This week, I want to touch on a very intriguing subject. I welcome your personal thoughts and shared experiences with this.
The Dumble Overdrive Special Amplifier made by Alexander “Howard” Dumble became the amp that was associated with the signature sound of players like Robben Ford and Larry Carlton. These hand-made high quality amplifiers became popular in the 70′s and early eighties and had built in foot-switchable overdrive. They developed a reputation for having a silky smooth, pliable and touch-sensitive brand of overdrive. Back in the day, these amps were considered pricey, running around a couple thousand dollars. Today on the market, these amplifiers fetch tens of thousands of dollars and are highly sought after, at times going for prices that rival a small condominium in Florida close to the beach.
After the popularity and demand of these amplifiers grew, to avoid theft of concepts and design. Alexander Dumble started covering the inside of his amplifier circuit boards with a compound that hid the components and their values. However, it seems that there have been some cases of amps that have been de-gooped and component values measured, and schematics drawn up illegally.
Here is a price list from 1990 along with a contract that had to be signed before you could purchase one of these legendary amplifiers.
The interesting thing is that supposedly Alexander Dumble made each amplifier with the specific style in mind of the player who ordered it. This would mean that in a sense, no two Dumbles would be alike. However these legendary amplifiers have spawned a cottage industry of “wanna-be’s” and inspired clones. (Amps and pedals).
My experience with this phenomenon was thus: I played a lot of the Dumble-inspired products and amplifiers for years, before finally playing a real Dumble Overdrive Special. It was quite an eye-opener: I found that none of the products made me sound like Robben Ford or Larry Carlton!! (Did someone say it was all in the fingers?) However think I understood what part the deal was….
These amplifiers are incredibly versatile and you can easily play classic rock or reggae or folk or even jazz using them. However the sound that everyone seems to associate with them is that of Robben Ford or Larry Carlton (for the most part). I am no marketing expert, but I have a hunch that this is the basis for the entire Dumble-clone industry. But Robben and Larry sound like Robben and Larry no matter what they play through!!!
Here is a list of some of the amplifiers and pedals that are Dumble-inspired along with links to more information. The jury is out as to whether anything sounds like an actual Dumble Overdrive Special, but then that would mean that there is a definitive dumble sound, right??? However, there are proponents who swear by these products. Whether or not they duplicate the elusive tones of this amplifier has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they are great products. I have owned a few (and still do) and I love them! Maybe I will own a real Dumble Overdrive Special..someday…:), but that condo on the beach in Florida sounds too sweet for someone entrenched in New England winters too…brrrrrrrrr!!!
Made by Alphonso Hermida. Often called “Dumble in a box” by some. I heard Robben Ford say that he uses this pedal at times. I have owned one of these and find it to be a little darker and fatter than what seems to be associated with the “Dumble Sound”. However, I have heard Robben play through amps other than a Dumble and honestly…he still sounds great…just like Robben Ford! I think of this pedal as a great overdrive pedal that has a nice tweak-ability.
This is an absolutely amazing pedal. I will review this in an upcoming post. I own one and it is a main staple of my tone on most of my gigs. The lay-out of the pedal even looks physically like a Dumble amplifier. Besides offering similar tweak-ability as the amp, functioning as a pre-amp, the Ethos offers some nice modern day features such as speaker simulator for direct recording.
Brown Note Dlite 22/33/44
These amps are amazing and affordable, made by Moss Hudson in Fair Oaks CA. I own a compact combo DLite 44 that was custom built for me. It is truly the holy grail of amps for me. Built in Overdrive, Reverb (optional), and pre and mid boost footswitchable functions. I got myself a compact 44 which makes it all the more portable. The front control panel resemble the Dumble controls, although the amp seems to be a few sweet steps away and has it’s own character and voice along with some lovely overdrive. This is a great amp for a working musician in this respect. Handmade, solid Light, smooth and powerful!!!!
Ceriatone Overtone Special
These amps seem to be only a couple steps removed from an actual dumble. I was made to understand that these Malaysian made amps might be closer in design than Alexander Dumble might approve of (like really really close). Not sure what the story is here…by Malaysia is a long way away from Los Angeles, I guess. These amps are very affordable (around 1500) and sound as good as any amp. In addition they are hand made.
Two-Rock Emerald Pro
Two Rock makes an amazing product. I don’t think I have ever played a Two-Rock that I did not want to own! Very high quality and great tone. It is said that the Emerald Pro is a couple steps removed from a Dumble Overdrive Special. Two-Rock is not making this model any more, but their current hot seller, the Custom Reverb Signature is a dream worth saving for. Anything Two Rock is worth acquiring since it will sound great for sure. Whether or not you sound like Robben or Larry, go for it!
Fuchs Overdrive Supreme
I have played these amps and they seem quite different from the Dumble realm even though it is said they are inspired by the 90′s Dumble period..but Andy Fuchs makes a great amplifier nonetheless. Similar control panel to a Dumble.
Here is a short list of some other related amps and pedals that I have had no experience with but have heard great things about. Maybe some of you can post your experiences with them.
The video of the week is a video of someone playing one of these Dumble amplifiers in the studio… Enjoy!