Dick Dale – Misirlou

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Dick Dale - MisirlouMisirlou is the quintessential surf instrumental and Dick Dale’s sonic signa­ture – or is that redundant? In any case, rock history acknowledges this tune as the first surf genre piece to feature the “wet” sound of Fender’s reverb unit. Coupled with Dale’s furious upside-down Strat attack through the immediate­ly overdriven, 100-watt Dual Showman stacks, it is absolute dynamite. For most, the definitive surf sound. Misirlou has unusu­al origins for a seminal piece in American rock. Its roots are in Middle Eastern music, and it was a 1940’s pop hit in Turkey two decades before Dick revived and reinvented the piece in 1962 – when he gave it a high-energy twist by performing it on electric gui­tar with his Deltones band.

Somewhat of a missing link in rock, Dick Dale’s Misirlou presaged the East-West fusion of the 60s, the Middle Eastern vibe of Eurometal, and the global nature of 90s “world music.” It was recently rediscovered by a new generation when it appeared as a leading cut from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.

The Tuning

Tune up a quarter step. Probably the result of tuning to a sharp instrument at the session or of a faster moving tape machine.

Misirlou. Tremolo Picking

Misirlou is a study in tremolo picking. In fact, it is an ideal introduction and appli­cation of the technique that provides an excellent picking warm-up piece for gui­tarists of all levels. Tremolo picking is fast and constant alternating picking – in surf guitar jargon “double picking” – largely con­fined to one string at a time. It has appeared in the playing of Ed Van Halen, Kirk Hammett, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and countless other players over the years. To get a grip on the technique, choose an open string to double pick. The outside two are easiest (either the low E or high E) since they have only one adjacent string to avoid, and, not coincidentally, are the only two used throughout the main sections of Misirlou. Concentrate on producing a smooth alternat­ing upstroke and downstroke motion when attacking the string. There should be no per­ceptible difference between upstrokes and downstrokes. Keep the articulation moving until you feel an even, purring sort of effect take place in your pick stroke.

Misirlou. The Melody

The theme, found at letters A, B, and E, is the central focus of the piece. It is a classic case of a linear melody played solely on one string, which favors the tremolo picking attack. The scale of the theme melody has a decidedly ethnic sound, which gives Misirlou its haunting Middle Eastern qual­ity. Called a “synthetic scale” in our Western culture, it has an unusual symmetrical lay­out which uses two augmented second (1.5 steps) intervals (F to G#, and C to D#) and four minor second (1/2 step) intervals (E to F, G# to A, B to C, and D# to E) in its structure [Fig. 1]. This is a great alternative to the more typical modes like Phrygian or Phrygian Dominant [Fig. 2], which are more conventionally used against the E to F chord progression. Budding composers, take note. These sorts of melodies yield striking results in a rock context as players like Vai, Satriani, Holdsworth and many others have already discovered.

Misirlou. The Bridge

The bridge melody is a simple, singing line in A minor, originally played on trumpet and arranged in this transcription for guitar. Compared with the aggressive tremolo picked attack of the theme, it provides nice contrast with its slower-moving melody and more legato approach. You may want to apply a smooth, fuzzy distortion and use your bridge pickup to emulate the trumpet tone. The guitar re-enters at D with a slight­ly different melody in A harmonic minor (A-B-C-D-E-F-G#), again played with tremolo picking on the 6th string.


Part (a large part) of the charm of Misirlou relies on the heavy reverb effect which colors the guitar tone throughout, and enhances the surf and roll attitude of the piece. For those of you out there with reverb on your amps or in your effects chain, crank it up! Your guitar should sound like it’s gurgling underwater. Surf’s up.

Dick Dale Misirlou tabs and sheet

It’s a part of Dick Dale Misirlou guitar lesson.

Below you can download PDF guitar tabs and sheet music of

Dick Dale Misirlou with backing track


6 April 2013 0 comments
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