Alexander Howard Dumble RIP ?

Silverface

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Just to Clarify a few things about the man and his products, I'll refer to the below:


He was strictly boutique and his amps were always expensive. I think he priced things like that to weed out non-serious musicians at first
His early amps weren't expensive. It was only as his reputation as a "tone wizard" grew that they became relatively expensive. The same was true of Ken Fischer and "Trainwreck" amps on the east coast, although Ken was not secretive at all.

Roughly 20 years ago a new ODS made specifically for a player he'd screened sold for $5-10k.
I'd certainly target people that couldn't afford them.
He didn't target anyone, and he didn't sell new amps for the prices you see used ons going for. But he made VERY few in the last couple decades - and only for specific players he'd heard and thought they were getting the most out of what they had and thought he'd be able to improve their sound.

He wouldn't make amps for hacks with money. The man had standards as far as customers' skill and existing tone went.
You would have had a hell of a time getting Dumble to work on the thing when he was alive, so that hasn't changed a whole lot.

True, because he was backed up to the ceiling with work - and ALL of it was selective.



I do know of one Dumble authorized repairman.
There are several "authorized" techs, but the issue is Mr. Dumble is the ONLY one who may have precise records concerning any specific amp.

One of my best friends (one of the best techs on the planet) is ok'd to work on them as well, but if any work was required on the "gooped" sections 1. the amps had to go to Dumble *IF* he had heard several examples of the owners' playing and thought he/she was at a high enough level to get the most out of the amp - not just a rich owner/collector; and 2. in that case he would talk to and work with the player to "tune it" very specifically.

It was the same "screening" process he used when a player wanted to buy a new one. If you were a mediocre hack with bad tone - but had $100k in cash - you STILL couldn't buy a new one, or get him to work on a used one you bought.

If he'd never heard the owner play, or in his opinion the owner was basically an intermediate picker who wasn't even getting the best out of what he had, the authorized guys would be told a few specific things to do on those sections - but they had to replace most of the "obscured" components/circuitry their own way. Which are based on AB763 preamps with some semi-consistent mods.

"Authorized Dumble repairmen" don't even have the specifics regarding any one amp.
Pondered those questions in my thread about all that.

I read an old article about him once, a rare interview from the early 80's I believe, and it said he lived in a "castle" that was oceanfront in California, which is also where his first shop was, that he was actually independently wealthy, and built amps only cause it interested him to do so.
His first shop was in Semi Mosely's building. He was wealthy, but primarily because he amassed a huge collection of vintage gear, most purchased long ago - he foresaw equipment as investments long before it was a widely recognized "market" - and rarely, if ever, sold anything he bought.

And he didn't live in a castle. He hqd a house piled to the ceiling with "stuff" - he was a compulsive hoarder, and only a very few people ever were allowed beyond the entryway.
As others have posted, the crazy prices people pay for Dumbles is nothing more than an example of very limited supply coupled with high demand.
Precisely.

And many of those buyers don't "get" that each one was made for a specific player, and might not work for his/her style, attack, touch. And might not get him to "tune" it.

"Overdrive Special by Dumble" is like saying "Chevrolet" in that it's a BRAND - not a SPECIFIC model. There are similarities, but they're not "production" amps - they LOOK the same but each one was made differently to match up with how the original buyer played.

Mr. Dumble did not sell his NEW amps - which included audiophile tube amps for high-end "hi-fi" equipment - for prices anywhere NEAR what used ones go for.

And in the last 15 years or so made very few guitar amps - just reworked them for new owners; but he also did some mods on Fender and similar type amps for previous customers or new ones that "qualified". He might have charged $5-10 grand (or more - but not 50 or 200 grand) for rework or mods because that's what the market was. He was one guy - and there are rework jobs he's had for years and hadn't gotten to yet because of the demand and his refusal to hire help or release detailed info to even authorized techs.
 

Silverface

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Sad when anyone dies, but I've never liked the sound of his amps and do not get the hype at all.
but I've never liked the sound of his amps and do not get the hype at all.
How many have you played through that were set up specifically for you?

If none: Do you understand that there is NO "Dumble sound"?

Random examples of players that have used amps made or modified by him (and probably never seen in recording credits):

Larry Carleton (his slightly saturated, sustained tone probably the best-documented and widely known use.
Dean Parks (on countless studio dates and as I recall with Steely Dan)
Bonnie Raitt
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Kirk Hammett
David Lindley (playing everything from Teiscos to Strats to lap steels with his
Lowell George
Sonny Landreth
Jackson Brown
Robben Ford
Joe Walsh
Drew Berlin (One of the "Burst Brothers" and Little Richard's guitarist for years.)
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Eric Johnson
John Mayer
Joe Bonamassa
Eric Clapton (both ODS and highly modified but stock looking Fenders)
Don Felder
Ben Harper
Carlos Santana
The Beach Boys (on almost all of Pet Sounds...Brian Wilson wrote him a thank you note for how they worked out) - and an all-Dumble backline at several live dates)

Those are names players I recall offhand - also, from talking to Dean and Drew there are Dumble amps or Dumble-modified amps in dozens of major studios in the US and Europe.

There is no "Dumble sound". I've played a few ODS without cranking the preamp gain and they ALL sounded like different takes on "Fender clean", but REALLY good Fender clean with no hum or hiss. And each sounds different when paired with one of Dumble's chambered/ported cabinets vs a fender 2x12 or a Marshall 4x12 - and depending on what speakers were loaded.

I've heard one head played with creamback Celestions and then EV's using the same cabinet - quite a difference!

So your statement means either you don't like hearing electric guitar or you have absolutely no idea how a guitar amp can be tweaked to fit a player's style/attack etc. - the latter something good amp techs do on a daily basis.

Dumble's amps and amp modifications were made to fit the PLAYER - whether they played with blistering gain or clean as a whistle. You can't possibly know when you're hearing one unless it's live and you SEE it.

And that would be only the sound of THAT Dumble amp - an identical looking one might sound noticeably different - i.e. a Beach Boys ODS was at an opposite end of the tonal spectrum from one made or modded for Clapton.
 

ravindave_3600

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The amp that I stumbled across 35 years ago was around $5K. Basically a Billion Dollars to me at the time.
A billion? Maybe for you. .. but I bought a $5000 car 35 years ago and it wasn't anything special. That was the price of a stripped Ford Escort or less than the base Mustang.

So he was expensive but not so out of reach someone couldn't make a reasonable decision about buying one.

The crazy prices are from collectors... just like for pedals and 62 Strats.
 

Esquire Jones

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A billion? Maybe for you. .. but I bought a $5000 car 35 years ago and it wasn't anything special. That was the price of a stripped Ford Escort or less than the base Mustang.

So he was expensive but not so out of reach someone couldn't make a reasonable decision about buying one.

The crazy prices are from collectors... just like for pedals and 62 Strats.
Ok Bill Gates. 😀 I said it was a lot for me as a 20 year old struggling musician eating pizza for dinner. Did most musicians drop that much money on an amp back then? Maybe they did but people I played with sure weren’t. And a 62 strat could be had for $2500 or so.
 

Silverface

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The crazy prices are from collectors... just like for pedals and 62 Strats.
Correct - plus limited supply.

Some people go SO nuts over certain boutique items it seems silly - but mostly to those born after 1980 or so.

Us baby-boomers born shortly after WWII seem to be the ones driving the high quality/low production/good durability market. And most of what drives prices up is internet forums, websites and the fact huge numbers of consumers are reached - there's a term for it:

Key Opinion Leader, or "KOL" marketing, i.e. folks who are experts and respected for their knowledge who "spread the word". It's a recent phenomenon that started in Japan, and has grown worldwide as communication has become easily available and "instant".

In the 1980's we had "bulletin boards" dedicated to particular subjects. Somebody gave you its phone number, and you used your phone's landline and a computer (in those days 90% were IBM-type PC's) with a modem - dialed it, and tied up your - and the bulletin board's - phone line while you read text-only posts and responded here and there...

Up until 1989/90 there was NO internet; no email; no text messaging. and information was obtained thru bulletin boards, magazines, phone calls and face-to-face talk at vintage guitar shows (which had started about that time), gigs and in music stores. I have an early "Vintage Price Guide" - from 1995. 96 pages. Excellent condition '57 Teles were $4-5000 (half that if refinished); a '59 Gibson 'Burst with moderate flame was $22-25,000(well over 10 times that now!).

!n 2002 Mur gave me a $250 Klon Centaur (with box, instructions, special AC adapter) for my 50th birthday. He hates me now 'cause I still use it and have the "candy".:lol:

And we "met" here! The TDPRI was a one-page forum with about 50 truly active members, and a part-time administrator/moderator/owner of one - Paul Green. And a small number of boutique products that were *really* good and/or used by "stars".

We had dedicated services like America Online and Compuserve - but they were still dialup and charged by the hour (or minute). It was very difficult to connect with others far away or get information about products unless they had a huge advertising reserve...or were SO good rumors simply passed from state to state and across the ocean. But slow as molasses.

So 25 years ago there was a very small boutique/vintage market because information and audio examples were difficult - if not impossible - to find. "Boomers" were just starting to spend money on gear they used to have or wanted as teenagers -

- and things they heard about through the rumor mill: gear like Klons, Dumbles, Trainwrecks, prewar Martins, Pre-CBS Fenders etc. And in those days you could find them cheap IF you knew where to look - specialty dvertising newspapaers and such (we'd be waiting on a corner at 5 am on Thursday mornings to get the weekly Recycler classifieds in LA, finding a brown Princeton for $175...bf Vibroverb for $200..."Old Fender guitar - $125"(a '68 Tele with stripped finish)...Leslie 16, $75 - broken, no sound coming out the front, with a bunch of wires and switches" with some sellers ticked off when you called at 7 am; others happy to sell "old junk". Those aren't made up examples either.

Then in 2008 the economy crashed, most gear values dropped by 30-50%, and only started to climb back up in 2010 - TWELVE years ago. So younger players are often baffled by pricing of "special" vintage gear. ANY vintage or weird gear. $7,000 for a freaking overdrive pedal? Yeah - but there's NOTHING that does what it does except the red one.....

Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to give a bit of perspective - and there's a LOT more. But at least this may give a few players a little more understanding of how quickly the whole guitar universe has grown.

And Dumble essentially stopped making guitar amps about 15 years ago. He was occasionally modding amps for big names and made a handful of amps for them - but not the "general public", and would only service them when contacted by a few west coast techs he knew - and that stopped a few years ago. Hence the demand for the existing ones.
 
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bigbean

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The first time I caught a whiff of HAD's work was when I heard a recording of Lowell George in his prime and thought. That slide sounds great! How do you get that sound? Some kind of hot wired strat through a Dumble is how. I have never and likely will never play through a Dumble amp. Even if I did it wouldn't matter. His best works were individual designs done for individual players. The only person who can do a similar sort of work to HAD today is DR. Z.

This made his work totally different than what other quite good people were doing at the time.

Great designers like Dick Denney, Paul Rivera and Randall Smith were making great amps but their approach was completely different. They sort of said "Here is a the best amp I can make. "Take it and figure out how to play through it." "I'll go make some more of them." His peak output is said to be four a year.

There are only a handful of top notch guitar amp designers starting with Leo Fender. Everett Hull, Dick Denney, Jim Marshall, Norm Sundholm, Jeff Bobar, Hartley Peavey, Randal Smith, Paul Rivera, Ken Fischer and Mike Zaite. They are all influential and have some importance in the development of guitar amps.

Mr. Dumble was an artist not an engineer. He wasn't in the amp business he was a creator of amps.

Lowell with Dumble.jpg
 
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Matt Sarad

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Maribeth shares:

Howard Alexander Dumble
Rest In Sweet Peace...
Oh so many memories! He was my date for my senior grad night 1969. Days of sitting on a bench watching him tinker with amps in the garage at his parents home. Taking trips to LA. His family and mine were very close and spent some wonderful times together. Back in the day Howard played guitar in a band called The Epics. He also did gigs with Buffy Saint- Marie and brought me one of her scarfs he was gifted with. He graduated from EB and was on the wrestling team there. Later on he became well known for Dumble Amplifiers. A few musicians who used his amps were Carlos Santana Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jackson Browne, Lowell George. But to me he was just that fun and loveable friend who I will always hold dear to my heart.
The photo was taken back in 1968. We were our way to Santa Cruz.
My brother John took the photo of us, while Howard was taking a photo of him. My dog Ocean sitting in the passenger seat. <3
 

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telemnemonics

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Funny, today thinking about Howard all day and playing my crappy Dumble clone made by a hobby builder, Lowell popped into my head as yet another very imprinted guitar sound from my early guitar playing and thinking in terms of sound.
I didn't know Lowell played Dumble until I just read @bigbean mention it, but the sound of the Dumble SSS seems to me to be a very distinct sound.

For that matter last night when i first read the sad news and started posting clips of Dumble sounds for the sake of those who might no be familiar, @loudboy posted the Seger clip of Vito playing Dumble and again!
There's that damn searing incredible tone that's been in my head since I guess my teens?
Didn't know Seger had a Dumble in his band either.

It's really funny too though, the pop fanzine news list of famous players who used Howards amps are to me the least significant users of those amps, just because they seem to me to have been looking more for a custom made superb versatile amp.
Ho effing hum.

While I'm more of a too many notes player for reasons I cannot identify, in my heart I want to make my guitar into my voice.
The best users of the best examples of Dumbles best work to me do that.
If not for them, I might have thought Clapton and Hendrix was all there was for approaches to the instrument as voice.
I'm not even a slide player but I do use various techniques to get that intended sort of searing vocalism.

And play too many notes that don't really mean a whole lot...
 

ravindave_3600

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Ok Bill Gates. 😀 I said it was a lot for me as a 20 year old struggling musician eating pizza for dinner. Did most musicians drop that much money on an amp back then? Maybe they did but people I played with sure weren’t. And a 62 strat could be had for $2500 or so.
When you’re 20, everybody is scratching for a living (except maybe George Harrison) and buying anything decent is a stretch. MOST musicians then or now won't spend the cost of an entry-level car on a piece of gear but that doesn't mean someone with a halfway-decent job couldn't. So, my point was just they were expensive but not Ferrari (or even BMW) (or even Buick) expensive.

Love,
Bill
 

Esquire Jones

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When you’re 20, everybody is scratching for a living (except maybe George Harrison) and buying anything decent is a stretch. MOST musicians then or now won't spend the cost of an entry-level car on a piece of gear but that doesn't mean someone with a halfway-decent job couldn't. So, my point was just they were expensive but not Ferrari (or even BMW) (or even Buick) expensive.

Love,
Bill
I hear you man. I was thinking about some of the gear I had back then.

For instance, a 72 Twin Reverb for $350. Blackface Bassman head for $150. Marshall JCM 800 head for $450. 57 Fender P-bass $1100. 68 tele $650. 75 Strat for $500. My bass player bro bought his 68 Jazz Bass for $500.

My rent/room was $160 in Boston. On the other hand my cars were usually around $500! 😆😆😆
 

telemnemonics

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When you’re 20, everybody is scratching for a living (except maybe George Harrison) and buying anything decent is a stretch. MOST musicians then or now won't spend the cost of an entry-level car on a piece of gear but that doesn't mean someone with a halfway-decent job couldn't. So, my point was just they were expensive but not Ferrari (or even BMW) (or even Buick) expensive.

Love,
Bill

I hear you man. I was thinking about some of the gear I had back then.

For instance, a 72 Twin Reverb for $350. Blackface Bassman head for $150. Marshall JCM 800 head for $450. 57 Fender P-bass $1100. 68 tele $650. 75 Strat for $500. My bass player bro bought his 68 Jazz Bass for $500.

My rent/room was $160 in Boston. On the other hand my cars were usually around $500! 😆😆😆
We do have the old standard definition of guitar player:

Individual who loads $5000 worth of equipment into a $500 car to go play a $50 gig.
 

Phrygian77

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There are only a handful of top notch guitar amp designers starting with Leo Fender. Everett Hull, Dick Denney, Jim Marshall, Norm Sundholm, Jeff Bobar, Hartley Peavey, Randal Smith, Paul Rivera, Ken Fischer and Mike Zaite. They are all influential and have some importance in the development of guitar amps.

Hello? David Reeves?
 

Lawdawg

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Thanks @Silverface for a fantastic post! I'm a generation behind you, but am old enough to have witnessed firsthand the impact of the internet on gear prices.

I was a keyboardist before I picked up guitar, and saw the same thing happen with vintage synth gear. When digital synths and samplers became widely available in the mid to late 80s everyone and their brother was dumping their 'outdated' analog Moogs, Roland Jupiters, Prophets, and Obies. There was a short time in the late 80s to early 90s when you could find a used Jupiter 8, Prophet V, OB-8, or Minimoog for pennies on the dollar. Starting in the late 90s, however, prices started to skyrocket. Part of the increase was due to changing music tastes and the fact that there were very few new analog synths available. That said, I don't think you can understate the impact eBay had on increasing used gear prices. Before eBay a local mom and pop music store or pawn shop wouldn't necessarily know the demand or value of an old analog synth. Compared to a flashy new digital synth, an old OB-Xa looked absolutely primitive. Once eBay created a nationwide market for buying and selling used gear, prices exploded and the small local stores quickly learned how to accurately price their used vintage gear.

Anyway, back OT, from the perspective of a collector (not me personally) I can certainly understand why some wealthy folks are willing to pay insane prices for rare music gear like a Dumble amp. From a player's perspective, however, I don't get the appeal of an amp that's been uniquely tailored and built for someone else. Beyond my negligible skill as a player, there's a more than decent chance that I wouldn't necessarily like the way I sounded through any random Dumble.
 




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