Dave Murray

Groupology

  • Iron Maiden

Jurassic

Watch Dave Murray in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

One of the founding members of Iron Maiden — a hugely important band that kicked off the metal resurgence of the early 80s as part of the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal." Iron Maiden — like Judas Priest — was key in bringing real metal out of the British midlands to the masses in the US and around the globe. Iron Maiden were one of the true originators of what would later be called speed metal. They were heavier and faster than their predecessors, and bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth owe them a huge debt for providing a blueprint and for paving the way for their own success.

And like bassist Steve Harris, Dave Murray's a "lifer" in Maiden. He's been there through three singers, two drummers, and worked with three different guitarists over the band's lifetime. He was a big part of Maiden's pre-Dickinson era sound. Murray's also famous for his modded 57 Strat that once belonged to Paul Kossoff. Dave Murray actually has a rep for being a really nice guy with a low-key personality. Any hell-raising is done on stage with Iron Maiden.

Influences

Obvious: In general, Murray and Smith's twin harmony guitar work in Iron Maiden owes a lot to Thin Lizzy. Indeed, when Maiden burst onto the scene, they were often described as "Thin Lizzy on speed."

Not-so-obvious: Dave has mentioned Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, and Paul Kossoff among his personal influences. The only similarity I hear between them and Murray is that they're all essentially Pentatonic players. Oh, and Murray's own "guitar face" has been influenced by Trower's fish face.

Strengths

Improvisation. In the early Maiden era, Murray usually didn't work out his solos, but rather went for the spontaneous approach. In a Guitar Player interview from November 83, Murray painted the split as an even proposition: "Sometimes I just improvise, and other times I will sort of work it out. I like a solo with a good beginning and a climax." I think it's safer to say that more often than not Dave used the spontaneous approach — usually landing on his feet nicely.

Melody. Worked out solos or not, Dave's usually a very tasty lead player who has a knack for playing what's right for the song. Perfect examples are the terrific solos he takes in The Flight of Icarus and Powerslave (the first and third solo in each case). Both are melodic, ballsy and extremely satisfying in the context of the song.

Teamwork. Like Robertson and Gorham, and Tipton and Downing, Smith and Murray are one of Dinosaur Rock's classic guitar duos. Two players who defer their respective egos for the sake of the team and the final product.

Weaknesses

Songwriting. Harris writes by himself and Smith tends to work with Dickinson. Murray contributes riffs and such, but isn't really the writer the other guys are.

Improvisation revisited. As stated above, there are times when Murray's very tasty, but there are other times when it feels like he's just blowing the same solo by us in different songs. At its worst, Dave's spontaneous approach makes him sound like a "licks player." And by that, I mean that if he's just playing off the top of his head, he has a set of pet licks that he uses over and over again. We all do that to some extent, but sometimes I find it just too noticeable with Murray because he's not drawing from a particularly large set of licks.

Being a "role-player guitarist." As a band, Iron Maiden were extremely enjoyable and influential. But the real strength of the band is more in the songs and the vocals than the guitar work. As guitarists, there's nothing that's going to really blow your mind about the guitar work of Dave Murray or Adrian Smith. They are both very good players — and they can piss rings around what passes for a "rock guitarist" today — but neither is the type of world class player who's going to captivate you as the focal point of a band like a Van Halen, a Randy Rhoads, a John Sykes, or a George Lynch. In fairness, this tends to be true in most two-guitar bands.

Diversity. Dave Murray is a heavy metal guitarist. Certainly nothing wrong with that. But if he's anything more than that, we'll probably never find out about it because he's always been quite content in the context of Iron Maiden.

Tone

Dave Murray is strongly associated with a black, 57 Strat that once belonged to Paul Kossoff. This guitar is loaded with DiMarzio humbuckers in the bridge and neck positions and a single coil in the middle. At some point, Murray updated the vintage style tremolo with a Kahler tremolo. He has several strat type guitars configured similarly to the 57 — usually with Floyd Rose trems.

On occasion, Murray would use a Gibson SG or an Ibanez Destroyer, but the classic Dave Murray tone is one of the original Strat-with-a-humbucker metal tones. Unlike Van Halen's early tone and a lot of super strat tones that came later, Murray's tone seemed to retain more of the original Fender character — perhaps because he kept a Humbucker-Single-Humbucker configuration when the trend of the day was Van Halen-inspired super strats stripped down to just the bridge pickup. Murray actually uses the neck position pickup quite a bit for his lead work high up the neck and that's the only aspect of Murray's tone that is particularly distinctive.

In Maiden's glory days, Murray ran six stock Marshall 50 watt heads into six 4x12 cabs with Celestions. His tone was fairly clean by today's standards — not overly warm or brown. Around the time of Seventh Son, both Murray and Smith switched to Gallien Kruger solid state amps for a while.

Compared to Adrian Smith, Murray kept his effects relatively simple: a MXR EQ, a Phase 90, a Distortion+, and a Cry Baby wah.

Guitar Style

Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are 70s style guitarists who happened to enjoy their greatest success in the 80s. Both have good chops, but neither has the monster chops of the 80s metal guys like Rhoads, Lee, Lynch, Sykes, Campbell, DeMartini.

Murray is a very basic rock metal rhythm guitarist. You get the standard bar and power chords, folk chords, and the occasional Blackmoreish 4th diads. In Maiden, the approach is very straightforward, driving metal. No blues, no fusion, no funky rhythms to speak of. The most distinctive rhythmical aspect is the Thin Lizzy-like harmony lines.

An unschooled player, Murray claimed: "I just sort of play what I feel, and that's it." And lead wise, Murray mostly feels like playing Minor Pentatonic. As mentioned in the tone area above, Murray's hot Pentatonic trills and flurries using the neck pickup is probably his most distinctive lead trademark. He also used a fair amount of wah — often combing the wah with the trills.

In most Maiden songs, Murray takes the first guitar solo. Not always — but it's true of such classics as Number of the Beast, Run to the Hills, Hallowed be Thy Name, Flight of Icarus, Revelation, Aces High, Two Minutes to Midnight, and Powerslave. If the song has three lead breaks like Icarus and Powerslave, Murray typically took the first and third solos.

Early on, Murray tended to favor the spontaneous approach to soloing. Around the time of the Seventh Son album, he changed his approach and started working things out more. Perhaps ironically, at this same time Smith was trying to become more spontaneous. Regardless, once Murray cut a solo on a record, he sticks fairly close to it live, giving you the bits you expect to hear. He does, however, like to leave himself a few areas to improvise.

Murray alternate picks more than Smith, but both guys use plenty of legato and are more 70s style pickers than 80s style pure alternate shred guys.

Vibrato:

Pretty quick and narrow finger vibrato. Certainly can't hear the Kossoff influence here. Seems somewhat underdeveloped compared to Adrian Smith's. Murray use the whammy bar a bit for vibrato and effect, but it's judicious and tasteful.

Dave Murray in Action

Recommended listening

Iron Maiden

Profile By Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved.