ALEXANDER DUMBLE designs and builds the best sounding and most rugged tube guitar amplifiers that I know of. Many great musicians (David Lindley, Lowell George, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Johnson, Larry Carlton, etc.) have depended on the sounds of his amps. Few people know that Alexander (whose real first name is Howard, although he prefers Alexander) is a terrific guitar player. He did many studio sessions during the 60's and he toured with Buffy Saint Marie
We are the only rehearsal studio in the world that owns not one but two Dumble Overdrive Special 100 amplifiers. This is the most expensive and sought after amplifier in the world. It's almost impossible to find a Dumble amplifier now even if you are willing to pay the $12,000 to $14,000 it will cost.
Alexander Dumble has been making several models since the 1960's but he only made about 220 amps. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson, Larry Carlton, and Robben Ford are just a few of the famous guitarists who owned Dumbles
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Dumble musical instrument amplifiers are built by hand in very limited numbers by Howard Alexander Dumble of Santa Cruz, California.
The amplifiers are famed for their singing, "clean" overdrive channel that is very responsive to the touch of the player. They produce a tone somewhere between a Fender and a Marshall, with a strong midrange and a balanced voice. The circuitry in a Dumble is unique in that the overdrive is produced in the preamp stages; the power amplifier does not readily distort. All Dumble amplifiers operate using vacuum tubes, with 12AX7 tubes in the preamp, 6L6 tubes in the power amp in older models, and EL34 tubes in the power amp in newer models. Each amp is voiced specifically for a single player. A separate Dumblelator buffered effects loop is required to use effects processors with a Dumble amplifier.
Models include Overdrive Special (ODS), Overdrive Reverb, Steel String Singer, Small Special, Odyssey, Winterland, and Dumbleland.
Musicians who have used Dumble amplifiers include Carlos Santana, Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Henry Kaiser, John Mayer, Steve Lukather, Sonny Landreth, and David Lindley.
Because only about 200 Dumble amplifiers have ever been built, and Mr. Dumble only builds amps for certain players, they command extraordinarily high prices on the used market, upwards of ten thousand dollars.
Several companies, such as Fuchs and Two-Rock, produce amplifiers with a similar sound and feel to a Dumble. Some people have built clones of Dumble amplifiers from schematics and photos circulating on the Internet, despite Dumble covering the inside of his amps with a thick goop, protecting his schematic's exact design.
The amplifier responds so differently to each guitar that to get some effects, I need to use the player's guitars, instead of my own. That's one the great things about the amplifier; it doesn't modify any guitar into any one sound or homogenize it. It expands whatever you start with. The amplifier is a real important part of the sound regeneration system, but it needs to be very responsive to whatever the guitar is delivering. The philosophy I try to keep in the amplifier is that whatever you can hear in your head, this will help you get it.
Stevie Ray Vaughan calls his Steel-String singer the "King Tone Consoul."
There are some different things about Stevie's. His is set up more like a bass amp, modified to accommodate the guitar range. It's not the usual lead guitar "Singer" approach. One thing he liked was that he could turn the volume control all the way up and it didn't distort--it just got louder. He does make it distort sometimes because he has about 50 megatons of pressure when he attacks the strings [laughs]. He gets an incredible amount of signal out of his guitar, and most amplifiers can't take it. He did his first album with a bass amp I'd made for Jackson Browne.
Some players describe Dumbles as different, more powerful, more durable more efficient versions of a Fender Deluxe
That's a good way to describe it--in a limited fashion. There are some great qualities to a small Deluxe. You get a great harmonic structure at a small acoustic volume. It's real pleasing, especially when you're playing by yourself. But that sound is not convertible into a group ambience--it's gone. So, in the respect that I try to get something comfortable and very musical, only in a bigger fashion, that's a good analogy. But the circuitry is not even close. I use vacuum tubes, and transformers and knobs, but the similarity stops there. To get the result I want, I have to use unique circuitry. It's my tone circuits and coupling circuits and the way I process phase-inversion.
Can you "Dumble-ize" a Fender amp to the point that it shares the Dumble philosophy and sound, or would it be a compromise?
It's a compromise. The actual physical construction of the Fender limits what can be done. In fact, after the last Steel-String Singer mod I did to David Lindley's amps, he no longer uses the Fender Bassman I Dumbleized for him. He wanted this luscious transparency and response--like floating in white clouds--and I came up with special circuitry. I can use a Fender chassis, but you have to rip everything off of it, fill in all the holes, and re-drill it. They're just a little bit too squashed. A distance of half a centimeter makes a big difference in the way something sounds. It's a science involved with what's called circuit constants.
Instead of a single bright/deep switch, most of your amps have separate bright and deep switches. Can you use both at the same time?
Oh, you bet. It gets luscious low notes that you could float on and beautiful, crystalline highs that are silky as glass.
How many watts are the various models?
The overdrives are 100 watts, but they're switchable down to 50, and I do make a special 150-watt Overdrive, which is a lot of fun. The range in power goes from a 25-watt recording amp called the Hotel Hog up to the 450-watt Winterland, named after the concert hall in San Francisco.
Once Stevie started making some money, he upgraded to larger Marshall and Dumble amps and traded this one in sometime after the spring of 1983, possibly as late as 1984. It was then owned by another Texas guitar player for many years. In May 2003, I purchased the amp. It still has the Bowie paint job and the Celestion speakers. In a 1983 interview, Stevie mistakenly suggested that this was a 200-watt amp that did not perform properly, peaking at 80-watts. It would not produce 200 watts because it was a 100-watt amp, but this amp will still rattle my windows!
1985: two blackface Fender Super Reverbs (4x10 EV's*), a 150-watt Dumble Steel String Singer (4x12 with four 100-watt EV's, and 6550 tubes), another Dumble 150-watt 4x12. The 4x12 cabinets were non-angled homemade cabs. Sometimes a 200-watt Marshall Plexi- Major was substitued for the second Dumble head. Stevie had two sequentially numbered* Fender Vibroverbs ca. 1963-64, (1x15) one often used to power a Fender Vibratone (not a Leslie). The Vibroverbs and Supers had 3/4" plywood baffle boards to accomodate the weight of the speakers. The EVM's larger magnets required repositioning some of the transformers in the chassis. In the later years, the Vibroverbs had Super Reverb-style transformers. The first channel from the phase inverter tube were disconnected, and the tremolo disabled (by disconnecting the wires from the intensity control - don't try this at home unless you want to turn yourself into a light bulb). Around 1989 Stevie also took a couple of 4x10 Fender reissue Bassmans on the road, but the speakers were replaced.
The two Vibroverbs are often referred to as "sequentially numbered" 5 and 6, but equipment lists from the early 1980's prepared by the band reveal that the serial numbers were in fact 36 digits apart. The 5 and 6 are references to the production run number found on the tube chart on the amp.
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