Dimebag Darrell: Reinventing the Squeal
When Dean Guitars went out of business in 1994, just after Pantera completed Far Beyond Driven, Dimebag started searching for a new company to satisfy his gear needs. He had become a bona fide guitar hero, thanks to the success of Cowboys from Hell, Vulgar Display of Power and Far Beyond Driven, and he needed a steady supply of guitars to use and abuse onstage for Pantera’s frequent arena tours. Former Dean marketing director Del Breckenfeld, who had gone to work for Washburn, was aware of Dimebag’s situation, and he approached Dime about signing an endorsement deal with them. This strategic move set the stage for the introduction of Dimebag’s first signature model guitars.
“Washburn reached out to Dimebag by designing and building a guitar that we thought he would like,” English says. “He also saw that Randall amps were part of the company. Since Dimebag had played a Randall RG-100 from the very beginning, that made the deal more opportunistic for both parties. No other company could offer him both the amps he already played and the guitars that he wanted to make. He also liked the company’s reach. Randall amps were made in the U.S., and Washburn had a U.S. custom shop that made high-end instruments, but we also produced low-cost models overseas and distributed our products all over the world. We gave him the opportunity to reach more people than ever before.”
Dimebag signed a 10-year contract with Washburn International (which later became U.S. Music) in 1994, and he immediately went to work with them on a new Randall amplifier and several guitar designs. Washburn introduced its first Dimebag signature model, the Dime 3, in 1995.
“The Bolt and Blackjack finish versions came first, and then the Slime was next,” English says. “Those guitars became his standard models. We offered both Custom Shop and overseas versions of those guitars to satisfy everybody’s needs. On the Custom side, we offered all kinds of variations on that theme. After those models became successful, we started to move in other directions. The Culprit was entirely his design. Dimebag wanted another body design, and we couldn’t say no. Next we did the Stealth, which was a real winner. He sharpened his metal chops on that one. He wanted to make a weapon that looked like a stealth bomber, with lots of sharp points. We offered that guitar with a variety of cosmetic options, which he always was involved with. He was open to creative input from others, but he always had the final say.”
Dimebag was especially proud of the Stealth model, which he completed in 1999 while recording Reinventing the Steel. “It looks like a Stealth bomber, which is silent but deadly, but this thing is loud and deadly,” he said in a 2000 Guitar World interview. “It has Bill Lawrence pickups, which have some killer harmonics. My Stealth guitar is set up for high squeals, low-end chunk and whammy-bar shit.”
Another favorite was the Southern Cross model, which was produced in a limited edition of only 100 instruments in 2002. “That guitar rocked,” English says. “It featured a cross inlaid in the top that was made of ebony and abalone. When we were doing the inlay, I thought it would be cool to make a matching cross pendant and include that with the guitar. Dime really liked that idea.”
While the guitar designs came along fast and furious, progress on Dimebag’s signature Randall amplifier was more laborious and drawn out. Dimebag did not sign off on the design of his Warhead amp until 1999, almost five years after Randall engineers started work on the project. The idea behind the Warhead amp was to duplicate the sound of Dimebag’s original rig, which consisted of a Randall RG-100 head, Furman PQ-3 parametric equalizer, MXR Six Band Graphic Equalizer and MXR 126 Flanger/Doubler. Dimebag used the two equalizers in a unique way, cutting a wide midrange frequency curve with the PQ-3, restoring a narrow band of midrange frequencies with the MXR 6-Band EQ and using both to increase the gain going into the amp’s front end, like a distortion pedal. Dime used the MXR 126’s doubler function to thicken his rhythm tones.
“I eventually had to step in and be a mediator on that project,” English says. “Getting the Dime sound was no small feat. He wanted to get rid of all the extra equipment and get his sound from one box. That’s really hard to do. I think we came as close as was humanly possible under those conditions, but I don’t believe that Dime achieved that with us or anyone else. He developed that sound himself, and he had the greatest intentions to get that in an all-in-one package, but I don’t think we nailed it 100 percent.”
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