I've always been fascinated with musical instruments, and through this website I got in contact with several manufacturers. A couple were kind enough to send over photos so I could make virtual tours of their factories.
Ever since, I've wanted to visit a place where wood turns into guitars. I didn't think it would ever happen, because guitars are made in Korea, Japan, China, or possibly California. Or Nashville.
Imagine my surprise when I wanted to send a question to Dean Guitars and saw a mailing address in Tampa, a mere hour away from here.
Turns out they give factory tours. Joy!
Dean Guitars is a part of Armadillo Enterprises together with Luna Guitars and ddrum. I thought ddrum only had electronic drums, but I'm clearly behind on my drumming knowledge - they have beautiful acoustic sets.
Anyway, Dean Guitars are located in a big building with their trademark wings on the side. Here you'll find their offices, a large warehouse, and manufacturing.
Like many other manufacturers the bulk of their instruments come from Asia, but they make custom ordered guitars right here, in Tampa.
The lobby satisfies the cravings of a guitar-nerd: it's filled with instruments and pictures of instruments. Please excuse the poor photo below; it's hard to take good pictures of shiny things with the Florida sun beaming in through the windows.
You can't really tell on the image above, but these guitars are beautiful. The brown to the west has a western motive with a prairie and running horses. Check out the below detail of the green guitar hanging in the middle. If I have my information right that's not paint - it's inlays.
The neck is pretty too, with flowers all the way up the fretboard.
The lobby also held this bass inspired by John Entwistle from The Who. I didn't think much of it at first - until our guide explained that the spider webs are wood inlays. This is an ornate and beautiful instrument.
The tour took us through a large warehouse filled with all sorts of fun stuff. There was also a long row of people who test and set up every instrument - even the ones from Asia - before they go out for sale.
I have a couple of Dean basses made in China. They're affordable, and I was surprised when I got them how well set up they were. Now I know why; they're individually inspected right here in Tampa.
I've tried quite a few instruments in the same price range where the frets stuck out enough to the sides to cut your fingers, or had loose frets that wanted to creep out of the fretboard. No such problems with the Deans.
The next stop was at a wood-working area filled with interesting machines and piles of wood, guitar bodies, and guitar necks everywhere. I want some, and I want them now.
The guitar bodies on the photo to the right are still pretty rough. They have people who sand them to perfection. By hand. A large amount of work in this factory is done by hand, and that impressed me.
Below are some examples of cool stuff I encountered around the factory. Guitar bodies, necks, fine woods... The possibilities are endless.
Did I mention necks? They had the coolest machine that makes glue set in seconds instead of hours. After that, the pieces that will become guitar necks are set to the side for a few months, to ensure the wood is properly dry and set. If you make a guitar out of wood that's not properly dry it can warp and become impossible to play.
The photo below shows a large stack of future guitar necks, waiting for their turn to shine.
Our tour guide works with making pickups. A guitar pickup is a coil of wire around a magnet, and the type of magnet, the thickness of the wire, and the number of times the wire is wound all influence the final sound of the pickup.
There are several types of pickups, but that's a discussion for another day. Here is a gang of these beauties waiting for their instruments. I've always expected things like these to come out of a factory somewhere in Asia by the millions. It makes me happy to know that someone in my area still makes them.
They don't paint guitars in Tampa, painting guitars is difficult, expensive, and time consuming, and they send the instruments away to get a perfect finish. They do some natural finishes.
Our next stop was at final assembly, where the guitar bodies get their final hardware.
Once we'd seen all the manufacturing steps, our guide took us upstairs to see the Dean collection. I'm sure he said many interesting things about the instruments there, but I got sensory overload from looking, so I missed most of the information. LOL!
These guitars have the typical Dean head. I believe it's a love it or hate it design - perfect for metal. You can get the newer models with a more neutral headstock that fits me better.
To me, this was like Christmas. I wanted to touch and look at everything.
The next step on the tour, and the only one I haven't showed you yet, was an exhibition of all the instruments they produce for sale right now. Here are some of the photos I took - this is a mix of Dean and Luna instruments.
This was a fantastic experience. If you're in the area and you're interested in guitars at all, I warmly recommend a visit to the Dean factory.