Dick Dale and Surf Tremolo


I’ve always loved surf music, and i’ve learned to play many classic surf songs. In the history of electric guitar development, surf music played an important role. Surf trem picking often involves sticking to one string, though a few players (mostly Dick Dale) mastered the ability to change strings during a phrase.

Can I get a CTC breakdown on Dick Dale’s mechanics? His ability to trem pick clean and steady triplets is a near magical holy grail for me…


Good question!! I think it’s mostly elbow and wrist deviation (I saw both in Dale’s case). Most important for the huge sound of his guitar: he has big movements, he plays with absolute authority, he is Slayer in the 60s (Jeff Hanneman used his elbow, too and his technique is similiar to Dale’s). It looks powerful and fantastic, it sounds powerful and fantastic.

His technique - elbow and wrist - is outlined here in CTC pretty in detail. Check out: “Introduction to Picking Motion” and “Crosspicking with the wrist”. And check out the whole get-started section.

The first shows the options of picking movements (wrist, elbow, forearm) and the second explains what the wrist can do.

In addition, you can search the forum. For instance, check out a pretty amazing demonstration of a Vinnie-Moore-Style-Elbow-Movement by Bill_hall. Ultra fast, ultra smooth and ultra powerful.


It’s also string gauge, you need those bridge cable strings for proper low E tremolo.


Alright, I’ve had a few practice sessions to explore. It looks like the missing ingredient was indeed in the elbow! Something I’ve spent about two years completely eliminating from my playing due to excess tension.

A little more background on me. I’ve been working with CTC for over a year now and I’ve incorporated several new motion mechanics into my playing based on my time here

No worries though, it seems I can dial in just a bit of elbow and get that authoritative tremolo going. I’m experimenting with locking and unlocking the wrist. Locking the wrist helped me isolate the correct muscle, but relaxing it brings a whiplike feel.

Further study of Miserlou reveals that there may be some consecutive downstrokes used at accent points. I"m thinking that Dale might be be a default upward pick slanter like Al di Meola.


For me at least, UWPS-er before I found CTC, UWPS elbow picking single string tremolo feels more comfortable. Kind of the mirror opposite of the strong DWPS Van Halen tremolo. It could also be this way since I learned most of my tremolo chops playing open string black metal riffs. UWPS lets the strings ring better. It may sound insane but icy black metal riffs and surf rock riffs have a lot in common technique wise, don’t believe me, throw some distortion on and play surf rock tremolo riffs.


Do you find yourself starting phrases with upstrokes?


never knew he played upside down