“The sound of this thing is really quite surprising”: Watch Robben Ford demo the 8W tube combo from the amp company that gives his Dumble a run for its money

Robben Ford
(Image credit: Will Ireland/Future)

Robben Ford is a one of the world’s great connoisseurs of tone, with an ear tuned for the finer things in life – Gibson Les Pauls, Paul Reed Smith signature guitars, custom electric guitar pickups and Dumble tube amps

So when he finds a guitar amp brand he says he is using “pretty exclusively” you can bet your bottom dollar it will sound exquisite.

Well, that brand is a boutique amp company named Little Walter Tube Amps, based out of North Carolina, and Ford recently shot a demo video showing what one of its studio-friendly eight-watt amps can do. As Ford explains in the video, he is using this compact combo as a practice amplifier – well, of course he is. We did say he was a connoisseur. 

“I’ve got an amplifier here that was built for me by my good friend Phil Bradbury of Little Walter Amplifiers, and I am using his amps pretty exclusively now,” he says. “I am currently living in London and I didn’t really have a good practice amp so he sent this to me all the way from North Carolina. It’s called the Earl, and it is an eight-watt amplifier. He has a single 12 in here for me.”

As Ford explains, the Earl does not typically come in a combo format. As with most of the Little Walter range, it’s a head, a small-format sibling to the 6V6-driven Hipster. 

Bradbury designed the Earl as a recording amplifier, because as we all know there is nothing quite like turning up the heat on a small tube amp to make an electric guitar tone pop on a record. Ask anyone who has used a Fender Champ in a session. 

But it has also been voiced to be similarly accommodating your pedalboard. “This tiny powerhouse can be as clean as glass or as dirty as an overdrive pedal all from the tubes,” said Bradbury, in his introductory video for the Earl.

Under the hood, there is a single EL84 power tube, a 12AX7 in the preamp, and a 5Y3 rectifier. In the official demo video, with playing courtesy of local NC guitar ace Jerry Massengil, makes the head version sound every bit as sweet, the amp’s signal being sent through a Little Walter 112L speaker cabinet loaded with a 12” ToneSpeak Austin 1250 driver.

A few years back, Ford took receipt of a prototype for Bradbury’s Little Walter King Arthur, which despite being a compact 15-watt head is, as Ford put it, “loud as hell”, with an onboard boost for extra hot sauce.

Is it better than the Dumble? Well, that’s probably a comparison of apples and oranges. But there is not question it is smoking. 

What we are saying here is that this could be the start of something big. The legend of Alexander Dumble’s amplifiers can be traced all the way back to Ford. 

Dumble first got the idea for the Overdrive Special after watching Ford play through a ‘60s “piggyback” Fender Bassman and cabinet. It would take 10 years but eventually Ford would finally get his hands on an Overdrive Special himself, and the rest is history. Is history about to repeat itself with Little Walter Tube Amps?

You can check out Bradbury's creations at Little Walter Tube Amps.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.