The Dumble Overdrive Special amplifier is considered one of the most sought-after and iconic guitar amplifiers in the history of rock music. Created by Howard Alexander Dumble, a reclusive amp builder based in California, the Dumble Overdrive Special has gained legendary status due to its unique tonal characteristics and its association with some of the world's most renowned guitarists. Let's delve into the history of this remarkable amplifier and the guitarists who have embraced it.
Origins and Development: Howard Dumble started building amplifiers in the late 1960s. He crafted each amplifier meticulously, with a strong emphasis on tone and quality. The Dumble Overdrive Special came to prominence in the mid-1970s and gained popularity due to its ability to deliver a wide range of tones, from clean and pristine to rich, harmonic overdrive. Dumble amps were hand-built in limited quantities, in various configurations, and their high price tags made them exclusive and highly coveted.
Notable Features: The Dumble Overdrive Special is known for its distinct tonal characteristics. It typically offers a three-channel configuration with separate inputs and controls for each channel. The clean channel provides a smooth, glassy tone, while the second channel delivers a mild overdrive. The third channel, the "Overdrive Special," is the amp's signature feature, offering a cascading gain structure that provides a highly responsive and touch-sensitive overdrive tone.
Dumble Peculiarities (Personal and Professional): Dumble asked prospective clients to sign contracts stipulating the purchased amp's chassis not be opened or photographed, nor the amplifier be resold without his authorization. In the 1980s, Dumble began "gooping" his preamplifier circuit boards with opaque epoxy, ostensibly to foil copying. In the 2000s, he began asking to be referred to as "Alexander", his middle name. Living largely "off the grid", he would trade repair or refurbishment work for things like needed household appliances.
Guitarists and their Dumble Amps: Numerous influential guitarists have used the Dumble Overdrive Special and other Dumble amplifiers, contributing to the amp builder's mystique and reputation. Here are some notable guitarists associated with Dumble amps:
Stevie Ray Vaughan: One of the most celebrated blues guitarists, Vaughan is often synonymous with the Dumble sound. He primarily used a Dumble Steel String Singer to achieve his iconic blues tones, and his usage of this amp greatly contributed to its popularity.
Robben Ford: Renowned for his jazz and blues fusion playing, Robben Ford has extensively used Dumble amps throughout his career. He helped showcase the versatility of the Dumble Overdrive Special in various musical contexts.
Larry Carlton: A highly regarded session guitarist, Carlton has been a longtime user of Dumble amplifiers. His distinctive jazz and fusion playing style found an ideal match in the responsive and dynamic qualities of the Dumble Overdrive Special.
John Mayer: Known for his soulful and melodic playing, John Mayer has embraced the Dumble sound, particularly in his earlier years. He utilized Dumble Overdrive Specials to achieve his expressive and smooth guitar tones.
Carlos Santana: While Santana primarily used other amplifiers like the Mesa/Boogie Mark series, he did incorporate Dumble amplifiers into his rig for specific albums and performances, including the renowned album "Supernatural."
Eric Johnson: Recognized for his virtuosic guitar playing and meticulous attention to tone, Eric Johnson has employed Dumble amplifiers in his setups. His use of Dumble amps can be heard on his iconic album "Ah Via Musicom."
It's important to note that Dumble amplifiers are extremely rare and highly sought after, leading to a limited number of musicians having the opportunity to play through them. Nevertheless, their impact on the guitar world and the distinct tones they produce have left an indelible mark on the history of guitar amplification.