Talking Tone With Dimebag Darrell's Tech Grady Champion
Grady Champion was Dimebag Darrell’s guitar tech for 13 years, and he was by Dime’s side as he found and continued to refine his tone, from Pantera through to Damageplan, across countless gigs on stages all over the world. Towards the end of his life Dime had been using his signature Seymour Duncan Dimebucker pickup, but Grady tells us that Dime was also a fan of the ’59 Model, using the bridge version of the ’59 in the neck position of his guitars. In between teching for bands like Incubus and Blondie, Grady took some time out to have a chat about how pickups fit into Dime’s tone and what it was like to work with one of the most unforgettable metal guitarists ever.
When did Seymour Duncan pickups first figure into Dime’s rig?
I don’t know an exact time when Duncan entered the picture. We changed pickups SO frequently, tried new combinations almost weekly sometimes. We tried everything, as you know, the Bill Lawrence was mainstay in the bridge for most of the years. I do remember he wanted a neck pickup with a little more bite and gain, so we tried the bridge ’59. He was always trying to squeeze ‘a little more gain’ out of things. I remember when you guys sent the Dimebucker prototypes out. We had three, maybe four. If I left the last model in it, don’t remember. I still have them. What he asked me to do was, just put a different pickup in the ‘Cowboys’ guitar every night until we went through them. He would say which one he liked best after that. In my hindsight of an opinion, after a few drinks and an hour and a half of eight 4×12’s blowing your head off, his hearing wasn’t too good! I think that is why that pickup screams so much!
How would you describe the relationship between the Dimebucker and the ’59 bridge model? What were the qualities that made them work together?
As far as the relationship between the two, for me it’s simple: he always enjoyed everything to be ‘hot.’ Nigel had nothing on Dime: if he wanted 11, Dime needed 15. The ’59 has an edge on it for the bluesy neck position, and the Dimebucker has such an attack with it that cuts through.
It seems there were lots of little customizations on Dime’s guitars – the grip on the volume knob, the tape on the neck pickup, stuff like that. It sounds like he took an extremely active approach to his personal gear…
I did a lot of little customizations for him. The knobs I did with a soldering iron tip, disconnected tone knob, put tape along the neck pickup so no strings would get caught underneath, put foam in between the back plate and springs, and a little piece of foam behind the nut as well. Also, I scratched his .88 Tortex picks with a dart for grip. We worked very close together for many years. He always told me what he wanted and I did my best to accommodate him.
There are a lot of myths, rumours and unconfirmed theories about guitar in general, especially when people get to sharing wrong information online. What’s something that would surprise people about Dime’s guitar playing or his approach to gear, or that you feel has been misreported over the years?
I get a lot of questions and requests from people wanting to know everything about Dime’s rig and settings and things. They can have all the info they want and NEVER sound like him because they can’t have his hands! HE was the magical formula, everything else were basically good ole tools for the job. His action on his guitars weren’t shredder low, he LIKED to be able to get his fingers under some notes. The gain was amazingly touchy, you simply could not stand in front of his rig with his guitar on and open the volume knob all the way without it feeding back.
We often hear stories of people like Steve Lukather, Nuno Bettencourt and Dweezil Zappa playing through EVH’s personal guitar rig and being disappointed to realise that it didn’t make them sound like Eddie. Was there ever a time when someone played through Dime’s rig and it got away from them?
I can remember Scott Ian grabbing and saying “Dude, there’s so much gain!” Can’t remember specifically anyone being disappointed. On the flip side of this, every guitar Dime played had to be sturdy and stable. He was a beast on them. Case in point, Pantera/Anthrax tour: Anthrax’s guitar player at the time, Paul Crook, gave Dime his guitar to play a song on. Paul is a great player, mucho finesse, total opposite setup from Dimes guitars. Dime grabbed it, immediately did a whammy dive and pulled the whole floyd off the body! Haha! He looked a Paul and said “Sorry I jacked your rig up dude!”
Any last thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
He was a master, best friend and big brother to me and I think of him a hundred times a day…