- My Best Friend Matt Lynn...and the ML Guitar -

As mentioned in my earlier blog, my father died when I was 12. That was a pivotal time in my life. I kind of transitioned from a kid to head of house. Still living a kid’s life, I had to take on responsibilities I didn’t know existed. Like when you’re a kid, you just go to bed at night…but when you’re a kid without a dad, you are the one who makes sure the house is locked up, sets the burglar alarm, and the one who trolls the house with whatever weapon you can find when the alarm goes off in the middle of the night. When the washing machine broke, I took it apart and fixed it. I cut the grass, plowed the snow…I came from a family of do-it-yourselfers. Calling in any form of worker was sacrilegious. 


It was summer 1969, I would be going into 7th grade. I started hanging around wih a neighborhood kid named Matt Lynn. Matt played guitar and that is what we had in common. However, he had a propensity for living on the edge. Knives, switchblades, fighting, smoking, were all on the table. Matt was kind of a big kid, I was always a little guy. We soon became best friends. While Matt was no dummy, I was the brains and he was the brawn. We started figuring out the Rock and Roll/hippie lifestyle of the time...which music was cool, how to dress and whom we were going to emulate. Levi jackets, cowboy boots, sun glasses, long hair…we were becoming Easy Rider! Matt and I were so affected by that movie...we made a plan to buy Harley choppers and ride to the west coast when we turned 18.


Those years also shaped my Rock and Blues tastes. Listening to Johnny Winter, Jeff Beck, Led Zepplin, The Yardbirds, Cream, Savoy Brown, then Foghat…ZZ Top, Leslie West and a host of others. We both had SGs. Mine a 69 Cherry Standard with the full pickguard, Matt had a 64 Cherry Special with P90s and half pickguard. Matt ‘s mother ran estate and garage sales...anytime there was a cheap amp (like a Silvertone) she would bring it home. Matt somehow discovered you could pull the speaker wire off the speaker, put a ¼” plug on it, run it into the input of another amp and get this killer tone. We had master volumes and overdrive long before they were ever on an amplifier. We jammed, picked up guitar licks off records and taught them to each other. That’s when my playing dramatically improved.


When it came time for high school, though we lived only two blocks apart, we had a choice. Matt picked Deerfield, I picked Highland Park. We still remained great friends...about as tight as two friends could be. Choosing different schools broadened our horizons as I was finding musicians at Highland Park and Matt at Deerfield. We still hung after school and on weekends. We enrolled in a building trades program our schools offered and were in the same class our junior year.


We would go to our respective high schools for half the day, then get on a bus to North Chicago to work on rehabbing a house. Matt starting doing drugs, and it just wasn’t my thing. More importantly, my father died; I couldn’t do anything that would hurt my mother. Matt would smoke the joints, I became an expert at rolling them.  


We were now 16, Matt got his drivers license before me…he had been working and saving up for a car. He bought a brand new Fiat 850. It's 1973, we got tickets to see Johnny Winter at the Chicago International Amphitheater. Matt and I were headed down to the hood to our first real Rock concert. Seeing Johnny Winter and Rick Derringer in their heyday…trading leads and guitar riffs in a packed stadium of 20,000 people…the light show and all became quite an eye opener...a game changer. Guitars and Rock Music were going to be my future.



Matt was partying a bit harder. Drinking and slightly harder drugs, which wasn’t so rare at the time. Then one night Matt gets a DUI. Matt’s parents were about as liberal as parents could be, but the DUI became a big fuckin' deal...like the worst thing in the world! “Their 16 year old got a DUI!” They paid a lawyer, Matt got to keep his license was put on probation.


As I said, Matt was partying a lot…but also working out. At 16, Matt was six feet tall, about 200 lbs. and all muscle. He and I were taking Tae Kwon Do together. Matt started complaining about a pain in his leg...going on for weeks. He attributed it to dropping a bale of paper on it at his fathers recycling facility. Instead of dealing with it, he was self medicating. Johnny Winter had a song "Too Much Seconal," so Matt was taking Seconal. One day we are at our building trades class, Matt pulls up his pant leg and shows us this massive bump that formed on his leg just below the knee. I clearly remember other kids in the class were kind of laughing at it, but in a few days, we found out it wasn’t anything close to funny.


It was a deadly form of cancer. As kids back then, we hardly knew what cancer was. I remember seeing Mr. Levenson in the neighborhood with a swelling on his face the size of a small cantaloupe. They told us he had cancer and that was the extent of my knowledge. However, the education I was about to get would affect me for the rest of my life.


Matt went in for surgery in short order and never really walked on his own again. The adults didn’t tell us much. We had no idea how bad things were. Matt was making regular trips and stays at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital. They said he kind of didn’t belong there, he was almost an adult...now six foot one…they didn’t even have a bed big enough for him. But the doctors said that was the best place for his treatments. That hospital became home away from home for me as well. While Matt was in for treatments, he befriended a lot of little kids who were there for the same reason. I met five year old kids that in our next visit, "did not make it." This was an eye-opener for me and you can put a big multiplier on that for my good friend Matt.


He was getting radiation and chemo and all I knew about was they were treating his leg. One day I noticed some red pen marks on his back. I asked Matt what that was and he said "they found something there too." Though I knew little to nothing about cancer, I knew a game changer when I saw one and then feared for the worst.


I hung with Matt the whole time…in and out of the hospital. His father obviously knew time was precious and bought Matt a new 74 Black Dodge Challenger…all built with Cragar mags, traction bars, headers and a blower under the hood. “Mr. Norm” (look him up) lived across the street from me and was good friends with the Lynn Family. He hooked Matt’s father up with a car people would give their right arm for today. Mostly it was me driving Matt around in the Challenger. They made him a brace for his bad leg so he could push in the heavy clutch and he was able to drive it on occasion. We even went up the to drag strip in Union Grove Wisconsin and raced it one Sunday.  

 It was spring 1974 I went over for my daily visit to Matt's house and the parents said Matt has some news for me...I went up to Matt’s room. He told me his doctor sat him down and told him he wasn’t going to make it. I asked Matt his thoughts…all he could say is "I’m pissed!" He was mature beyond his years, I hear cancer has this affect on people. I remember crying all the way home to tell my mother.

 Things absolutely sucked but we made the best of the time Matt had left on this earth. However, as I watched Matt’s condition continue to decline, I felt so helpless. Kept thinking as long as he was alive, there was hope. He was in terrible pain, had tumors all over his body, lost all his hair, was confined to a wheelchair and finally had a tumor growing in his throat that was going to suffocate him. Weeks before he died, Matt received a letter from the State of Illinois…his probation for his DUI was over. I got an early life lesson on perspective that I carry this to this day. I remember Matt’s mother telling me how meaningless a "big deal" becomes once cancer enters the picture. She would do anything to have a 16 year old with a DUI as her biggest problem.



Well, on May 25th1974, after his six-month battle, I lost my best friend. My giant friend weighed less than 100 lbs. when he died. He was 17. I could write a novel about this experience but I will leave it here. We never bought those choppers and made that ride to the west coast.


In 1976, when I started Dean Guitars, my good friend Matt had been gone two years and was heavily on my mind. Guitars were our common thread...what we loved. Here I am building a guitar company and Matt is no longer around.
I knew I was going to be making my version of a V and Explorer, but felt I needed a trio, and the third guitar had to be mine. I was in the front room (which became the shipping room) of my original Evanston Illinois factory. I put my Explorer body down on the floor, put my V body on top of it and stared at it for a while. I got out a big piece of paper and started positioning and tracing each body right there on the floor. Drawing, erasing…more drawing and erasing and a lot fine-tuning.

Soon I had my first original design down on paper. From there, I went to the bandsaw to create my first prototype. With my best friend Matt Lynn heavily on my mind, I named my first original design The Dean "ML"