Although his setup was as simple as can be, the cutthroat tone that launched forth from his axe is seldom achieved by amateurs and professionals alike. It’s probably the most sought after sound in the metal community, and has been ever since he emerged on the scene with Pantera in the early 90’s.
Pantera themselves were a force more innovative than any other during that period, forming a mechanical tightness that has been constantly imitated but never surpassed. Years ahead of their time they were pounding out grooves that influenced the likes of Machine Head, Killswitch Engage, Chimaira, Lamb Of God, and Unearth a decade before such acts had even launched their debuts.
The rhythm was one thing, but getting that “chainsaw” tone is another entirely. Just like with any guitar playing it can compare to an almost ‘nature or nurture’ argument, i.e. “is it the equipment he uses or the way he plays?” For Dimebag, as well as any other guitar greats, it’s a mixture of the two (unfortunately for us). But the desired tone can still be created, you’ll just never sound exactly like him – and on that note, nobody ever will.
Darrell favoured what has since been referred to as the ‘scooped’ tone. Ever evolving since the early days of thrash, the scooped tone is achieved by cutting or ‘scooping’ the mids out of your amp settings. This brings out that grunting, growling, snarling beast of a sound from your playing. Started by bands such as Metallica and Slayer in the early 80’s, it’s a must for most metal styles, although with today’s production you’ll find a lot less of the mid tone is cut to compensate for downtuning. But yesteryears bands used it in abundance, which is how they managed to have such a beefy, percussive, staccato sound whilst remaining in standard tuning.
So for a quick metal setup to your amp, assuming all tone pots are rated 0-10, it should read something like this:
- Gain – 9-10
- Bass/Low – 8.5-10
- Mid – 2-4
- Treble/High – 10
As I said, Dime’s rig was simple and he used very few effects. The only ones you’ll hear are flange, and chorus (check out the intro to Revolution Is My Name) to get that watery effect and to add texture. Apart from that, the only other weapon in his metal arsenal was the trusty Jim Dunlop Cry Baby – the world’s favorite wah-wah pedal. A must for any metal player in my opinion, it’s the most versatile yet simplistic piece of equipment you’ll ever own.