Interview: Dan Donegan Discusses Gear, Tunings, Recording and the Future of Disturbed

Whether or not Disturbed decide to get together in the coming months or years to work on a new record depends on how much the band members miss being away from each other.

But one thing’s for sure: If they ever do decide to get back together, their record label will be waiting for them.

“We’ve already signed a deal for our sixth album,” Dan Donegan told Guitar World. “Warner Bros. has always been great for us. Since we began, they never got in our way or pressured us. We made our albums in Chicago because we didn’t want to be in LA, and they’ve never asked to stand over our shoulders or throw in their two cents.”

While Disturbed are on hiatus, fans can enjoy their new album, Lost Children, a collection of previously recorded rarities, including the unreleased song “Mine,” and “3,” which was sold through the band’s Web site in April to help raise money and awareness for the Damien Echols Defense Fund and the West Memphis Three.

We recently sat down with Donegan to talk about how the band grew from its 1996 formation its last studio album, 2010’s Asylum, what players he looks to for inspiration and the gear he uses to make Disturbed roar.

GUITAR WORLD: How have you developed as a guitarist over the years?

I’ve always been inspired influenced by the other guys in the band. They’ve pushed me and given me the confidence over the years to do whatever I wanted. And as we progressed, they encouraged me to step out a little bit and solo more. But I’ve tried to do it tastefully. In the beginning, before we were even signed, I’d solo all over the place and it didn’t really work, so I pretty much cut out the solos altogether until the last album or two. That’s the way it’s worked with us. Over time we’ve pushed each other to become better musicians.

How did you and your bandmates write for Disturbed?

[Drummer] Mike Wengren would come down and I’d throw riffs at him, and then he’d try to figure out some cool beats to go with it. Every song has started with what I’ve presented to the guys, musically. It gets challenging because each time I present something I’m hoping I’m delivering something that will inspire them and push them. My worst fear is giving them something they don’t think is so good or they don’t care for. So I’ve always been driven to keep my playing evolving.

Who are your guitar influences?

I’ve been a fan of the big guitarists in history, from Tony Iommi to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Obviously, Metalllica and Pantera with Dimebag have been big for me, too, and I really liked the grunge guys in Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Jerry Cantrell [from Alice in Chains] is a great guitarist. He’s a good example of a melodic, tasteful player, and that’s something I’ve tried to be as well.

What gear did you use on your final tour?

For quite a few years I’ve been using the modular head that Randall designed with me. The company’s warehouse is only an hour from where I live, and it gave me the opportunity to be hands-on with it. So when we were making [2005’s] 10,000 Fists, a couple of their technicians came to the studio along with [producer] Johnny K and we really developed the amp there in the studio. We were taking what they had already built and expanding upon it, so it was really a combination between a Mesa/Boogie and a Bogner Ecstasy head. Those were two of my favorite heads I was using in the studio a lot. And we tried to get the best of both worlds, combining both tones. It was a great opportunity because we had a lot of smart, talented guys to help develop this and I got a great head out of it.

You switched to Schecter guitars for Asylum.

I use my Schecter guitars; I’ve been with them for about 18 months now. I have an isolation box that I use. I don’t put any microphones on the cabinets out front, I put them in the isolation box. So it’s basically a flight case with a 4-by-12 cabinet in it, and it’s got four microphones on it and you close the lid of the box so you don’t get any bleed through or stage noise and it gives our sound guy the cleanest signal possible.

Do you use effects?

My rhythm tone is straight into the Randall. And then I have a Digitech GSP rack. I might use a little delay in a solo and there are a couple spots where I use a flanger in a subtle way. I have a Digitech Weapon pedal they built for me some years ago that was modeled after some of the tones I had on The Sickness album. Digitech came to me and said, “Let’s recreate some of those tones so you can pull ‘em off live.” There’s a sitar sound I use in “Stupefy” and a few other songs. And I have a rack Cry Baby Wah. That’s about it.

What tunings do you use in Disturbed?

I use three different tunings. On some songs everything’s tuned down a half step to E flat. And then a couple of them are Drop C sharp so the low E is tuned down to E sharp. And then I have a Drop C tuning. It’s the same thing, just everything’s dropped another half step from that.

Do you foresee getting back together as Disturbed any time soon?

I hope we’ll all miss it and need it. Music is our drug of choice, and hopefully we’ll all go through withdrawal and get on the same page and then it’ll be time to go. But who knows when that will happen. This is the first time we’ve consciously been apart.

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Jon Wiederhorn

Jon is an author, journalist, and podcaster who recently wrote and hosted the first 12-episode season of the acclaimed Backstaged: The Devil in Metal, an exclusive from Diversion Podcasts/iHeart. He is also the primary author of the popular Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal and the sole author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends. In addition, he co-wrote I'm the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax (with Scott Ian), Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen (with Al Jourgensen), and My Riot: Agnostic Front, Grit, Guts & Glory (with Roger Miret). Wiederhorn has worked on staff as an associate editor for Rolling Stone, Executive Editor of Guitar Magazine, and senior writer for MTV News. His work has also appeared in Spin, Entertainment Weekly,, Revolver, Inked, and other publications and websites.