Dick Dale - Guitar Heroes A-Z

At 70, Dick Dale is not one to rest on his laurels. Dale—the undisputed surf guitar king, who pioneered the clean, reverb-drenched tones and tremolo-picked melodies that will forever identify the genre—was presented with the Guitar Player Legend Award earlier this year, and he still attacks his ax like a great white chomping on a longboard. From Dick Dale & the Del Tones’ 1961 hit “Let’s Go Trippin’”—generally regarded as the first surf song—on up to recent gigs (which feature his 15-year-old son Jimmy on second guitar), Dale has never stopped playing and performing, and all of his signature techniques are present and accounted for.

Because Dale is a lefty who doesn’t reverse his heavy-gauge strings (.016-058!), it’s hard to cop 100 percent of his vibe, but it sure is fun to try. Plug in some Fender gear, dial up a clean tone with plenty of ’verb, and downstroke your way through the tubular IV-I curls in Ex. 1. The run in bars 1 and 2 pits the A pentatonic minor scale against A7, the IV chord in E. This is typically a no-no for bluesers, but perfectly acceptable by hodad standards.

Many surf tunes are built on standard 12-bar blues progressions, and Ex. 2 shows how Dale uses descending B7 and A7 arpeggios (each laced with a chromatic passing tone and topped with a familiar guitar-noir quote) to cover a typical V-IV-I turnaround in E. Finally, the timeless bit of exotica in Ex. 3 provides an ideal vehicle for perfecting Dale’s machine-gun tremolo picking, not to mention his penchant for fretting melodies over the top of the fretboard. Now, that’s entertainment.