A Conversation with Dumbloid Designer, Shin Suzuki

The vast majority of people who know about the Dumble amplifier will never see one of them in person, much less play through one.

Produced by Alexander Dumble out of his shop in [somewhere, CA], only about 300 Dumbles are currently in circulation, with many of them designed custom for specific clients. Dumbles are not only scarce, but incredibly expensive. The few that have sold on Reverb fetch somewhere between $50,000 and $70,000.

And then there’s the Dumbloid, a Japanese overdrive and distortion pedal that meticulously recreates the Dumble sound. The Dumbloid is also itself scarce and incredibly expensive, often running upwards of $600 on the US used market.

The Dumbloid has earned its designer Shin Suzuki a cult following. Suzuki, in fact, has been Japan’s go–to Dumble amp technician since the 1990s. Working hands–on with many variations of the Dumble circuits has taught him a thing or two about the qualities that make these amps so desirable.

Demand for the Dumbloid let to MXR inviting Suzuki to design is Shin–Juku Drive and Suzuki has recently partnered with the Japanese distributor Moridaira to make his products more available to buyers in the United States and elsewhere.

I got the opportunity to visit Suzuki’s humble storefront and building facility in the north end of Tokyo. Shin was kind enough to answer some questions in his native Japanese (translated to English by Reverb contributor Craig Campbell) and happily showed off his most recent Dumbloid variation: a limited edition Psychedelic Tie–Dye version of his Overdrive Special, the pedal that has become ubiquitous on forums and in boutique effects circles as the most legitimate simulation of the Dumble sound.

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How did you first become involved in electronics and amp repair?

During the late ‘80s, I was working as a session musician playing guitar.

It was a time when equipment choices were scarce in Japan. It was hard to get the latest gear or vintage pedals from overseas. Yet, some producers demanded either the most modern or the most vintage sounds. What could we do?

I had made some stompboxes when I was a high school student, so I made one and plugged it in. Some other musicians heard it and wanted one, too. I started making custom equipment or modifying their amps or stompboxes. Then I started setting up their pedalboards, rack sound systems, and fixing their equipment. That’s how I got started.

When did you first encounter a Dumble amp, and what attracted you to it? How many have you worked on over the years?

Dumbloid Pedals

I think it was 1991. I plugged into two Dumble amps at Mr. Andy Brauer’s shop in California. Previously, I had heard the Dumble sound when seeing Larry Carlton and Robben Ford live. I still remember the feeling from that time.

When I hit the strings, there was an amazing sound that rang out. Not only super natural, but also a great first response. The sound of the raw string coming out of the amplifier just as it was. It was a wonderful, unforgettable experience.

I’ve worked on around eight to ten of the Dumbles here in Japan, probably half the total number of Dumbles here. I personally don’t own a Dumble because they’re very expensive — $50,000 or more here in Japan. I regret that I didn’t buy one at Andy’s shop. It was only $8,000 then!

What was your process like for developing the Dumbloid?

At first I tried to make about 15 different prototypes from over 30 circuit ideas, but none of them were what I wanted. I decided to do something else instead of general overdrive design, because the Dumble uses a unique idea that is not found in other amp circuits.

After about six months of trial and error, I finally created a good one. I hadn’t given up, and I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. The most difficult thing was to remember it’s a stompbox, and not a tube amp. That was the point, that’s all.

How many of your Dumbloid pedals are in circulation?

Well, the current group of pedals is a special edition celebrating 1,000 pedals, so about that many.

You’ve made a line of volume pedals. What did you find lacking in other volume pedals that made you decide to create your own?

I felt that it was very strange that on most volume pedals you can’t go from zero to fully up like the volume on a guitar. Other pedals didn’t really have the parts that I wanted to use, and the durability was poor. I felt like [their designers] were calculating the cost.

You recently collaborated with MXR on the Shin–Juku Drive. How did that come about?

It happens that their distributor here in Japan is also the company that handles my pedals. They were interested in my design, and I was interested in their products so we came to an agreement to work together.

What’s next on the horizon for Shin’s Music?

Well, I can’t reveal too much except to say that we always aim for a sound that makes everyone happy! Finally please let me say a word. If you use [the Dumbloid], you win.

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All photos by Effie Benjamin


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