Before the dawn of Modelling and Digital amplification, the battle of which amplifier brand was the best was real throughout the 1960s. With the likes of Fender, Vox and Marshall being the clear front runners, creating what would eventually be considered some of the most iconic amps ever made. In the sleepy city of Bakersfield, California, a teenage engineer had started experimenting with custom modifications on Fender’s first tube amps. 

His name was Alex Dumble, and he would go on to become one of the most celebrated builders in the guitar amplification industry, building custom amps over time for the likes of John Mayer, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana and many more before his passing in 2022. 

Considered one of the most sought-after tones to imitate among other amp and pedal brands, Dumble amplifiers have an irrefutable reputation and with that comes a very hefty and eye-watering price tag. 

In this blog, we’re going to discuss the brilliance of Alexander “Howard” Dumble, the many iconic amp designs over the years and what makes them so special. So without further ado, let’s dive in!

Who is Alexander “Howard” Dumble?

Raised in Bakersfield, California, Howard Dumble, the son of an engineer, discovered his passion for electronics early on. By the age of 12, he was crafting and selling transistor radios to his schoolmates for $5. At 16, inspired by musical legends like Les Paul and Mary Ford, he picked up the guitar himself. After completing high school in 1962, he delved into the music scene, working alongside renowned songwriter Jim Webb as a studio and touring musician.

During high school, Dumble's fascination with electronics extended to tinkering with Fender and Gibson guitar amps. This interest culminated in a remarkable project where he constructed a 200-watt public address amplifier for a local youth baseball league, utilising spare electronic components donated to the cause. This project ignited his passion for amp building, leading him to create his amplifier, drawing inspiration from Fender's Dual Showman model.

Between 1966 and ’69, he began building original-design amps, beginning with a bass head called the Dumbleland. In ’68, he backed pop-folk singer Buffy Saint-Marie, playing bass on tour, then used the earnings to buy equipment for his first shop, at his home in Santa Cruz. His first model, the Explosion, was made in ’69; in ’72, it became the Overdrive Special (ODS).

Overdrive Special (ODS)

Initially designed as a two-channel/high-gain amplifier utilising 6L6 tubes (with some models featuring EL34s), Dumble's first Overdrive Special (ODS) was born from his admiration of the blackface piggyback Bassman. Dumble was inspired by seeing Robben Ford play his Bassman with his brothers in The Charles Ford Band. 

The ODS quickly gained a reputation as the epitome of tube-generated overdrive – delivering a creamy, touch-sensitive, and harmonically rich tone. Its clean channel was praised for its transparent, responsive, and "open" sound. What began as a modification of the Bassman evolved into a completely original amplifier. The ODS stood out for its incredible sound and meticulously hand-measured and matched components, custom transformers, impeccable wire dressing, and meticulous signal-path routing.


See it in action

Steel String Singer (SSS)

The Dumble Steel String Singer amplifier, often abbreviated as the Dumble SSS, has been considered one of the most iconic and sought-after guitar amplifiers in the world since its inception in the 1980s. The Steel String Singer is often associated with legendary guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson, who chose to have it as their amplifier of choice partially due to its 150-watt output and exceptional tone.

Primarily known for its clean channel, which offers an incredibly high headroom and clarity, it delivers a pristine, transparent clean tone that allows the natural character of the guitar and player's technique to shine through. In addition,  the Steel String Singer also features a powerful overdrive channel. This channel can be dialled in to produce a smooth, creamy overdrive that responds dynamically to the player's touch as well as being capable of delivering a wide range of gain, from subtle breakup to saturated distortion.

The Dumble Steel String Singer is incredibly rare, with only a limited number ever produced. Estimates suggest that fewer than 50 of these amplifiers exist in the world, adding to their mystique and collectibility.

What Does a Dumble Amp Sound Like?  

So, you may be wondering, what does a Dumble Amplifier actually sound like? All things considered, the unique sound of the Dumble amplifier is often best described by what it doesn’t sound like. It hasn’t really got the bluesy grit of a Marshall amp or the rock-driven snarl. However, it doesn't quite have the illustrious chime of a Vox amp or the springy pop of a Fender. Instead, the Dumble tone stands as a distant relative to these iconic sounds, offering something out of the ordinary.

How To Replicate the Dumble Sound

Big Top FX The Tumble Overdrive

For those players in search of the Dumble tone with a price tag that’s barely a fraction of the cost, the Big Top FX The Tumble Overdrive is a pedal that delivers the round and smooth overdrive tone you've been searching for. 

With excellent dynamic response and an open sound, this pedal is a game-changer for your guitar setup. Featuring true bypass technology, you'll maintain your guitar's natural tone when the pedal is off.

The Tumble Overdrive offers precise control over your sound with its intuitive controls. Use the Volume control to set your desired level, adjust the Voice control to tailor the colour of the overdrive, and fine-tune the brightness with the Tone control. Dial in the perfect amount of grit with the Gain control, giving you versatility from subtle drive to full-on saturation.

Way Huge Overdrive Pedal

The Way Huge Overdrive pedal offers unmatched versatility by blending discrete clean and overdrive signal paths, resulting in one of the most natural, amp-like overdrive effects available. Designed to provide guitarists with a dynamic, finger-friendly overdrive, the Overdrive pedal automatically adjusts the balance between clean and overdriven tones with a single control, ensuring plug-and-play simplicity.

This innovative design allows for a wide range of sounds, from a pure unity-gain buffer to a clean boost, and all the way to a richly smooth overdrive. Additionally, the pedal features a passive tone control circuit that subtly reduces high-end frequencies, helping to achieve a rounded, velvety sound.


Living Legacy

Despite the mystique surrounding Dumble and his reclusive nature, his impact on the music industry is undeniable. His amps have graced countless iconic recordings, from Jackson Browne's hits to Stevie Ray Vaughan's blues masterpieces. Musicians like Joe Bonamassa, who acquired his first Dumble in 2010, continue to be inspired by Dumble's unique creations.

In 2012, the music world mourned the passing of Alexander Dumble, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and unparalleled craftsmanship. Today, Dumble amps remain a symbol of sonic excellence, cherished by musicians and collectors alike for their extraordinary tone and meticulous design.