Friday, December 30, 2016

Dick Dale - His Guitar and Amplifier and His Contributions to Music

Dick Dale
One of the men that has done more than most to shape the world of modern rock guitar, and even the world of heavy metal music gets very little respect or recognition these days.

King of the Surf Guitar

I am of an age where I can recall Surf Guitar being played on the radio. I am not certain how players learn songs anymore, but I grew up listening to The Ventures, The Surfaris and Dick Dale. I learned to play guitar by listening to those songs over and over until I could duplicate them.

Dick Dale and the Del-Tones
In those days, Dick Dale was just a name of the guy playing lead guitar on some popular songs that I wanted to play with my garage band. I knew he was from California and his bands name was The Del-Tones, but had no idea that his persistence in seeking a better, bigger and louder sound from his guitar would eventually turn into the industry standard and change live guitar music and concerts. 

Dick Dale
Dick Dale was born Richard Anthony Monsour on May 4th, 1937 in Boston Massachusetts. His father was Lebanese and his mother’s family came from Poland. Due to his Lebanese heritage Dale developed an interest in Arabic music. I mention this because the song everyone associates him with is Miserlou. When he was very young his uncle taught him how to play the tarabaki, while the uncle played the oud.  Because of this Dale developed his rapid and alternating picking technique. He states the music had a sense of pulsating.

Misilou 45 RPM
One can certainly hear the Arabic influence in Misirlou. Much of this song is played on a single string, up and down the neck. In reading about the song, it was first popularized by a Greek recording in 1927 and called Misirli which roughly translates to The Egyptian. Dale would have learned this song as a kid.

The Fender Discussion Page

In the late 1990’s, when I first got on the internet I used to visit The Fender Forum aka The Fender Discussion Page. Early on this site was not just a discussion page for fans of Fender guitars, but also received visits and comments from Fender employees, including Bill Schultz, the CEO at the time.

Fender Facts Newsletter

Fender had a newsletter back then and one issue featured an interview with Dick Dale. We thought it humorous that Dick Dale spoke in the third person throughout the interview and we poked fun of that.

Mr. Dale
I took the initiative of email Mr. Dale, hoping that he might join in the discussion. Boy was I mistaken. I received a terse reply. I wrote him again and apologized for remarks like, Dick Dale uses bridge cables to string his guitar. (Which is almost true. His choice of Ernie Ball strings at the time ran from .60 to .16 gauge.)  (Note: After rereading an article I wrote about Jazz and Session player Howard Roberts, I discovered that Roberts choice of string sizes was similar; .58 to .16.)

Dick Dale with his cats
Dale took the time to email me back and was very gracious. I have nothing but respect for this man. In his text he related some similar experiences that I could relate to. We both took care of our elderly parents. And we both loved animals, Dick Dale more-so than I, because he raised a menagerie of around 40 assorted lions, tigers, leopards, hawks, eagles, ravens, a baby elephant and other non-domestic critters that had been rescued from poachers.

He also elaborated to me about the nights that he spent with  Leo Fender discussing his amplification needs; such as why the current Fender amps kept burning out during his shows. The men also discussed his guitar.

Dick Dale and the Del-Tones
Dick Dale was one of the first to receive a Fender Stratocaster.

Indeed there are a number of Fender innovations that although Dale did not create, he was the impetus and drive behind them. For instance, most amplifiers in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s were putting out 12 to 15 watts. There were a handful, including the Fender Bassman that pumped out 40 watts RMS.

With the Del-Tones

When Dick Dale first started playing music, he says he was in a 17 piece band, with horns and a drummer. He was playing Big Band Music and the guitar could not be heard.

Town Hall Party cast in the 1950's

Later he attempted to be a Country singer for a while and even got a gig on a popular west coast TV show called Town Hall Party where he played with a number of famous Country Music stars.

Then Rock and Roll came along and the band became a combo, but the still the guitar was pretty much a background rhythm instrument.

When guitar based Surf Music hit the scene around 1962 he needed to do something. Leo Fender was a generous man and provided amplifiers and guitars to California musicians as a form of not just advertising but to see what worked well and what needed improvement.

Leo Fender in the 1950's
When Dick Dale first met Leo Fender he told him that he was a surfer and a guitar player and did not have money for a decent instrument. Leo recognized the drive and determination and gave him a Stratocaster and right on the spot asked him what he thought about this Fender guitar. Dale, being left-handed, turned the right handed instrument over and began playing, which made Mr. Fender laugh.

Here was a guy playing his guitar upside-down and backwards, meaning the 6th string was on the top and the 1st string was on the bottom. So Leo Fender made a left-handed Stratocaster for him.

Late 1950's Fender Pro - 18 to 25 watts
Dick Dale’s amps would all burn out from his intense and loud playing. He says that he blew out almost 50 amplifiers and speakers. I’m told that when Fender and Freddie Tavares came to see him play. Leo Fender went home and thought about this situation. This prompted Fender to make a larger and better output transformer.

Dale's Original Showman Prototype
Dale relates, “ I get a phone call one time, it was 2:30 in the morning and Leo said, “Dick, I got it, I got it, I found it! I got it! You gotta come down.” He says “I made an 85 watt output transformer, peaking 100 watts because using 5881 tubes would give it that WhOOm sound, ya gotta try it, ya, ya gotta try it.”

Vintage 15" JBL Lansing D130F
The trouble was they didn’t have a speaker that could handle this much power. Fender had been routinely using Altec Lansing speakers in some of their amplifiers, but Dale wanted something much stronger. So they approached another company called JBL Lansing and asked for a 15” speaker with a 10 to 11 and a half pound magnet.

15" JBL Lansing D130F speakers
The speaker needed to have an aluminum dust cover. So JBL Lansing went about creating this speaker which was not just sturdier, but came with a rubberized coating around the edge of the speaker which was connected to a metal frame. The JBL Lansing D130F was born.

Early 1960's Fender Dual Showman

The speakers were housed in a separate cabinet than the amplifier. This cabinet had what Fender called a "tone ring" that encircled the edge of the speaker and let more of the natural bass sounds come through.

The output transformer that Mr. Fender created emphasized the lows, mids and high sounds, something that had not been accomplished until then. The 100 watt amp and the cabinet were dubbed The Showman Amp.

The next step that Dale suggested was to place two of these speakers in a cabinet. The Showman Amp was born. When twin 8 ohm 15” JBL Lansing speakers were added to the cabinet to run in series it came to be known as The Dual Showman. Leo Fender had to upgrade the transformer to accommodate the 4 ohm load.

The version that Dick Dale uses is the one with cream coloured Tolex. Later the amp was rated at 100 watts and peaked at 180 watts. When the black Tolex models came out they were once again rated at 85 watts.

Dick Dale never set the amplifier on top of the speaker cabinet, since his intense style of playing guitar causes too much vibration in the speakers which can affect the tubes in the amplifier.

Fender Reverb Unit & Controls
The Fender Reverb unit was another invention that Dick Dale did not invent, but certainly pushed forward. The Showman and the Dual Showman amplifiers were self contained amplifiers with a separate cabinet for the speakers and the only effect that was built into them was vibrato.

By 1961, only a handful of amplifier manufacturers had installed reverberation units in combo amps, most notably Ampeg, with their Reverb Rocket. Though none of these amplifiers had been rated at 100 watts up until now.

Dick Dale state he took apart his Hammond organ and discovered the reverb unit had 9 springs, which the signal traveled through. He took this to Leo, who made a chassis with a small amplifier that contained a 6K6 power tube, a 7025 and a 12AX7, which are both preamp tubes. Dale plugged a mic into this and loved the sound.

Inside the Reverb Unit
Leo then went on to create the Fender Reverb Unit, which was used by Dick Dale, the Beach Boys, and many other Surf band to get that exceptional reverberation sound. Dale also utilized an Echoplex.

Getting back to the Dick Dale guitar. Even early photos show that Dale stripped that guitar down to the bare essentials. He took out all the parts that he did not need on that guitar.

Dick Dale with his original Fender Stratocaster
For instance, Dale’s Strat does not have any tone potentiometers. He removed both of them and replaced them with metal plugs. The guitar has only a 250k master volume pot. On Dale’s personal guitar, there is not even a volume knob, just has the end of the potentiometer sticking out.

Dick Dale Stratocaster
Dales guitar has a 3-way pickup selector switch, just like on the original Stratocasters and he prefers it that way. Fender offered to update it with a five-way switch but Dick Dale declined. Instead he added a mini-toggle switch that turns the middle pickup off and on, so it can be used in combination with either of the other two pickups.

One would think that a Surf player would utilize the vibrato, but not Dick Dale. Though his guitar still has 5 springs on the back side holding the vibrato block (5 springs were standard on original Stratocasters) there is a wooden block wedged between the block and the guitars routed area to keep the block from moving.

Dick Dale’s Fender Stratocaster is a mid 1950’s model, which is odd as it has a rosewood slab fretboard. The body is finished in sparkle gold paint

Dick Dale's Stratocaster
The only other modifications include the addition of an America Flag sticker on the upper bout, a pick-holder/dispenser on the lower bout and a Kenpo karate sticker placed on the guitars body. This sticker is from the same organization that Elvis Presley was a part of and was founded by Senior Grand Master Ed Parker. Dick Dale has been a student of Karate for over 30 years.

Late 1960's Fender Rhodes electric piano

Around 1959 Leo Fender was interesting in adding a piano to his company’s inventory. He struck a deal with Harold Rhodes, who was a musician and inventor.

Rhodes had come up with a piano-type instrument that employed tuned metal bars called tines being struck by a hammer instead the usual piano action of a hammer striking of strings. The sound was then amplified. This instrument eventually came to be known as the Fender Rhodes piano.

By now Leo Fender considered Dick Dale to be not just a guitarist, but the ultimate test machine.  If he could give Dale a piece of equipment and let him use it in concerts, then Fender could see if it was worthy. Apparently, the Fender Rhodes Piano passed the test and though it never became a substitute for an acoustic piano, it became a studio and concert mainstay.

Fender Contempo Organ
Another device that was tested by Dick Dale and his band was the Fender Contempo Organ. In the early and mid 1960’s, many bands were utilizing portable organs such as those manufactured by Farfisa, Vox, Maestro (Gibson), and a number of other companies.

A company called Pratt Read, was manufacturing parts for the Fender Rhodes piano and was asked by Fender if they could put together a combo organ.

Dick Dale's Prototype Contempo organ

The Fender Contempo was one of the sturdier of the portable organs of that era. This was another product that Fender gave to Dick Dale to test for road-worthiness.

Dick Dale Acoustic
Some time before 2010, Dick Dale ask Fender if they could build a signature acoustic guitar for him. He complained that most acoustic guitars are too deep and too wide, which causes cramps in his abdomen. In 2010 Fender came up with a full size acoustic-electric guitar that was only 3" deep and based on the Fender Malibu series guitar of the 1960's. This instrument had a solid mahogany top, back and sides. The neck was a reverse Stratocaster style with a rosewood fretboard that was set in to the heel and the guitar was painted cherry red. It had two pickguard for Mr. Dale's aggressive style playing.

Jimmy Dale Acoustic

Since Dick's son, Jimmy, often travels with him and is a part of his act playing guitar and drums, Fender also built a Jimmy Dale Kingman SCE model. This guitar is a full sized with an all mahogany body. The set-in maple Stratocaster-style neck without the reverse headstock. Both guitars are no longer offered.

Dick Dale and the Del-Tones from Beach Party
Dick Dale’s fame rose when he was featured, along with his band, The Del-Tones, in the 1963 movie Beach Party, with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

Dick Dale in the movie Muscle Beach
A year later Dick and the band were featured in another movie called Muscle Beach. From the picture it appears that Dick Dale either had his Stratocaster painted gold sparkle and changed the pickguard from tortoise shell to white or perhaps he got a new Stratocaster.

This is the guitar that he is still using today.

Dick Dale in recent years
Dick Dale has survived numerous health issues. He has recovered from rectal cancer and almost lost a leg to a terrible infection. He has endured radiation and chemotherapy and has come out on top.

Dick Dale at 78 - same equipment
In 1987 he appeared in the movie Back to the Beach, once again playing Surf guitar. In 1993 he recorded the song Pipeline with Stevie Ray Vaughn and the following year Quentin Taratino used Dale’s version of the song Miserlou in the movie Pulp Fiction, which revived interest in Dick Dale’s career. At age 78 despite all his health issues Dick Dale is still playing concerts and putting on energetic live shows.

Like I said before, I really admire Dick Dale. Dick is a viable part of the history of the electric guitar and all the equipment that changed the face of rock music and he deserves recognition.

Click on the links beneath the pictures to see the source and click on the links in the text for more information.

©UniqueGuitar Publishing (text only)


Joe McDokes said...

Hi Marc,
Thanks for all the great reads throughout 2016. The information on Dick Dale and his guitars and amps is really interesting.
Best wishes for 2017

marcus ohara said...

Thanks for stopping by Joe. I sure appreciate it. Dick Dale is a very interesting man. May you and your have a wonderful 2017!

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