manner of stresses in an acoustic guitar that don't exist in solid body guitars. They are not made very much alike.
A lot of people seem to like to pull the frets off of these acoustic Bass Guitars (There are a few YouTube videos showing how to do it), After playing mine for a while, I understand the desire. While the frets look great at a glance, if you look down the neck, you'll see that they are not leveled fully and there are lots of buzzes all of over the neck. This is a common issue on any production guitar. Many Guitar techs address this problem for a living. Don't go crazy and attack your frets randomly (Stewart MacDonald sells tools for this purpose as well as videos on the subject. Also have a look at Musical Instrument Makers Forum for ideas about working on guitars) - Know what you are doing and don't be aggressive when working on frets or truss rods - you can really do serious damage if you don't know how these are done.
The guitar seems to respond well to a slap style of playing (you get a lot of overtones from that - they really stand out). If I play it with a stiff guitar pick, it also sounds crisp (except for the lower notes on B string).
Like all Bass Guitars, there are likely resonant notes on this guitar that are somewhat dead or extremely alive. I have not played it enough to find them. I'll report any I find.