Dimebag Darrell of Pantera
by Lisa Sharken
Dimebag Darrell is a player who needs little introduction. Bred on classic rock and heavy metal, Dime analyzed the styles and tones of his favorite players, then forged his own signature style and sound with Pantera. Rather than to follow the trends set by others, Dime raised the bar for metal guitarists by creating a sound that was even heavier and more brutal than his predecessors. Dime became the trendsetter–a modern metal god that today’s players venture to emulate.
Dime tells GroundWire about the development of his new signature model pickup, the SH-13 Dimebucker, and gives us the scoop on how he shapes his trademark sound both onstage and in the studio.
GroundWire: Tell us about the creation of the Dimebucker and how this pickup was voiced.
Dimebag Darrell: When I was playing the old Dean® guitars, I found a pickup which fit that guitar. Those pickups went out of production and became hard to find. Since then, I’ve switched over to Washburn guitars and those guitars needed a new pickup that would work well with them and give me the sound I want. I realized that there was not a pickup out there that did exactly what I wanted it to do. I was always trying to find a pickup with super-high output and lots of gain and I’d tried out lots of different pickups. It seemed that distortion pickups were too distorted for me and clean pickups always had a poppy sound that was almost like a Strat®. When I’d add some dirt to the cleaner pickups, it was just a clean sound that was coated with distortion. It wasn’t like it was smushed together, the way I wanted it. That’s what I call a “smushy” tone–like when you’re going “shung, shung, shung” and you get that warm tone with the distortion mixed in and it has the low end that’s kicking you in the butt while the top end is cutting your face off in the right way, but not ripping your face off. It’s not fuzzy distortion or real nasty and gritty sounding, but it’s more of a deep, thick tone with some sizzle on the top.
I’d tried out a lot of different pickups and some of them had the right kind of distortion, but I’d be missing the sustain or feedback I wanted or getting the wrong kind of feedback. When I got together with Duncan, I explained exactly what I was looking for and I gave them one of my old pickups as a starting point. They went to work on it and then sent me two or three samples to try out and they nailed it. We were on tour when all this was going on and I had one guitar that I was using for the testing. Every time I’d get a new pickup to try, we’d swap it out. So I’d be playing all of my other guitars that already had my tone set, then I’d put on the guitar with the new Duncan pickup in it and then I could really evaluate where it was sitting tonally. That’s how we were able to actually hone in on the tone we were looking for. So basically, what we got was a super hot-rodded Dime pickup that’s got the right kind of Dime distortion. It’s really got the smushies–where it’s toned in so that it feels like you’re playing on a sponge. It’s very saturated–not to the point where it’s overly fuzzy–but it has a smooth and crunchy distortion tone. You don’t have to fight to get the guitar to ring out in the way you want. It will give you some extra gain, but it won’t go so far that your sound breaks up and is going crazy. When you pull your volume knob down to 1 or 2, you can still get it sound clean. If you ever listen to a Pantera record, that’s what you’ll hear through this pickup.
GW: Which players influenced your tone early on?
DD: I grew up on heavy metal and everyone I listened to had distorted heavy sounds, but I wanted mine to be a bit more abrasive. I wanted it to tear your face off, but still have a round tone. There were a bunch of people I listened to when I was a kid–everybody from Eddie Van Halen to Randy Rhoads to Tony Iommi. There were certain sounds I would hear that would make me go, “Man, that’s so heavy.” You get an idea in your head of what you’re looking for, but I think you only know that you’ve found your tone whenever you actually stumble onto it. You really just have to keep looking and when you tweak it to where it’s finally unique enough and you know that it stands apart from everybody else, then you know that you’ve found your signature tone.
GW: Describe your live rig.
DD: I have two different setups that I use. If I’m playing through the regular Randall RG100H, then the guitar goes to the Furman 4-band parametric EQ, to the MXR 6-band graphic EQ and into Randall. If I’m playing through Warheads, then I’m pretty much plugged straight in without those outboard EQs, because they’re built in. Aside from that, I do use a few effects in my rig, too. I use a Dunlop 535Q, an old red Digitech Whammy pedal, a Korg DT-7 chromatic tuner and a Rocktron Hush IIC noise gate that’s at the end of the signal chain. I also run an old rack mount MXR Flanger/Doubler through the effects loop in the head. Onstage, I’m also using a Shure UHF wireless system and for picks, I use .88 mm Tortex–the green ones.
GW: How are your guitars set up?
DD: I’m using two different custom-gauged sets of DR strings which will soon be released as signature sets. One set is .009-.046 set and the other is .009-.050. I use the heavier strings on the lower tunings. I like the action to be set decently low, but just slightly higher on
the bass side to keep the fret buzz down. As far as the pickups go, I set my amp how I like it, spend a little time playing each guitar in front of the amp, then raise and lower the pickups until I find that sweet spot. I don’t have them set too close to the strings because if you pull back on a Floyd Rose®, it’ll dampen out on the pickup. But if it’s set too low into the body, then you lose a little bit of the gain and some of the harmonics. So I’ll go through every guitar and set the pickups so that it sounds best. Guitars will all sound a bit different, so you just set everything accordingly.
GW: What advice would you give to other rockers who are trying to develop their own signature style and sound?
DD: I would say to be like Dimebag–sit in your room with a CD player, tape deck or a turntable with your favorite record and learn your favorite guitarist’s stuff inside out. Figure out the songs and riffs by listening to the music and not by reading tablature. I don’t think that using tablature is cheating, but it’s a quicker way to get there. But if you learn by ear, it’ll train your ears to be able to pick things out when you hear them and then you’ll use your ears more. One of the most important things for a player to learn is to use their ears. Go after what you like and once you’ve dominated learning everybody else’s licks, take whatever elements you’ve retained and then use them to forge your own style. Always search to be original.
Lisa Sharken is Seymour Duncan’s New York-based artist relations consultant.
Wes Hauch demoes the Dimebag Set: