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Celebrated amp designer Howard Alexander Dumble passes away

Dumble
(Image credit: Orianthi / Facebook )

The acclaimed guitar amplifier designer and builder Howard Alexander Dumble has reportedly passed away. The news was confirmed earlier today
(18 January) on the Dumble Amps Instagram account.

"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing on Howard," the post reads. "His work brought joy and inspiration to countless musicians and engineers."

There is no doubt Dumble will be remembered as one of the greatest boutique guitar amp engineers of all time, known for his highly-respected personalised design process. The engineer's most famed two-channel Overdrive Special and single-channel Steel String Singer designs remain some of the most sought-after guitar gear on the planet. 

An accomplished guitarist in his own right, Dumble tailored his highly responsive amplifiers to the specific player he made them for, meaning each has unique characteristics. Alexander began building amps in the first half of the 1960s and through largely word of mouth he'd built them for guitarists including Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Lowell George and Bonnie Raitt by the close of the '70s.

In the 1980s his customers included Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robben Ford – the latter forged a strong bond with Dumble that would result in the creation of the Overdrive Special. 

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"He told me he’d got the idea to build the Overdrive Special from listening to me play through a '60s piggyback Fender Bassman and cabinet," Ford revealed in 2017. " I’ve always been very proud of that. I think it might have something to do with the really warm relationship we both have. I consider him a really close friend; I mean, like family.”

Such was Dumble's unique process, it's said that players would often have to wait for the call from the designer or his representatives if he was willing to work on an amp for them. And a player who forged a working relationship with Dumble in later years was bluesman Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

“The key word is inspiration," Shepherd told us in 2017 of why the Dumble Amps reputation is justified. I’m not speaking to you as a person who has bought into some hype. I’m speaking to you as a person who has legitimate experience before and after. Quite literally, those amps, the point behind the amps that he has built for me and what they do is inspiring. It’s inspiring me to play new things. Inspiring me to take different avenues and create new sounds. The way that he goes about doing that is what you’ve probably heard. I mean, he literally tailor-makes the amp around the musician’s style of playing and approach. 

This ability was honed over hours with a player, as Shepherd explained.

He’s built it around my style of playing. In theory, if anyone else was to be playing through my amp, it naturally would not necessarily respond the way that it was intended to because it’s a different person playing

Kenny Wayne Sherpherd

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“I would go over. I see him on a really regular basis," he continued. "I’ll sit around and we’ll hang out. I’ll sit around just like this, me and you, and be playing guitar for hours and hours. The whole time he’s listening. He’s got great ears. I mean, obviously. He hears how a person plays. He knows what it is that I’m trying to get out of the amplifier. He hears how hard I play, the attack that I use, the touch. All of it. You can tell his mind is working the whole time. He’s just listening.

“Then he goes and he works on the amp. Then you come back, you play it again and we see how it’s responding. Then he further refines it if necessary. Usually, in my experience, it’s not been necessary. I go back. I plug in the first time and it’s right, which I think is one of the reasons why he’s always been adamant that those amps that he builds are for that person. He’s built it around my style of playing. In theory, if anyone else was to be playing through my amp, it naturally would not necessarily respond the way that it was intended to because it’s a different person playing.”

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Dumble

(Image credit: Future)

Dumble Overdrive Special: we plug in to one of the world's most sought-after guitar amps

For Carlos Santana, Dumble was the end of his tone quest. "I have everything that I need," he told us in 2015. "I have Dumble amplifiers, I have a relationship with Mr Alexander Dumble. I stopped looking because I have found everything."

When we spoke to Dumble amp owner Jason Isbell last year he remarked on the relationship his friend and producer Dave Cobb had with the late amp designer and what he believed to be Dumble's greatest gift. 

"Dave told me that when he went to his shop and saw his wall of components, it’s all stuff you can get at Radio Shack or your local electronics store," remarked Isbell. "[The tone] isn’t coming from the individual components, it’s all down to how Dumble hears your playing. He puts it all together as a cocktail of incredibly simple ingredients that work incredibly well!"

Australian guitarists Orianthi was one of the first musicians to play tribute to Dumble following news of his passing. 

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