Welcome back to Analyzing the Hype, a series in which we look at some coveted pieces of old school gear and we look into why they became so damn popular, and what is out there that can get you some of that sound. Today; the Dumble Overdrive Special (or ODS, if we’re friends).

Alexander Howard Dumble began modding amps in about 1963, and he modded and built amplifiers until he retired in the late 1990’s. He developed a good number of different amplifiers and amp accessories, but his most notable creation was the lauded Overdrive Special. But, just what made this amp so special? Well, time to investigate.

The History

Not much is known about when exactly the first Overdrive Special was built, but it is reasonable to believe that it was produced sometime in the early 1970’s. The Overdrive Special was one of the first amplifiers to be designed as a twin channel circuit, and it provided players with both clean and dirty sounds without having to compromise the tone of one another.

The amp was based around a 6L6 power section, and it was available in 50, or 100 watt for (or 150, if you were very, very lucky). Dumble made these and his other amps until his eventual retirement, and Dumble production totaled around 350 units.

How many of the 350 or so were Overdrive Specials? Well, erm, uh, hmm…. ah, yeah, we don’t know. But, it seems to have been the most produced Dumble over Alexander’s career.

Why Is It So Hyped?

It’s probably better to ask why not isn’t it? The myth surrounding both the amp and the man is ridiculous, but here is a breakdown of the main reasons.

Firstly, the low production numbers make these super rare. Secondly, Alexander Dumble was a renowned recluse, not wanting any part of the limelight in any capacity.

This included his highly secretive nature over the circuit design, which included epoxying the circuit board so only he and he alone knew what was going on within the amp, and making the prospective buyer sign a security agreement that prohibited the amplifiers from being opened up or examined in any way, shape or form, and bound the amp to the original owner (although many players broke this agreement).

Then there was the way you had to acquire an amp. To go about getting one, you would have to request Dumble build you an amp, then, you would submit recordings of your music for him to listen to. Then if he liked what heard, he would build you an amp.

There was, however, some reason to this seemingly arbitrary and, quite frankly,  pretentious procedure. This was because Dumble would obsess over the amplifier, and would take months, if not years, to finish it, as Dumble would always voice the circuit for you, and you alone.

Lastly, there is the caliber of Dumble’s clientele. Even before you get into the luminaries that acquired second hand amps, Dumble built amps for players such as Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Lowell George, and Carlos Santana, to name but a few!

Now, with all these elements combined, is it any wonder that these amps routinely go for in excess of $50,000?

I think not.

Real World Options

Now, with all of the secrecy surrounding the amps, and the uniqueness of each individual amplifier, you’re never gonna get a Dumble sound, at least not a true one. But thankfully, due to people breaking the aforementioned security agreement, we have quite a few options that will deliver some similar results.

Firstly, if you want the whole hog and a full on Dumble inspired amplifier, the Fuchs Overdrive Supreme is probably the most sensible option in terms of availability and price, without having to delve into build it yourself territory. Fuchs do a number of configurations for the Overdrive Supreme, ranging from 20 watts, to 150 watts, and in both head and combo formats. This is still quite a costly option, as these amps can run to $4,000 upwards, depending on spec.

If, however, you like the amp you currently have, but want a true shot of Dumble OD sound into the chain, then the Van Weelden Royal Overdrive is probably the best option that you can get. This pedal is designed to work with any amp you throw at it (with the requisite amount of basic tweaking, of course) and has a full EQ, and both a switchable gain boost and foot-switchable mid boost. This is still an expensive option, especially for a pedal, as it runs at right around $800 new, but that’s still a damn sight less than an actual Overdrive Special.

Lastly, if you just want a really good approximation of the sound with the most basic controls, then the JRAD The Dude is probably the one to go for. With 4 controls, a pedalboard friendly size, and a pretty Dumble-esque sound, this is a great option for the average player who just wants a slice of the pie, and, at $200, it’s well within reach of most players.


Dumbles are quite possibly some of the most justifiably hyped pieces of gear out there. Hard to buy, hard to understand, limited number, expensive on the used market, and used by legendary artists. If you want to spend $50,000 on an amp, that’s totally your own business. If you don’t, well, as our alternatives showed… you don’t have to!

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This article written by community contributor John Waldock.

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