"A guy named Alexander Dumble made the amps": Andrew Watt reveals the gear behind Pearl Jam's new album

Rory Gallaghers Tweed Twin amp
(Image credit: Future)

Pearl Jam's new album Dark Matter sees the band members going back to their early days of writing and creating together in a room – and much of that has to do with producer and fan Andew Watt encouraging it. But there's another way this album is different from Pearl Jam's recent albums, or indeed any of them; Stone Gossard and Mike McCready didn't bring any guitar gear to the studio with them. 

But they really didn't need to when it came to tube amps.

"A guy named Alexander Dumble made the amps," Watt told Spin of what was waiting for them during the two album sessions that took part in two locations after Watt's own LA studio flooded after their first get-together. "He was a very strange guy who unfortunately passed away in 2022. He made Stevie Ray Vaughan’s amps and countless others."

He would refuse to build them for a lot of people

That name will not be new to many guitar players, Dumble's amps and mods are the stuff of legend and fetch high resale prices in our world – with Jason Isbell joining the Dumble club last year. But Watt didn't just acquire his Dumble-modded Fender amps on the used market – he was one of the select group of players Dumble acceded to complete multiple commissions for. 

"He would refuse to build them for a lot of people but for whatever reason, he agreed to make four for me," Watt reveals. "They’re all ‘50s Fender mods: a Vibrolux, a Champ, a Deluxe and a High Powered Tweed Twin. 

It's the latter amp that's Watt's own favourite and in the Guitar Center interview above, Watt details how Kirk Hammett turned him on to Fender High Powered Tweed Twins. 

"He told me how in the '50s those amps were the amps that Jim Marshall got and built the Marshall circuit off of. So I always wanted to get one and after we made a few albums I was finally able to afford one and I got a 1958 High Powered Tweed Twin."

It was then that Metallica producer Bob Rock introduced him to Alexander Dumble.

I have Marshalls, Fenders, Voxes, Oranges, Supros – all different kinds of amps. But since the day we got this amp I've not plugged into anything else

"I got to go over to him and it was right after I bought this amp, do I brought it over there, because he famously does these Fender mods. And he made me four amps but he took this '58 High Powered Tweed Twin and he did this thing to I, and he will never tell you want he does to it, but you sit there and play through it. He listens to the amp, you play low, you play loud and he watches your hands and he kind of gets you and tweaks the amp to you. 

"I have Marshalls, Fenders, Voxes, Oranges, Supros – all different kinds of amps. But since the day we got this amp I've not plugged into anything else. It's literally the only amp we use now. " 

If the timelines are correct, Watt may have been one of Dumble's last customers before he passed away in early 2022. 

The producer –  who is also credited as a writer and performer on Dark Matter alongside touring member Josh Klinghoffer – has some jaw-dropping gear, as the video above showcases. He extended his collection to Pearl Jam's bassist Jeff Ament

"Jeff played through a Fender Bassman," he confirms to Spin. "We plugged Stone into a Les Paul and a Strat again. Mike played all old Strats and a 1959 Les Paul. Jeff was laughing because he said, 'No producer ever wants me to play my 12-string. And I was like, play the 12-string! Can you play Jeremy on that for me? He wrote the main riff for ‘Dark Matter’ on a 12-string."

You don’t really know what you’re doing or how something should be arranged unless you can sit down and play it as a song

The two album's sessions were a whole 18 months apart due to Pearl Jam's touring and Watt's intense schedule (he went from working on The Rolling Stones' Hackney Diamonds to Dark Matter two days later) with the second half completed at Rick Rubin's Shangri-La studios. And when Watt digs into his working methods as a producer, we begin to see why he's in such high demand – essentially he's a musician who produces, and musicians appreciate that.

"On every record I ever make, whether I’m playing on it or not, I know how to play the song, because I need to be inside it in order to know what’s right for it," Watt tells Spin. "I started out playing in bands, so you don’t really know what you’re doing or how something should be arranged unless you can sit down and play it as a song."

But Watt also played an active role in inspiring Dark Matter's standout track Waiting For Stevie. A song that echoes Pearl Jam's younger days sonically and in Vedder's emotional reach, while also recalling Soundgarden's hypnotic mid-tempo songs like Mind Riot but also the day Watt and singer Vedder were waiting for Stevie Wonder to turn up to play harmonica on a song called Try from the Pearl Jam singer's 2022 solo album, Earthling, that Watt also produced. 

"We were sitting around with guitars and waiting, and I said, I have this idea, check it out," remembers Watt of the riff. [Eddie] says, 'That is so fucking weird, because I’ve had this riff for literally years — since albums and albums and albums and albums ago'. He showed it to me, and it was almost exactly the same. So, they both kind of melded into each other. 

"We presented that to everyone in the first week, and they all wrote their parts and how the sections would move. It really only became a thing because the thing I showed Ed reminded him of something he’d written that was very similar. The drums on that song are fucking biblical to me. The Matt Cameron dirge! Matt is a pretty stoic guy [and was also Soundgarden's drummer]. He’s like Charlie Watts or something. I was screaming, go harder! Come on! It was like I was at one of their shows or something. At some point, he just had to laugh."


  • Read the whole interview at Spin
Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.