Joe Bonamassa's Guitar Safaris: The Little Brown Dumble

The story starts with a bit of a wrong turn.
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The story starts with a bit of a wrong turn. My friend Rick Gould and I thought our mutual friend/movie star/avid guitar collector Steven Seagal lived in Brentwood, California. Yes, Brentwood made famous from the infamous OJ Simpson car chase. You see, Mr. Seagal had agreed to sell me one of his seven high-power Fender tweed Twin Amplifiers. I always wanted a tweed Twin just like Keef ’s of course, and when does one get the opportunity to choose one out of seven examples in a room? Answer: never. We pull up to the gate at what we thought was Steven’s house. Rick coincidentally receives a call from Steven asking, “Are you guys close?” “Are we close? We are here and ready to party like it’s 1959.” “Okay, I am coming out to get you.” Five minutes go by, then ten, and another phone call is placed. Turns out not only are we at the wrong house, we are in the wrong damn state! Steven had moved to Arizona since Rick’s last photo shoot a few years prior. What to do? Call Southwest airlines, book a hotel, rent a car, and wake up early the next day to travel to tweed Twin Valhalla.

Upon arriving finally at the right house, we are greeted by Steven who is a great host, player, and vintage guitar enthusiast. There is great stuff piled up everywhere that he had gotten out of storage: canary yellow Marshall stacks, Albert King Flying Vs, etc. Rick and I immediately gravitate to the Twins. The great search boils down to a choice between one Twin formally owned by Danny Gatton and the one I eventually bought. I could tell Steven didn’t want to part with Danny’s old amp and, as a collector myself, I totally get it. You fall deep for some things—it’s the nature of the business.

Now you are thinking, isn’t this column about a Dumble? Well, while all the Twin testing was going on, I spot this little brown Dumble Overdrive Special serial #014 in the corner of this large room full of gear. I ask Steven about it and he says, “If you’re interested in buying it, I’d sell it to you as I don’t use it much anymore.” I could not plug in a guitar fast enough. Instantly I notice a big difference between this amp and my two Dumble Overdrive Specials. This amp is more compressed and roars with a harmonic complexity that I have never heard from one of Alexander/Howard’s amps. (Note: I have never met Howard/Alexander and I am not sure what he prefers to be called these days, so I am covering all the bases.) It is one of the finest amps I have ever played and just loves a PAF-style pickup. I finally understood the Dumble craze with this amp. Many times Dumble amplifiers, to my ears, can be underwhelming given the value and the folklore surrounding them. Purpose-built for each guitarist’s ear and taste, they are all different. I made the deal for the two amps and was faced with the issue of getting them home. I borrow two road cases from Steven and head back to the hotel for a night cap and strategy meeting with Rick. Late into the night, Rick and I are removing tubes, stealing pillows from the hotel, and packing these amps up for the journey home. (Note: I don’t condone stealing, but there were mitigating circumstances, your honor.)

Early the next morning we wheel these road cases into a local shipping store. I stick two of the most expensive Fed Ex slips on them and pray! I fly home and wait through the longest night in recent memory. The next morning, Fed Ex arrives, and to my relief both amps survived and sound great. It truly will go down in history for me as one of my greatest amp safaris of all time. The tweed Twin is my main stage amp today and honestly changed my life as a player. But it’s never all about the gear. It is about the people, the stories, and the friends you meet along the way.