Dumble Overdrive: Engineering the World’s Most Expensive Guitar Amp

Guitar guys are always on the hunt for “tone”. It’s an ambiguous hunt for sure, and every ear hears something different. Basically,”tone” is a combination of the many parts and pieces within a guitar rig. Obviously, the guitar it’s self plays a big part, the wood it’s made of, the pickups and other components determine the sound it will produce. The other half of the equation is the amp, each has its own specific sound. If you want that sparkly “clean” sound with a little reverb, you usually pick a Fender amp (think Dick Dale, Brian Setzer or Junior Brown). If you’re looking for the “dirty sound” you’re naturally going to gravitate towards a Marshall amp (think AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses or Zakk Wylde).

Sure, there is TONS of “mix & match” opportunities between guitars and amps – and effects, because everyone doesn’t fall into the “A or B” amp category. Some rogue amp builders saw this opening and began to modify Fender or Marshall amps. Some were hunting for new sounds somewhere between what was available, and some were looking to take Fender or Marshall sounds to the extreme.

Alexander “Howard” Dumble began modifying and upgrading Fender amps in the late ‘60’s, giving the typical sound a creamier clean tone and more of that Marshall “growl” when it got cranked up.

Hear it in action!

Dean Farley of Premier Guitar describes hearing the Amp for the first time: “It was the very first time that I heard that voice—what you might call “Flugelhorn midrange”—and the overdriven tone was thick, rich, and elastic. It was an amazing sonic texture to behold that could best be described like this: Imagine for a second the way a nice chunk of premium European milk chocolate, or freshly churned butter, melts down the sides of your mouth when it warms up. That’s the way this amplifier sounded to my ears. (Continue reading at Premier Guitar Magazine )

Dumble Overdrive: Engineering the World’s Most Expensive Guitar Amp

These became a cult secret among guitar players in the LA area. The problem was Mr. Dumble wasn’t all that interested in the business of mass-produced guitar amps. He actually would require an application process to determine if he would build an amp for someone.

First, a guitar player would request Dumble build him and amp, he would then submit recordings of his music. If Dumble dug your style – you were in. Once the process began, customers would pay 5-10 times more than the day’s most expensive amps. The masterpiece was built to your sound, and Alexander would take his time, sometimes requiring months or even years to finish an amp. It was like commissioning a Rembrandt – the payoff was worth the wait.

Dumble was so serious about protecting his designs that you had to sign a “security agreement” upon delivery. A buyer had to sign and notarize a document, stating it would be employed for “personal use” and would “never allow the equipment to be opened, analyzed, and/or inspected.” Also promising to “maintain strict supervision over the equipment; and to never leave it vulnerable to theft and/or inspection/analization by any individual.” Serious stuff!

Over the years many Dumble amp owner’s did break the agreement, and Dumble was a step ahead of them. He actually painted black over all of the identifying marks for every electrical component. Guitar aficionados and archaeologists have painstakingly worked to reverse engineer these amps. Versions are available today from Fuchs Amplification, Two Rock and a Malaysian company Called Ceriatone. Unfortunately, none carry the pedigree and mystique of the real deal, tuned my Mr. Dumble himself.

Dumble Overdrive: Engineering the World’s Most Expensive Guitar Amp

View the list: the 25 most valuable guitar amps

Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana and Larry Carlton are some famous “original” owners of Dumble amps. More recently John Mayer and Joe Bonamassa have acquired several of them each. With only 300 ever built there is a bit of a supply and demand issue, these amps now fetch more than $50,000, and famous musicians can’t buy them fast enough.

Need one right now? Here is a link to one for $89,000

If you’ve got the money, go get one! The rest of us will just have to listen to sound clips on YouTube and dream.

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Adam Beck

Marketing Manager at CADENAS PARTsolutions
A graduate of the Richard Farmer School of Business Marketing at Miami University in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries. He enjoys many outlets for creativity including working on custom cars and guitars. He’s also a big fan of Formula1 racing and the Cincinnati Bengals. Adam currently lives in Ohio with his wife Stephanie, his dog Hudson and the family cat Astro.