“Surf Music Is a Heavy Machine-Gun Staccato Picking Style”: How Dick Dale Pushed Leo Fender into Pulling Out the Big Guns

Dick Dale with gold sparkle Fender Stratocaster
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Hailed as the King of the Surf Guitar, Dick Dale was an avid surfer, whose musical expression was informed by the roil and tumble of the experience.

“Surf music is a heavy machine-gun staccato picking style to represent the power of Mother Nature, of our earth, of our ocean,” he told The New York Times in 1994.

Anyone who saw him perform or heard his hits “Let’s Go Trippin’”, “Jungle Fever,” or “Miserlou” will know how fully he succeeded in the effort.

Fender Showman amp

Early '60s blond/oxblood grille Fender Showman amp with single 15" speaker cabinet (Image credit: Tommi James)

Dale was pummeling his Stratocaster with his band the Del-Tones to crowds of 2,000 to 3,000 surfer-stomping teens in 1961 and ’62 when he found his existing Fender amps imploding under the pressure.

Fender had unveiled its Showman head and cab in 1960, but Dale called Leo to tell him he needed a sturdier rig for his electric guitar.

Dick Dale with Fender Reverb and Dual Showman amplifier and 2x15" speaker cabinet

Dick Dale's big-stage rig comprising Dual Showman amplifier and 2x15" speaker cabinet with Fender Reverb unit (bottom left) for added surf-rock splash (Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Fender installed a bigger output transformer often known as “the Dick Dale OT” and then conscribed the guitarist to blow through a hundred or so speakers until the custom-made JBL D130F 15-inch finally proved capable of surviving the 85-watt maelstrom (which peaked at well over 100 watts).

Partnered with a hulking 2x15 extension cab as the Dual Showman, the big-stage rig had finally arrived, and Dick Dale knew exactly what to do with it.

Buy Surfer's Choice by Dick Dale and His Del-Tones here.

Dave Hunter

Dave Hunter is a writer and consulting editor for Guitar Player magazine. His prolific output as author includes Fender 75 Years, The Guitar Amp Handbook, The British Amp Invasion, Ultimate Star Guitars, Guitar Effects Pedals, The Guitar Pickup Handbook, The Fender Telecaster and several other titles. Hunter is a former editor of The Guitar Magazine (UK), and a contributor to Vintage Guitar, Premier Guitar, The Connoisseur and other publications. A contributing essayist to the United States Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board’s Permanent Archive, he lives in Kittery, ME, with his wife and their two children and fronts the bands A Different Engine and The Stereo Field.