By Adam Perlmutter | Photo by William Ritter for Gruhn Guitars
Want a Dumble amplifier? You better be ready to work, pay, and wait for it. The mythical amps with which Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and others crafted their exemplary tones are among the most impossible to acquire.
Alexander “Howard” Dumble has no contact information online, requires thousands of dollars on deposit, and demands you sign a series of agreements, one of which makes explicit the consequences of asking about your amp’s progress. Even if you’re able to make it that far, the wait for a Dumble amp is at least a decade as of this writing.
A preferable solution is to find a used Dumble, but as only about 300 exist, this too requires work, patience, and a boatload of cash. Having long fetched five figures, Dumble amps recently hit the six-figure mark, a place customarily reserved for Les Paul “Bursts” and Golden-Era Martins. Priced at $110,000, this 1991 Overdrive Special recently offered at Gruhn Guitars may have set a high-water mark for amp values in general.
Dumble amplifiers are the one-man product of Alexander Dumble, who got his start in the mid Sixties when, while still in his teens, he was commissioned by Mosrite to build amps for surf-rock hit-makers the Ventures. Since then, he has built his own amplifiers, including the Overdrive Special, the Steel Stringer, and the Dumbleland, on a special-order basis, custom tailoring the circuitry and concealing it with epoxy to discourage reverse engineering.
The Overdrive Special is probably the most legendary Dumble amp, made either as a combo—Gruhn recently sold one to Eric Clapton for a mere $70,000—or as a head with a speaker enclosure. This Overdrive Special (originally $3,650) is in near-mint condition and includes a cabinet with two 12-inch Electro-Voice speakers (originally $810), a Dumbleator effects driver (originally $1,160), and an Anvil road case.
Powered by 6L6 tubes, the amp is switchable between 50 and 100 watts and offers all the hallmarks of the Dumble aesthetic, including astonishingly impressive responsiveness, sustain, and clarity—not to mention, as its name suggests, gloriously smooth overdriven tones. Says Keith Gregory, a longtime salesperson at Gruhn, “Many other amps claim to have the Dumble sound, but nothing else is quite like one.”
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