Howard Alexander Dumble, legendary designer of Dumble Amps, has died

Howard Alexander Dumble
(Image credit: Orianthi/Facebook)

Celebrated amp builder Howard Alexander Dumble, the man behind the revered Dumble guitar amps, has passed away.

The news was confirmed today (January 18) on Dumble’s official Instagram account in a statement that read, “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Howard.

“His work brought joy and inspiration to countless musicians and engineers,” it continued. “May he Rest in Peace.”

Dumble’s legacy will undoubtedly portray him as one of the most iconic amp builders of all time, having forged a career that saw him build amps for the likes of John Mayer, Robben Ford, Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton.

Noted for their ultra-responsive character – thought by many to be the most responsive amps on the market – and celebrated for the personal approach that influenced their design, Dumble amps are among some of the most highly regarded, sought-after amps of the modern era.

The Dumbleland, Overdrive Special and Steel String Singer are arguably Dumble’s three most well-known – and rarest – models, though amps such as the Phoenix and Dumbleator were also personally designed by the mythical gear maker at various points across his career.

Dumble started officially producing amps in the mid-’60s, and by the end of the ‘70s his client list boasted the likes of David Lindley, Jackson Browne, Lowell George and Bonnie Raitt. Dumble’s clientele would expand exponentially over the next decade, and soon featured Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robben Ford.

In fact, it was his friendship with Ford that ultimately inspired the creation of the two-channel Overdrive Special. Speaking to MusicRadar in 2017, Ford said Dumble “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”.

“I’ve always been very proud of that,” he added. “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.”

In recent times, his amps have been used by the likes of John Mayer and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the latter of whom responded to the news of Dumble’s passing by saying, “He was a bona fide genius and I don’t use that term lightly."

Shepherd – who hides Dumble circuits in his Fender cabinets – spoke to Total Guitar last year about Howard's ingenuity, and said it was the designer's surgical approach to tone-tweaking that made Dumble amps so great.

"He has got these amplifiers built to specifically respond to the way that I play, so they effortlessly do the things that I am intending them to do," Shepherd observed. "Like, I want a certain sound to come from it and I want it to feedback on a certain note, it just does it instead of me really having to try and manipulate it out of the amp.

"And I think that’s why in the early days you had that whole thing about when [Dumble] built people amplifiers he wouldn’t want people to sell them because that amplifier was built around that specific person’s style of playing. It was intended for that guy to play it.

"I go to his house and I sit for hours and hours and he just listens to me play. And he plugs me in to a variety of amps and he listens to what I am trying to get out of the amplifier; he closes his eyes and hears the way that I am playing it, and he anticipates what it is I am trying to get the amp to do, and then he goes and builds an amp around that.”

Of his amp-making philosophy, Dumble once told Guitar Player in a rare interview, “I try to be flexible. I've always been aware that whatever I make has to be crafted with the best intentions. Never have anything shoddy. 

“Always make sure that it works and looks perfect,” he continued, “The actual techniques I use to get the sound that I go after have evolved extensively. It's a growing process. That's the toughest thing about staying with one thing. You're always thinking of new ways to do it."

Orianthi and Joe Bonamassa were among the first to pay tribute on social media in the wake of Dumble's passing.

“RIP Alexander Dumble,” wrote Orianthi. “[It] was an honor to know him. First time I met him was when I was 18. I was invited to his house a few years back and he showed me a lot of his collection, including the first amp he ever built that he let me play through. What a legend.” 

JoBo, meanwhile, posted "Rest in Peace Alexander", and called Dumble "a genius and a one of a kind".

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.