Dean’s legal troubles are far from over – can it ever recover?
We’re in the aftermath of its battle with Gibson – but continued legal tangles threaten to engulf the brand.
Image: Roy Rochlin / Getty
Armadillo – parent company of Dean, Luna and ddrum – can’t really catch a break, can it? Not only has it suffered from its fight with Gibson, its former CEO Evan Rubinson has claimed its new president – his mother, Pamela Keris-Rubinson – has led it to be “in the throes of death.” And as of 2023, it’s still getting caught up in legal infighting between Evan and Pamela.
Dean’s back in the news thanks to a video by the excellent KDH, who you should be following if you like deep-dives into guitar litigation as much as we do. In the video, titled Dean Guitars Are Dying? KDH gives an overview of the many, many challenges Armadillo continues to face in 2023.
As KDH points out, the Dean V and Z – its Flying V and Explorer equivalents – were among its more popular guitars, however, can no longer be made thanks to the court order resulting from the Gibson case.
KDH also notes that several artists appear to have had their V and Z-shaped signature models discontinued because of this ruling. With no guitar sale royalties coming in, they could be tempted to look elsewhere – and they wouldn’t be the only signature artists to jump ship. Not only did Dave Mustaine depart in 2019 for Dean’s legal rival Gibson, Dimebag Darrell’s estate didn’t renew their contract in 2021 – instead, they sued over breach of contract and trademark infringement.
After the Gibson ruling, Pamela Keris-Rubinson used her position as sole shareholder to vote out then-CEO Evan Rubinson. Soon after, the pair entered into a whole host of legal scuffles. Most of these concern various property holdings and family financials, and aren’t that relevant to the fate of Dean as a guitar company.
However, one complaint filed by Evan in August 2022 concerns the Elliot Trust, and it’s here we come across the accusation that Armadillo is in the “throes of death.” The Elliot Trust was founded by former Dean CEO Elliot Rubinson, and names Evan as a beneficiary. It’s also the subject of much of Evan and Pamela’s legal battles.
In a lawsuit filed about this trust in August 2022, Evan accuses Pamela of using Armadillo – a “Trust asset” – as leverage to gain ground in another legal case, one in which Evan wanted to obtain accounting information about Kapok, a company he and Pamela co-own.
In the complaint Evan alleges that “[Pamela] used the gun she put to Armadillo’s head to attempt to extract a resolution of the Kapok accounting claim: ‘Give up the Kapok claim, or I will kill Armadillo,’ she figuratively threatened. Pamela’s hostage-taking did not work.
“As a result, Armadillo, a Trust asset, is now in the throes of death because Pamela, the Trustee, wanted leverage over the Trust beneficiary. That is the opposite of what a fiduciary is supposed to do with Trust assets.”
These various cases are, bar one, still ongoing, and there’s even a more recent case that’s been opened up by Evan on behalf of Concordia Investment Partners. This one’s suing Armadillo for royalties owed since 2012.
Confusingly, Concordia is… also co-owned by Pamela. Unsurprisingly, she did not want to sue her own company through a different company, and so the suit has been filed by Evan derivatively – this is when a shareholder or group of shareholders files a suit on behalf of a company, even if the company as a whole does not choose to file.
Even if Armadillo manages to fend off this latest suit, and/or Evan’s claims that Pamela threatened to kill it are found to be false, none of this is really great for Dean. Having your CEO embroiled in a handful of lawsuits against their predecessor is not great at the best of times, but especially not when you’ve just lost an enormous trademark ruling and have to stop making your most popular products.
And, obviously, if what Evan has alleged is true, this isn’t great either. However, since this filing almost a year ago, Armadillo hasn’t collapsed – and Pamela has announced a new president and upper management team. As KDH puts it, “the ship isn’t sailing without a captain […] but has already hit several icebergs.”
So is there any hope for Dean fans? It’s hard to say for certain, but things aren’t exactly looking great. And the chaos does seem to be having a material impact on Dean’s ability to deliver guitars: its latest non-signature release was a pair of electrics, announced in 2021. These replaced Dave Mustaine’s signature models, with the Vengeances being based on his pointed V-shaped guitar and the Zero on his pointed Z-shaped guitar. Since their announcement, they’ve been available for preorder at dealers – but no guitars appear to have shipped after almost two years.
In April of 2023 we also got a new custom-shop signature for Kerry King – the Overlord, perhaps not coincidentally following his V-shaped signature. This, however, seemed to be a very limited release, because as far as we can tell, it’s not available to purchase through any Dean dealers, and we can’t find any examples out there in the wild.
So if fans can’t buy any of its new guitars, does it really matter who the victor of the legal spiderweb is? KDH is of the opinion that the company – Dean, that is – will really only fully survive under new ownership entirely. But as to whether it’s definitely over for Dean, that remains to be seen – after all, if Evan is to be believed, it’s been in ‘the throes of death’ for almost a year now.