Electric Etudes: “Dimebag” Darrell
Dig into the rhythm and lead styles of the legendary Texas shredder.
• Learn how to combine major and minor scales.
• Apply blues-rock concepts to metal.
• Understand how to write tight, syncopated rhythm parts.
If there were ever a band and guitarist to credit for reinventing post-Metallica metal, it would have to be Pantera and the late “Dimebag” Darrell. Pantera pushed the boundaries musically and technically with their unique brand of aggressive power metal.
Born Darrell Lance Abbott, the Texas-born guitar slinger started playing at age 12. He began by emulating—both in style and looks—his biggest influence, Kiss’ Ace Frehley. Other musical influences, such as Eddie Van Halen and Tony Iommi, worked their way into Abbott’s style, and soon he was winning nearly every local guitar competition. On one of those occasions he won a Dean ML, which became a lifelong companion.
In 1981 he formed Pantera with his brother Vinnie Paul on drums and bassist Rex Brown. The original lineup was a spandex-wearing glam metal band, but they soon changed their image and direction when they parted company with the original singer Terry Glaze and instead teamed up with the more vocally aggressive Phil Anselmo.
Pantera went on to become one of the biggest selling metal bands of the ’90s, releasing such classic metal albums as Cowboys from Hell, Vulgar Display of Power, and Far Beyond Driven.
Eventually, due to Anselmo’s substance use and various members embarking on side projects, the band decided to take a break. Sadly they never played together again. Dime and his brother Vinnie went on to form Damageplan, but tragically Dime was shot and killed onstage during a performance in Columbus, Ohio, in December of 2004.
To this day, Dimebag remains one of the most influential and genre-defining guitarists to emerge on the metal scene. He fused aggressive, drop-tuned riffs with blues-based licks reminiscent of Billy Gibbons and fast legato lines that paid homage to Van Halen. Listen to any of his solos and chances are you’ll hear some squealing, over-the-top harmonics. Dime would often flip his whammy bar around and push down on it to really make those harmonics pop.
For our track, I’ve mainly used “I’m Broken” from the Far Beyond Driven album for inspiration, although there are also ideas from “Walk” and “Regular People” from Vulgar and “Cemetery Gates” from Cowboys. Note: Before we start exploring the track, you’ll need to drop your 6th string down a whole-step from E to D.
We kick things off with an intro riff based around some bluesy fills using the D minor pentatonic scale (D-F-G-A-C). These licks are broken up with a tight, chugging open 6th string. Keep your picking hand relaxed and pay attention to the 16th-notes. The riff concludes with a syncopated Eb5 chord that requires muting to keep things punchy.
In the ninth measure, our second riff appears ... and it’s tricky. Although the riff is predominantly based around a D5 power chord, again it’s very tight and makes use of syncopated rhythmic ideas that cross over the barline. The riff is a three-measure figure; the fourth measure features a short D blues scale (D-F-G-Ab-A-C) phrase. The riff repeats twice with the final lick being slightly different each time. This entire sequence repeats, so really pay attention to locking in with bass and drums. And give those rests their full due!
The third riff, which is based around an F diminished interval (F-B), features some tight machine-like 16th-note rhythms. Again, make sure to sonically contrast the chords and tight rhythm parts, and keep your picking hand completely relaxed.
The solo starts with some bluesy wah-fueled bends based around the D minor pentatonic scale. This section concludes with an inverted tritone that shifts up the neck in minor thirds, creating a diminished tonality. Pay attention to the violent whammy vibrato at the end of the phrase.
Next is a classic Dime-style lick that pays homage to Van Halen. This is based around the D blues scale and is very fast, so take your time with the sextuplets. Push the wah pedal down gradually through the lick to add tension and excitement.
Dimebag wasn’t afraid to mix and match sounds and tonalities. The next phrase is roughly based in D minor pentatonic with nods to Mixolydian (with the F#) and Dorian. To execute the right-hand tapping in the next section, simply hit the 3rd string on the 7th fret and then slide up that string towards your pickups.
Our final section kicks off with more searing bends. When performing this bend, also catch the 2nd string to add to the sonic intensity. This section concludes with another sextuplet figure, based around a major/minor hybrid lick and a blues scale lick. The cool thing about this? It’s the same shape simply shifted up a minor third.
The solo concludes with a high-register bend, followed by a squealing natural harmonic played on the 3rd string at the 3rd fret. When performing this harmonic, start off by scooping into the harmonic with the bar and then raise it as high as your bar will allow, then finish off by lowering the bar. It’s worth mentioning that Dime would generate his harmonics by slapping his fretting-hand fingers on the strings to make the harmonics sound.
As I mentioned earlier, Dime was a long-time user of Dean guitars, mainly the ML. Although there was a brief period with Washburn, he later returned to Dean. He’d normally plug into solid-state Randall heads, but also used Krank tube amps. Dime’s signal chain would be very simple—just his signature Dunlop wah, an MXR EQ, and a Dime MXR distortion. The delay and noise gate would typically be housed in his rack.
I used a new Music Man John Petrucci Majesty guitar running straight into a Blackstar ID:60 digital head. For the solo, I used an Ernie Ball wah pedal and added two different delays. One of the delays was a tight stereo delay to give a doubled sound and then I added a longer delay for ambience. I would aim for a scooped sound, pulling out the mids and boosting the bass and treble frequencies. Remember, when using a lot of gain you might benefit from a noise gate, such as an MXR Smart Gate.