Dumble Amplifiers have become shorthand to represent the extreme of guitar-gear “cork-sniffing” excess. Like its equally elusive cousin, the Klon Centaur, the Dumble amplifier has all the elements that make for a collectors dream: A waiting list populated mainly of legendary guitar players, an eccentric and charismatic builder, a very small number of units produced (less than 300), crazy, over inflated second-hand prices and opaque epoxy over the internal circuit to protect his schematic's exact design. If the amplifier produced no sound at all, this would be enough to make it collectable!
Alexander "Howard" Dumble began modifying Fender tweed and blackface amplifiers in 1963 in Santa Cruz. Much of his success was via word of mouth as he built his amps on special order. Carlos Santana, for example, heard of Dumble via Stevie Ray Vaughan and was lent one. Hethen contacted Dumble himself to get one built. Notable Dumble players include Stephen Bruton, Larry Carlton, John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robben Ford.
As a massive Robben Ford fan, I naturally got interested in this amp. I am also a member and admin of the Facebook Group Guitarist Ireland that has 5,500+ members, so I thought I might get an answer there. Gary Agnew of Dirty Dog Amplification was recommended as a builder of Dumble Style amps (he builds many other types also). At that point in time, I didn't even know you could get custom built amps built in Ireland, let alone a Dumble style amp!
First thing I have to admit is that I know very little about amps. I know what I like the sound of, but electronics and schematics are a mystery to me. I messaged Gary and explained what I was looking for. He explained the different flavours of Dumble Style amps available in simple and straight forward terms. Based on his descriptions, I went for the classic Overdrive Special Amp style. The process was so straightforward and I really enjoyed the build process as Gary would send me pictures at various stages. As guitar fans we all understand the thrill of buying a new piece of gear, but I think I will be chasing that “custom-build high” for some time to come!
Let me preface this by saying I have never or never will play a Dumble ODS amp. However, when I got the amp I was instantly blown away by the sound. Now I know writing about guitar tone is like dancing about architecture, but I will try and explain anyway. For me, it had that thing that all great amps have (like Matchless etc.) regardless of their voice, and that’s a wide frequency range. You can hear everything that is played through them and all mistakes are immediately audible! Also, there is a lot written about the Overdrive Channel of the Dumble Overdrive Supreme (the singing lead on Robben Ford's Revelation for example), but for me, the amp is at its heart a beautiful fender clean style amp that takes pedals really well. The advantage it has over Fender amps like the Deluxe Reverb is that it has a “Rock/Jazz” switch. In the Jazz setting it is classic Fender - clean, beautiful and full. However, with the “Rock” mode engaged, the bass and low mid is boosted. This gives a really fat, clean sound – with the pre-amp volume at six you can get a really thick (almost Larry Carlton-esque) lead clean sound. Once you add that creamy overdrive channel you have a pretty special amp in my humble opinion. Here is an example of the clean and OD sounds of my amp:
Don’t take my word for it, but you deserve a Dumble (clone) amplifier!