Dimebag Darrell was a shredder like no other – learn the solo licks that made him a metal legend

Dimebag Darrell
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Darrell Lance Abbott was born in Texas in 1966 and was tragically murdered onstage in 2004, age 38. ‘Dimebag’ Darrell made a huge mark on metal between 1990 and 2000, when Pantera popularised groove metal. 

His guitar style features tight, syncopated metal riffing with inventive lead playing. In this lesson we will look at some of the key approaches Dimebag used for his lead work and will focus on fast blues scale-based alternate picking, sweep picking and legato licks, wide stretch shapes and singing natural harmonics.

Example 1 shows two approaches Dime used with the E blues scale (E-G-A-Bb-B-D]. The first half of the lick is an alternate-picked pattern using six repeated notes and some string skipping to add a wider interval jump. The second half employs pull-offs and upward sweep picking for a southern, country-influenced descending pattern.

Our second example demonstrates a wide stretch descending legato sequence. This lick uses a three-notes-per-string fingering by combining two traditional pentatonic shapes, with some additional chromatic passing notes to add some extra colour.

Example 3 shows how a repeating lick can be used to create rhythmic interest. In this case an eight-note melodic pattern is played in a 16th-note triplet feel, which means each repeat of the phrase falls on a different beat.

Our fourth example has an F# Phrygian dominant (1-b2-3-4-5-b6-b7) flavour and focuses on the use of single-string stretches.

For the final example, we look at Dimebag’s trademark harmonics. To perform these, make sure you use a lot of gain and perhaps try Dime’s trick of engaging a wah pedal in the ‘toe forward’ position to help isolate the harmonics. Here we’re on the third string, but the concept works with any string. Start by placing your fretting finger directly over the fretwire at the 5th fret, then pick the string and release the finger simultaneously.

The natural harmonic should sound clean and sustain healthily; although you can use a delay effect to increase the sustain too. The key to clean harmonics is accuracy, with a tolerance of less than a millimetre and the nearer the nut you move, the more accurate you will need to be.

Once you can locate the ‘node’ points you can introduce the whammy bar to add scoops, pitch bends and vibrato to manipulate the harmonic. You could also try depressing the bar to slacken the strings, then quickly returning your whammy bar to its original position. 

The quick ‘snap back’ of the string, coupled with a finger touching the harmonic is the typical Dimebag technique, but will require practice to perfect.

For all the examples, start slow and relaxed, and focus on accurately placing your fingers. Only then you can gradually speed up in small increments in order to build up the required speed and dexterity. 

Get the tone

Amp Settings: Gain 9, Bass 7, Middle 5, Treble 7, Reverb 2

Dimebag’s tone was famously provided by solid-state Randall guitar amplifiers and is characterised by a lot of gain with plenty of low end for punchy palm mutes and boosted highs for cutting pick attack, while the mids are scooped. For our examples, we’ve added a stereo doubler and a subtle chorus pedal in order to widen the sound.

Example 1. Blues scale picking and slurring

Start by alternate picking the initial six-note blues scale pattern, making sure your downstroke is synchronised with your first finger. In bar 2 use upstrokes in a sweep picking motion to play the descending figure.

Example 2. Descending legato

After pulling off with the fourth, third and first fingers on the first string, use a fretting-hand fourth-finger tap to play the 16th fret before returning to the first string and continuing through the wide stretch scale shape in a sequence of three.

Example 3. Sextuplet based blues scale phrasing

This F# blues scale lick is based on a repeating eight-note pattern using even hammer-ons and pull-offs. Play the eight-note pattern in a sextuplet phrasing so the lick moves against the back beat in a rhythmically interesting way. See if the economic picking motions shown work well as you increase from slow to 120bpm.

Example 4. Alternate picking on a single string

Use alternate picking throughout this single-string lick. This example will progressively increase your fretting-hand stretch throughout. Keep your thumb low on the neck (ie in the middle of neck’s back) and experiment with angling your hand to find the most comfortable position for you.

Example 5. Screaming harmonics

Use the first bar to locate the harmonics on the third string and lightly touch the string at the node points indicated, using your pick to sound them. For bars 3-4 use your whammy bar to scoop into each harmonic. You can pick the notes, or use your finger to touch the harmonics too.

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Charlie Griffiths

Charlie Griffiths plays guitar in acclaimed prog-metal outfit Haken, and has a wealth of experience handling corporate and session gigs for genres as diverse as rock, heavy metal and pop. He has been a regular contributor to Total Guitar, Guitar Techniques, and Guitar World for over a decade, and released his debut solo album Tiktaalika in 2022.