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Learn how to play Dick Dale’s iconic Misirlou guitar riff

Dick Dale, The King of Surf Guitar, has died aged 81. This video lesson teaches you how to play his most iconic riff, Misirlou.

The opening riff from Dick Dale’s 1962 classic Misirlou. Dale’s surf guitar version had a resurgence in popularity when it appeared in the 1994 Quentin Tarantino blockbuster Pulp Fiction.

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This song is in standard tuning, so tune your guitar to E A D G B E. Dale launches straight into ferocious 16th notes on the sixth string. The main phrase builds its Middle Eastern flavour with the E double harmonic major scale (E F G# A B C D#). Dale emphasises this exotic scalic lick by sliding and hammering to the notes within each phrase.

The trickiest aspect is maintaining pick attack for the 16th-note feel while dropping in slides and hammer-ons. To keep the phrases flowing, try to lift your fretting fingers quickly after each note ends. This will give your melody some much-needed separation and stop one note from bleeding into the next.

(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Get the tone

Dick Dale gets his attacking tone by using a single-coil pickup in the bridge position. If you have a humbucker, you can get a slightly thinner ‘single-coil’ sound by taking off some gain and bass from the amp.

You’ll also need to pick closely to the bridge for added twang. Use a pick of 1mm or above to get the authentic power and consistency in the 16th-note lines. To complete the surf guitar sound, use a decent amount of reverb.