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zZounds' Legends of Tone: Dick Dale

Ride Waves of Lush Reverb!

When dissecting the soul and history of metal, hard rock, and even some indie rock, Dick Dale is a name that should pop up sooner rather than later. The heavy-handed staccato picking Dale made famous is now a staple in modern metal, while his reverb-soaked riffs would feel right at home in a sun-baked indie rock band. Powered by his trusty Fender Stratocaster and robust Fender amps cranked within an inch of their lives, Dick Dale's legacy is one of muscular tone, beats you can dance to, and an affinity toward monster hooks.

In this edition of Legends of Tone, we pay homage to the King of the Surf Guitar by trying to recreate his tone with gear you can buy today. Whether you prefer classic amp reverb tanks, or are willing to experiment with pedals, the massive wash of big 'verb is within anyone's grasp. Check out our gear picks and dial in the tone of Dick Dale!

Get the tips and tricks you need to nail the classic surf sound as we break down the tone and technique of Mr. Dale on the zZounds Blog!

Hear our take on the King of Surf Guitar's sound on our Legends of Tone: Dick Dale video!

Check out more legendary artists in our Legends of Tone video series »

Fender Classic '50s Stratocaster

As the main weapon in his sonic arsenal, the Fender Stratocaster creates a distinct trebly bite that's crucial for Dick Dale's brand of surf rock. Since Dick is left-handed, he originally played right-handed guitars upside down, yet kept the strings in place, meaning that the low-E was essentially the "first" string, while the high-E became the "sixth" string. Now that he has the ability to use an actual left-handed instrument, he has kept this backwards string setup.

To get as close as possible to Dick Dale's tone, we chose a Fender Classic '50s Stratocaster. The vintage-style pickups use staggered alnico magnets that really deliver the iconic Strat tone. Other features include gently aged pickup covers and control knobs, and a period-correct single-ply pickguard. Plus, this Strat's surf green finish was the perfect touch for this Legend of Tone.

New, $799.99 | Learn more »

Fender '68 Custom Vibrolux Reverb Guitar Combo Amplifier

According to Dale himself, blowing up amps was a regular part of his routine during the early days. No amp could quite put up with the abuse he inflicted on a regular basis. That is, until Fender introduced their first piggyback amp, the Single Showman. These high-powered amps delivered enough volume to satisfy both Dale and his audience, shaking the floors with incredible power.

While not as high-powered as the Showman, the Fender '68 Custom Vibrolux does an incredible job of hitting the sweet spot of classic Fender amp tone with reasonable volume. This 35-watt tube monster features two separate preamp inputs: Vintage for traditional silverface tone, and Custom for a Bassman tone stack. The reverb and tremolo circuits are also available for each channel, so dialing in massive Dick Dale reverb is possible regardless of which tone stack you prefer.

New, $1,199.99 | Learn more »

Boss FRV-1 Fender '63 Reverb Pedal

For his wild reverb effects, Dale prefers to use a tube-driven Fender Spring Reverb standalone unit. This unit gets super wet and it almost seems as if you can hear it spit out salt water from its gigantic waves of reverb. To approximate Dick Dale's particular reverb sound, we experimented with the following three pedals.

The FRV-1 is Boss's take on the original standalone Fender unit. Featuring identical controls, the FRV-1 delivers that iconic Fender spring reverb in a compact pedal, complete with Boss's tank-like durability. Set the tone and amount of reverb, and use the Mixer control to balance how much reverb you want coming out of your amp. Simple yet effective, the FRV-1 is perfect for vintage reverb fans.

J Rockett Audio Boing Reverb Pedal

With only one knob, J Rockett's Boing pedal is the most straightforward reverb of the three we used to recreate Dick Dale's reverb tone. Designed to mimic the sound of a Deluxe Reverb, the Boing functions like the amp's on-board effect, and the single knob simply produces more or less reverb to your tastes. Of course, if you are wanting to simulate the epic lushness of Dick Dale, we suggest cranking this thing to 10 for maximum effect.

New, $159 | Learn more »

Catalinbread Topanga Spring Reverb Pedal

Also based on the standalone Fender unit, the Catalinbread Topanga offers splashy spring reverb goodness, and also adds a volume control so you never experience any volume drops or spikes while you're playing live. You can even set the unit to boost when engaged by bumping up the volume knob just a touch. This touch-sensitive unit responds beautifully to your playing dynamics, with shorter or longer tails depending on how hard you play. Perfect for nailing Dick Dale's wettest reverb tones, the Topanga offers both versatility and spot-on spring reverb sounds.

New, $199.99 | Learn more »

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