Dumble for Less: Affordable Ways To Get That Golden Amp Tone

Alongside Burst-era Les Pauls and pre-CBS Strats, Dumble amps rank amongst the most highly sought-after pieces of gear in the world. Every Dumble amp was hand-built by the late Alexander Dumble himself in California, and only around 300 amps were made in total. They’re highly revered and usually sell for five or six figures.

There are a few Dumble amp models—most notably, the Overdrive Special—though each one was custom-built for a particular customer. Famous Dumble users include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Larry Carlton, John Mayer, Joe Bonamassa, Robben Ford, and more. As a result, the sound of every Dumble may differ slightly, so when we’re talking about the sound of Dumble amps, we’re having to make some pretty sweeping statements.

'80s dumble overdrive special
1980s Dumble Overdrive Special

So, what is the Dumble sound? Generally, Dumbles are supremely versatile, boasting some of the best clean and distorted tones that players have ever heard. The cleans are huge and full-sounding with lots of warm bass as well as sparkly top end. They have an incredible dynamic range, are super responsive, and are loud. Models like the Steel String Singer are known to have a ton of clean headroom too; most of these were made before the wide use of in-ear monitors so a loud amp was great for on-stage monitoring.

The distorted sound on Dumble amps, particularly the Overdrive Special, is claimed by some players to be the best there is. You can get a good amount of gain from it, but it always remains incredibly clear, with superb note definition. The drive is smooth, thick, and rich, with plenty of sustain and no harshness. Some claim that the sound can be almost violin-like. It’s usually quite mid-rich, but in a different way to a Marshall.

Though I’ve never played through a Dumble, I did speak to producer Tom Peters from Trapdoor Studios in Liverpool who has played through serial number 0128. He noted that the clean channel was incredibly dynamic and sweet and sounded like a really good clean amp, with a lovely transparent gain stage in front of it. He also mentioned the lower-mid hump that makes it such a good amp for lead guitar.

So, they’re good amps, but do they justify the massive price tag? People with that kind of money may argue that they are. One train of thought is that Dumble amps allowed the likes of SRV, Larry Carlton, etc. to truly sound like themselves. With the transparency and nothing to hide behind, these amps helped showcase the talent that these players had/have. And, as Rhett Shull puts it, if Jim Marshall had only made 300 amps, would we see old Plexis going for the same kind of money?

With the price tags on authentic models so high, players and manufacturers alike have sought to recreate the Dumble sound for more affordable prices. There are a number of ways to do it—some cheaper and some more expensive, with varying levels of accuracy. There are direct Dumble amp clones, and there are amp-in-a-box style pedals.

Amplified Nation Overdrive Reverb

Amplified Nation Bombshell Overdrive
Amplified Nation Overdrive Reverb

Amplified Nation make a number of different D-style clones, and the Overdrive Reverb is one of their newer designs. They do make other amps that might be more accurate versions of particular Dumbles. Their Bombshell Overdrive aims to recreate the sound and feel of an Overdrive Special, and the Steel String Sultan is fairly obvious, but this amp does a great all-around job of giving you a beautiful, full, and dynamic clean tone, as well as rich, thick overdriven tones. Expect a ton of clarity and incredible response and touch sensitivity.

The control panel is laid out in a similar way to a Dumble too: you’ve got the Bright, Deep and Rock/Jazz switches, before the EQ section. There are also Normal and FET inputs, as you’d get on a Dumble. There’s also an on-board, tube-powered spring reverb that allows you to dial in both the depth and level.

Of course, this isn’t a cheap option; it will set you back a few grand, but that’s a fraction of the cost of an actual Dumble, and it really does provide you with an incredible D-style amplifier.

Fuchs ODS Classic

Fuchs ODS Classic Amplifier Head
Fuchs ODS Classic Combo

The Fuchs ODS Classic wasn’t designed to be an exact copy of a Dumble, but in fact an improvement upon it. It's a really versatile amp, with a ton of EQ controls and slightly different gain structure to an Overdrive Special but still gets you really close to the legendary tone.

Andy Fuchs made Dumble clones in the mid-'90s but, wanting to make an amp that was more usable and by listening to feedback from players, he gradually made a few changes. What we have with the Fuchs ODS Classic is a twin channel amp that gives you all the warm, full clean tones alongside a blistering distortion channel that’s rich and dirty but still with lots of clarity. It also features an onboard analog reverb and built-in effects loop.

But with a number of push/pull pots, as well as the usual D-style switches, you’ve got more control over what your EQ does, so you can get more old-school black panel Fender amp tones, as well as what we know as the Dumble sound.

Again, these aren’t cheap by any means, but they’re made to a great standard and they give you that Dumble sound and more. There’s also the Fuchs Blackjack amp, which is like a stripped-down ODS without as many EQ options and a digital reverb.

J. Rockett The Dude

J. Rockett The Dude

J. Rockett's The Dude effect pedal is one of the most popular ways of getting the Dumble overdrive sound for less. With a simple control panel and rugged construction, this compact amp-in-a-box gives you rich, smooth and clear gain with lots of overtones and responds beautifully to your touch.

Each of the four knobs allows for a lot of customization with your tone. Every little turn does something slightly different to your sound and is great to use with different guitars and tunings into different pickups. It’s a great always-on pedal—roll back on your guitar to clean your sound up, and stick a boost in front of it more for hair.

Van Weelden Royal Overdrive

Van Weelden Royal Overdrive

With it being made by someone that has built a number of Dumble amp clones, you’d expect the Van Weelden Royal Overdrive pedal to do a decent job of replicating that particular sound, and it does.

Two tone-shaping switches allow you to tune the pedal in so that it works well with any guitar and any amp. Regardless of the setup you’re using alongside the pedal, it’s easy to dial in a beautiful, smooth overdrive with notes that bloom under your fingers. Like a good tube amp, there’s a lot of responsiveness to your playing, and notes remain clear even with the gain cranked. It’s nice having the mid-boost footswitch as well, for when you want to cut through the mix during a solo.

It does the Dumble thing really well, but it’s also got a little more up its sleeve. These pedals can be hard to get hold of—and it’s definitely not cheap—but with more than 400 components inside, you can see why.

Shin’s Music Dumbloid ODS

Shin’s Music Dumbloid ODS

Shin's Music Dumbloid ODS is a super simple, really well-made, and incredible-sounding Overdrive Special-style pedal. It’s got controls for drive, accent, tone, and volume—making even just small adjustments on these alters the tone in a really pleasing way. Then there’s the familiar rock/jazz switch: choosing the latter rolls off some tone for a slightly darker, mellower sound.

It’s an overdrive pedal, so stick it in front of a clean amp, and it will do the second channel of an ODS really well. But when you take the gain down on the pedal, it can also do a really nice, slightly boosted clean tone, so it’s not a one trick pony.

Positive Grid Spark

Positive Grid Spark 40
Positive Grid BIAS Guitar/Bass Head

It’s a wildly different approach to buying a tube amp for five or six figures, but going down the digital route might be one of the best ways of getting the Dumble sound for less.

The Positive Grid Spark gives you loads of different sounds and amp models, but in 2021, they released a firmware update that included a Dumble preset. It’s mostly a clean preset, but in the same firmware update, you get a Klon Centaur emulation and the two play really well together.

You can spend more on the Positive Grid BIAS desktop amp, which does give you some more refined sounds, but this little practice amp is a great bit of kit and can give you some really cool D-style clean sounds.

Custom Tones Ethos Overdrive

Custom Tones Ethos Overdrive

The Custom Tones Ethos Overdrive is one of the most feature-laden Dumble-style pedals there is, and with an emulated speaker output, it really is an amp in a box. It can do the lower-mid bump thing very well, and with all of its tone shaping controls, you can really dial in the sound you’re after.

It can be used alongside an amp or instead of one, feeding a powered speaker cabinet or going straight to front of house. The control panel will be slightly familiar to those already accustomed to Dumble-style amps. It’s got all the various EQ switches that help you dial in the right sound for particular pickups, alongside gain, volume, presence, and a three-band EQ for each channel. This allows you to dial in your clean and distorted tones independently and switch between with ease.

There’s lots of clean headroom and it allows for a great deal of touch sensitivity, like what you’d get with a tube amp. It’s expensive for a pedal, but if you’re seeking the Dumble sound for less, then this is a great option. They also make a version of this with a built in 30W power amp.

Lovepedal Zendrive

Hermida Audio Zendrive
Lovepedal Zendrive

There are various different versions of the Zendrive, with popular models having been made by Hermida Audio and Lovepedal. Whilst there are variations between the pedals, the Lovepedal Zendrive is cheaper and still does a great job of giving you Dumble-style overdrive.

It’s lovely and dynamic, touch-responsive, and gives you that lovely, smooth, mid-rich overdrive that players love about some of the most famous Dumble amps. When famed Dumble-user Robben Ford can’t use the real thing live, he looks to a Zendrive (albeit the more expensive Hermida Audio offering) for his signature sound—not a bad endorsement!

MXR Shin-Juku Drive

MXR Shin-Juku Drive

The man behind Shin’s Music also worked with MXR to create the Shin-Juku Drive pedal. Shin Shuzuki knows Dumble amps really well and was probably one of the best people possible to collaborate on this pedal. The result is a versatile tube amp-like overdrive pedal that is very touch-sensitive, and plays really well with your guitar’s volume and tone controls as well as other other pedals.

Like with the jazz/rock switch on a Dumble amp, the Shin-Juku Drive has a Dark button that, when engaged, allows for a mellower, thicker, and bassier overdrive sound. Like the rest of the MXR stuff around, this pedal is built really well, and doesn’t take up too much space on a board.

Honorable Mention: An EQ and a Boost Pedal

Boss GE-7 Equalizer
Boss BD-2 Blues Driver

If you don’t want to go for a specifically Dumble-style pedal, you can actually get a fair bit of the way there with pretty much any EQ and overdrive pedal. A lot of what people associate with the Dumble sound is in the EQ, so if you get something like a Boss GE-7 and set it right, with plenty of mid-range frequencies, and run that into a vintage-style overdrive (a Boss Blues Driver will do the trick), then you can get great results that way.

By setting the gain right and getting the mids to compress more than other frequencies, most untrained (and some trained) ears would struggle to tell much difference. Is it as refined as paying 100k for a genuine Dumble? Probably not, but it’s a whole lot more realistic. And, if that’s the sound you’re going for, it still lets you sound like you—which is all we’re really after isn’t it?

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