Here at I Heart Guitar we (and by we I mean me) are just as geeky about gear companies and the people behind them as ‘we’ are about music and the people who make it. And it’s always enlightening to hear from those who are behind the gear that helps us to make music. Mark Dronge, president of DR Strings, comes from a family with an important musical heritage: his father Al Dronge founded Guild. So I Heart Guitar would like to know…
Tell us a little about your background. Your father founded Guild – what was it like to grow up around the musical instrument industry?
Growing up I was always aware of music especially piano and guitar. I am older than most people on the planet. I liked listening to music in my home…Broadway tunes, classical music, jazz. But I remember hating music on the radio. It was so bad until I was in high school. Elvis Presley’s music was the first listenable radio music. And then in the 60′s everything exploded…thank goodness. So what do I like now? Not one thing. I would not buy a heavy metal CD, but I love the energy of a heavy metal live concert. Great guitar music is always great to listen to, as are wonderful vocalists. Stefan Grossman of finger picking fame is an old favorite. And of course when I first heard Adele I was as excited as the first time I went to a Grateful Dead concert back in 1967.
It’s twenty years since Pantera released Vulgar Display Of Power. That’s the same as the span of time between the Beatles’ first world tour and Van Halen’s Jump. Or between Led Zeppelin IV and Pearl Jam’s Ten. It seems hard to believe now, where crunchy metal riffs are used in everything from kids’ movies to breakfast cereal ads, but once upon a time the closest thing to metal heard outside bedrooms and car stereos was the likes of Poison and Bon Jovi. Vulgar Display helped to change all that. Along with Metallica’s Black album, it was enormously influential on musicians looking to break free of the stylistic quirks of cock rock without switching gears to the grunge sounds that were rapidly gaining prominence. Pantera combined jagged, hi-fi, post-thrash guitar tones with aggressive vocals, harsh production and a sense of groove – borrowed from Southern Rock – and in the process they ignited a revolution.
“We had a lot of hunger. A lot of the juices were flowing, big-time, and I just remember it being a really creative period for the band,” bass player Rex Brown says of 1992-vintage Pantera. “Very creative. We knew what direction we were headed and we were very aware of where we wanted to go, yet it just came out so naturally that we didn’t have to second-guess anything. There it was! Every day we were waking up just wanting to go to work.”
I first wrote about this a few weeks ago but I just got to check it out in person. Dean Dimebag ‘Concrete Sledge’ ML based on the guitar that Dime tuned to Drop D and used to play, you guessed it! Dime’s original had a Washburn neck on a Dean body, with a custom graphic finish covering the whole body. The new Dean version has the finish on the front and back, but not wrapping around the sides like the real deal. They’ve also changed the headstock shape. How do I know?
Cos they had Dime’s actual guitar there. See?
Oh and to the NAMM attendee next to me who saw it and said “Oooh look! A guitar with a KISS sticker on it,” you’re fired from metal.
Got the Dean mail-out yesterday with info about their NAMM webcast and 35th anniversary celebrations. The graphic at the top of the email looked cool enough – bitchen two-headed eagle thing, NAMM dates, booth number… but then I looked in the bottom left corner, two axes tucked away behind another:
Good lord. It’s a Dean VMNT Dave Mustaine signature with a Peace Sells …But Who’s Buying? graphic, and a version (with a different headstock) of one of Dimebag Darrell’s lesser-known but cooler Dean MLs! In fact, this was the guitar Dime was using in one of the first pics I ever saw of him, in a Randall ad back in the day when Dime went by the name Diamond Darrell publicly instead of Dimebag Darrell. You can see Dime using this axe in this video for “Primal Concrete Sledge,” and that’s what this Dean model is named: the Dime ‘Concrete Sledge’ ML. The original was actually a Washburn neck on a Dean body.
Keep an eye on Dean’s website and I Heart Guitar at NAMM time!
Guitar World editor Brad Tolinski has written a very cool account of a snapshot taken with Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul in 2004 during a photo session for a Guitar World cover. I’m pretty sure I’ve got that issue stashed away in the study somewhere in my ridiculously overflowing stash of guitar mags. Aah, Dimebag. We miss ya! Back in high school my band used to play both “This Love” and “Becoming.” And when I was 16 I totally got loaded on masala to Far Beyond Driven while my parents were out of town. Good times. It’s like everyone has a Dimebag story too, whether they met him or not (I did not. Dammit). Anyway, check out the story behind the Guitar World photo here.
Dimebag Darrell was one in a billion. A true metal iconoclast who took a little from EVH, a little from Billy Gibbons, a bit of Hetfield, and twisted it around until it was pure Dime. Everything about the dude was custom: for his signature tone he used a graphic EQ and heavy noise gating to get the most out of the Randall half-stack he won in a guitar playing contest. And his main guitar was a heavily customised Dean ML (he actually scratched ‘The Dean From Hell’ into the headstock) which featured new pickups, a Floyd Rose bridge (which required serious routing considering the guitar originally had a tune-o-matic bridge and thru-body stringing) and a custom paint job and further tweaks by legendary luthier Buddy Blaze. Check out the story of Buddy’s role in this legendary guitar in this great Premier Guitar article.
I’m not sure what’s the coolest thing about Krank amps, exactly. Is it the metalleriffic logo? The faultlessly roadworthy construction? Or is it that these monsters are brutal enough to withstand not only the mighty picking hand of one James Hetfield, but also to stand toe to toe against the crushing metal power that is Dethklok lead guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf?
It’s probably a safe bet that the Krank name wouldn’t be quite so prevalent in the guitar world if they hadn’t secured the endorsement of the late great Dimebag Darrell, just months prior to his tragic death in 2004 (and a huge ‘screw you’ to the asshole currently burning in hell for taking Dime from us – hope you like ass-forkin’, dingus). A long time solid state amp user, Dime was so taken by the sound of the all-valve Krank Revolution that he teamed up with the company to design his own amp, the Krankenstein. That amp has undergone a few changes to become the new Krankenstein +, which takes the basic design that was formulated with Darrell, and refines it as a result of some of the lessons learned over the last few years, during which Krank went from virtually unknown to one of the most prominent amp makers in the metal world. These refinements include a larger transformer and a switch to Sovtek 6550 valves instead of the 5881 valves used in the original Krankenstein.
At the heart of the Krankenstein + is a preamp section with four 12AX7 valves. The Dime channel includes a gain control, a 3 band EQ stack (treble, midrange and bass) and a sweepable midrange control. There are two master volumes, accessed via footswitch, so you can set separate levels for rhythm and lead. Then there’s the Kleen channel, which has a simple three band EQ and a volume control. There are master volume and presence controls so once you’ve got the perfect ratio of rhythm, lead and clean levels, you can tailer the amp’s output to the size and tonal characteristics of the room.
IT’S DIME TIME
The Dime channel has a hell of a lot of gain on tap. Even with the gain set to 1, you’ll get a distortion that’s more than powerful enough for classic Judas Priest/Iron Maiden metal grind. Crank it up to 5 and you’re in death metal territory. Go up to 10 and you might never come back from the abyss. Then again, you might like it there. In fact, it’s probably best to start here. Hehe. My favourite setting was with the tone and gain controls all set around 5, more or less, and with the sweep control at about 11 o’clock, which created a tone reminiscent of John Petrucci’s sound on Dream Theater’s ‘Scenes From A Memory’ album but with the bite and presence of their ‘Train Of Thought’ album. This sound was perfect for metal, and made hard rock more intense and powerful. Of course, scooped-mid Pantera tones are easily achievable, but to write this off as a Dimebag soundalike tool is to do the Krankenstein + a great disservice.
The Kleen channel is extremely clean, and is great for those ‘This Love’ arpeggios. It’s also a perfect platform for getting the most out of distortion pedals, because this sucker will simply not distort on its own. And of course, all that sparkly cleanness and inexhaustible headroom makes it great for adding chorus, delay, reverb and maybe a little compression to get those classic metal clean tones.
STRENGTH BEYOND STRENGTH
If you need more vintage, overdrive-based sounds and fatter, rounder tones this is not the amp for you. Try the Revolution + instead (my review here). If you need gritty clean tones with bite and snarl when you dig in with the pick, you’ll be disappointed in the staunchly clean manifesto of the Kleen channel, but if you need ultra clean sounds for spooky intros, and all-out distorted mayhem for everything else, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better amp to deliver just that, and nothing but, in the Krankenstein +.
Here’s a NAMM demo video of the Krankenstein + and Revolution + from Premier Guitar’s excellent YouTube channel:
More details have emerged on Blabbermouth.net about Dean’s new Dimebag amp, designed with Dime’s guitar tech, Grady Champion.
Here are some excerpts.
Commented Dean Guitars CEO Elliott Rubinson: “We’ve been wanting to do an amp that replicates Dime’s tone for many, many years. I met Grady about a year or two ago, and Grady was Dime’s guitar tech for 13 years — all through the PANTERA years, all through the time that Dime developed his sound. The key is, he had the ears — he probably knew Dime’s sound better than Dime knew it, because he dialed it in every night. So we found the engineer who designed Dime’s original amplifier 13 years ago, brought him out of retirement, had him build us an amp, had Grady come over. Grady listened to it, and with a couple of tweaks, I think this thing is just dead nuts on, it’s Dime’s sound.”
Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) on the Dean Dime amps:
100W Head – List $530.00 / MAP $349.99
412 Cabs (straight or slant) – List $530.00 / MAP $349.99
100W Combo – List $780.00 / MAP $499.99
Head over to Blabbermouth for the full story.
I haven’t been able to find this on Dean’s website yet, but there’s a story on Blabbermouth about Dean launching a new, solid state Dimebag signature amp called the Dime Blacktooth with the blessing of Dime’s girlfriend Rita Haney and his guitar tech, Grady Champion.
The Blabbermouth story reads, in part:
Dean Guitars has just unveiled the new “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott (PANTERA, DAMAGEPLAN) amp called Blacktooth. It was reportedly approved by Dimebag’s longtime girlfriend Rita Haney and will retail for $699.00.
Grady Champion, one of Dimebag’s former techs who’ll be hitting the road with BLONDIE later this year, demonstrated the amp earlier today (Friday, January 16) during this year’s NAMM (National Association Of Music Merchants) at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California.
This one is bound to stir up some strong feelings in the metal community. Dime never played this amp (I’ve never seen a Dean amp before except for bundled practice amps), and at the time of his death he was so into Krank amps that he left his beloved Randall for them. So what does this mean for the brilliant Krankenstein Dimebag signature head?
(Screenshot from Deanguitars.com webcast)
Dean Guitars and guitar builder/designer Buddy Blaze have just announced yet another variation on the Dean ML theme. Blaze is the guy who customised Dimebag Darrell’s famous Dean From Hell. The Dean/Buddy Blaze ML has a pimped out chrome flame graphic, and features a top mounted Floyd Rose and custom wound Dean DMT pickups.
The guitar has custom ascending flame mother of pearl inlays on a 2 octave fretboard, attached to a pitched neck featuring Dean’s V carve. It’s interesting to note the bridge/middle/no-neck pickup configuration, something of a signature for Blaze, who is pictured on his website with a similar guitar, in the company of a very young and innocent looking Dimebag Darrell, back when he was known as Diamond Darrell.
Dean CEO Elliott Rubinson says “We have the highest regard for Buddy’s talents and after sitting down and discussing what we both envisioned for this guitar we realized that the new Dean/Blaze ML would incorporate the features that many players would find very appealing and a departure from what we are currently producing.”
Blaze says “My love for the Dean ML has endured over 25 years, the chance to create a signature model ML with Dean Guitars is a dream come true! After meeting with Elliott at Dean headquarters in Tampa earlier this year, I was impressed with his depth of guitar knowledge and his love of the ML. I asked that we do a complete design, not just a graphic, and he allowed me to reinvent my favourite Dean model! Modern era Dean guitars are 2nd to none in quality and value and I have no hesitation adding my name to this model. I insisted on top quality components and rigid adherence to my design elements. Elliott and the Dean team delivered! The Dean DMT pickups just scream tone!!!”