Dean & Luna GuitarsDespite the fact that Dean Guitars’ full line is pretty diverse, with a broad range of acoustic guitars and basses, resonators, mandolins, and banjos, let’s be honest: When people think Dean, they think aggressive-styled electric guitars and bad-ass rock ’n’ roll. And this impression is reinforced by some of parent company Armadillo Enterprises’ other brands—ddrum Percussion and Dime Amplifiers (not to mention that other NAMM show staple: the “Dean Girls”). The one instrument that might not leap readily into this mental picture is...ukuleles? Well, come winter NAMM 2014, in addition to some splashy new ukes from Armadillo’s somewhat “softer” brand, Luna Guitars, Armadillo will introduce a highly distinctive ukulele line from Dean itself. These instruments, in their own way, are every bit as bold as a Dimebag Razorback electric.
Redefining the ukulele
Luna, which has offered ukuleles for two years, has stood out in that crowded market with striking instrument designs. It was the first company, says Luna Guitars founder and Creative Director Yvonne DeVilliers, to laser-etch traditional Polynesian body ornamentation on a ukulele, and that model is still its most popular SKU. The company goes for cultural authenticity in its Tapa uke, with its laser-etched graphics based on traditional Hawaiian fabric designs, and in its ulu (breadfruit)-inspired banjolele, whose aesthetics are based on a Hawaiian quilt design. Some Luna ukes employ freeform inlay ornamentation of natural designs around the sound hole. Others feature well-loved artwork by Hokusia. At NAMM, Luna will be introducing something for everybody, including traditional designs, two very affordable all-solid ukes, and even a model equipped with a USB port. DeVilliers calls Luna’s selection of ukes “a natural extension of our guitar line,” where “providing quality, uniqueness, and affordability have been our goals.”
Armadillo Director of Marketing Curse Mackey reports that the Dean team is having “a lot of fun with the creative process” to develop a Dean ukulele line. “We’re bringing a bit of the classic Dean edge to the design process. We aren’t interested in competing against the Luna uke line, which is already doing well, so we’re coming from an entirely different perspective and designing for a different audience. Dean ukes will open this instrument to new customers who may not have ever played one before.”
Dean models include a six-string ukelele, a thin-bodied Traveler Uke, and the audacious ML Uke, inspired Dean’s most famous electric guitar body shape. “We’re also working with exotic woods and beautiful flame maple tops,” he adds, “so we’ll have a very artistic appeal as well as some uniquely shaped pieces, which is something we certainly specialize in.”
Among other marketing efforts, Luna Guitars has benefited from cultivating a personal relationship with its end-users, whose photos it posts on a special page of its website. Says DeVilliers, “The Luna Tribe is an amazing community of unique musicians with an affinity for Luna instruments.”
Similarly, Mackey speaks of the importance of community among Dean players and their “shared passion for Dean Guitars.” Customers’ sense of connection with the brand is enhanced by the fact that Armadillo CEO Elliott Rubinson is a touring musician, playing with legends of the guitar world such as Michael Schenker and Uli Jon Roth. “There’s a lot of positivity in that,” he says. “We’re a very accessible group of people.”
Dean is known for its robust, forward-thinking promotional programs. It was the first company to create a live webcast from NAMM, and according to Mackey, that effort reached hundreds of thousands of viewers. “We’ve always been very grassroots,” he says. “We go to shows; we connect with our customers one person at a time. Our artist roster is also very active in driving traffic to our dealers. It’s a never-ending quest to create interest and get our instruments in the hands of musicians.” Dean is planning to launch a “very dynamic” new website and “continue our grassroots efforts to create brand affinity.”
Both Luna and Dean will be creating special web pages dedicated to their respective ukulele lines to better serve the uke community. “Dean is really pushing the envelope in terms of what the average user thinks when they hear the word ‘ukulele,’” says Mackey. “We’re known for bringing energy, edge, and a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, so you know we’ll be offering ukuleles for rockers to have some fun with. And Luna makes affordable, beautiful instruments that play beautifully. We really have something for everyone right now, and that makes 2014 look extremely exciting for both Luna and Dean.”
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