Friday, July 24, 2009

Boutique Amp Maker Alexander Dumble

Alexander Dumble (formerly Howard Dumble until he legally changed his name) makes the most sought after boutique amplifiers in the world. Every amplifier is personally hand-built to order and the waiting list can take several years. And Dumble does not build them for just anyone -- his criteria for accepting a customer’s order remains as much of a mystery as the 'secret' components which he conceals with black epoxy on his circuit boards.

With his ‘one amplifier per customer’ policy, the sheer scarcity of Dumble amplifiers in existence only adds to the overall mystique. A pre-owned Dumble, if you can find one on the market, goes for several times its original price, well above five figures.

Dumble started modifying and building amplifiers out of his backyard workshop, all the while making a living as a touring guitarist and studio musician.

In 1965, as an 18-year old, he was commissioned by Semie Moseley to build 10 Mosrite amplifiers for The Ventures who were among the very first guitar endorsees with their own signature model equipment. The Ventures did not cotton to his amps which they felt were ‘a little too rock n’ roll’ for their kind of music but they offered young Howard a business proposition nonetheless. Dumble declined and went back to playing guitar to pay his bills.

In 1969 he built his Explosion model amp which was later improved and re-voiced to become the Overdrive Special. Ironically, the basic Dumble design is based around the Fender Deluxe circuit but modified to achieve much higher gain, more harmonic complexity at the top-end and more low-end on the bass.

Other models in the Dumble range include the Steel String Singer, the Dumbleland, 25-watt Hotel Hog, 50-watt Dumbleman, a 450-watt bass amp dubbed the Winterland, the modular rack-mounted Phoenix and the Dumbleator – the latter being a device to interface his amplifiers with effects, much like an effects loop.

Over the last 10 years or so, several Dumble amplifier owners have allowed their amplifiers to be 'de-gooped' of the black epoxy Dumble used to conceal his component values, and copies of his circuit design have floated around the internet. As a result some amplifier companies have emerged with their own Dumble clones. Some have even taken it further with their own variations on the design. But many who have played through a real Dumble amplifier testify that certain tonal ingredients were missing from these clones.

The clip above shows guitarist Gregor Hilden wrangling some pretty sweet tones from an Overdrive Special -- one of the best examples actually, that I've heard of this amp in action.

If you happen to come across a Dumble amp, ask if you can plug in and try it out. You'll never know when, or if, you'll ever see another one. And you owe it to yourself to experience what all the hype is about. I'm still waiting on that opportunity myself. The complete home study jazz guitar course


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