Dimebag Darrell: Reinventing the Squeal
Originally published in Guitar World, January 2010
Dimebag's innovative guitar, amp and pedal creations reflected not only his signature tone but his unique personality as well.
Dimebag's Darrell innovation and imagination was not limited to the fretboard. While he will always be remembered for his precise, incendiary solos, mammoth riffs and over-the-top harmonic squeals and whammy (both mechanical and electronic) tricks, Dimebag’s numerous contributions to electric guitar gear designs live on as well. Even five years after his death, his signature model guitars, amps and pedals remain some of the best-selling and most sought-after products on the market.
Unlike most guitarists, Dimebag didn’t just endorse various tools of his trade—he also played a very active role in designing exacting details of everything from his guitars and amps to his pickups and picks, creating products that reflected his personality as much as the riff he played on “Walk” or his solo in “Floods.” During this process, he developed close working relationships with several of the musical instrument industry’s most talented individuals, and “jammed” with them on product ideas similar to the way he jammed with the members of Pantera and Damageplan when writing songs.
“Dimebag was very involved and hands-on throughout the entire product development process,” says Larry English, the former U.S. Music Corporation Consumer Division president, who collaborated with Darrell on various Washburn guitar and Randall amp models. “He was an enigma. He was a great musician with a great mind who hid behind this visage of a wild, crazy, drinking Texas longhair. He had a lot of charisma and was fun to work with. Working with him was the greatest experience of my life.”
“I admired his vision,” says Dean Zelinksy, the founder of Dean Guitars, who recently started DBZ Guitars. “No one knew metal like Dimebag did. He wanted to have the heaviest band around, and he knew how he should sound. I’m glad I played a role in helping him reach those goals.”
Dimebag’s relationship with Zelinsky extends back to 1980, when Dime was just 14 years old. Zelinsky was a judge in a guitar contest held at the Agora nightclub in Dallas, Texas, and Darrell was one of many competitors vying for the top prize of a Dean ML guitar. “Dimebag blew everyone away,” Zelinsky recalls. “From the minute I first met him and heard him play, I just knew there was something different and special about him. I later found out from Jimmy Wallace, who worked at Arnold-Morgan Music in Dallas at the time, that Darrell won every guitar contest they had. He won a lot of other guitars, but the Dean guitars were the only ones he kept.”
The Dean ML model remained Dimebag’s main guitar from 1980 through 1994. “Dimebag took the ML model’s popularity to another level,” Zelinsky says. “A lot of other guitarists, like Kerry Livgren of Kansas, Elliott Easton of the Cars and Dave Mason, played an ML, but none of them had the impact that Dime did. The ML was a very meaningful guitar to me. It was my first totally original design, and I named it after my friend Matt Lynn, who died when we were 16. Matt was my best friend in high school and we played guitar together. The fact that Dimebag made this guitar so popular meant a lot to me.”
Zelinsky followed Dimebag’s progress over the years, but by 1990, when Pantera broke through to the national spotlight with the release of Cowboys from Hell, Zelinsky was preparing to exit the guitar business. “I had no plans to develop new models with Dime at the time,” he admits. “Just the fact that he was out there playing my guitars was enough. Our relationship before the total rebirth of Dean Guitars was really just mutual admiration.” Although Zelinsky left the company later in 1990 (and returned in 2000), Dimebag eventually signed an endorsement deal with Dean Guitars and started appearing in Dean ads in 1993.