One of the coolest things about shopping on eBay is how you can find so many thriving subcultures. Take, for example, the world of live music and the instruments and gadgets used to create it. Today’s listing for a DUMBLE OVERDRIVE SPECIAL FULL-RIG ‘Estate Items in Mint Condition’ is a prime example. It sounds like something Albus Dumbledore might use to transport wizardry students to Hogwarts in time. The image of the item is not much more illuminating:
Perhaps Dumbledore uses this contraption to heat up his lunch at Hogwarts. It’s difficult to determine what makes unassuming box so intriguing. Thank goodness, then, for the seller’s incredibly detailed listing description, which provides a glimmer of comprehension regarding how this understated item has garnered six bids and a current high bid of $50,100.
Our story opens thusly:
“Long Ago in the 1970-1980′s –[Howard] Dumble and Epstein both lived in Santa Cruz. Dumble owned a Music Electronics Shop that specialized exclusively in up-grading musical electronics. Epstein played Rock and Roll, Jazz and Blues here in Santa Cruz. Epstein probably had every Dumble Modification possible for his Vintage ’62 Fender Bassman…
Epstein, verging on a come-back in 1993-94, visited Dumble several times at his Music Electronics Shop in LA – as this Overdrive Special Rig was being created. Epstein’s side-agreement with Dumble: Epstein would become ‘Famous’ and help promote the Dumble Overdrive Special at guitar shows.”
What you really need to know is that Guitar Player Magazine listed the Dumble Overdrive Special as one of the world’s most expensive vintage amps. Does that mean they are worth the price? Fortunately, the listing goes on to quote a 1985 article by Dan Forte (published in Guitar Player) discussing the appeal of this piece of equipment:
“Jackson Brown is wandering the back stage caverns of San Francisco’s Cow Palace looking a bit worried. ‘Where’s Lindley?’ he asks his road manager…’We’re onstage in 15 minutes!’
A door at the end of the hallway is seeming blasted open by a torrent of beefy sustained lap steel licks. Inside, Lindley is squatting precariously, his Hawaiian guitar balanced on his knees. Crunching chords and crystal-clear single notes pour out of a crude-looking amplifier about a foot in front of his face.
‘I want this one, Howard,’ David says to a large man who is smiling like a proud father. ‘Not this model, not one like this, but this one, OK?’
‘It’s just a prototype,’ Howard Dumble points out.
Lindley got his wish. The seller adds, “This Dumble Rig is perfect for a Musician who wants glassy tone with powerful electronic amplification.”
But it isn’t sound alone that makes this equipment deliver. Improvisational guitarist and composer Henry Kaiser was also quoted in the Guitar Player article and said, “”Number one, you could drop the thing out of a four-story building, replace any tubes that break, and it’ll work fine. It does appear to be the most durably built amp possible.” The Superman of amps, if you will, so keep your Kryptonite locked up.
Kaiser also provides a sophisticated analysis of why this amp captured his heart. “…it seems to me that Howard, through a long intuitive working process, tunes the amps and designs by ear so that they’re very sophisticated machines for producing a wide variety of tones and distortion colorations. Because of my specific avant-garde bent, I’m really interested in tone and timbre, and I need to have a really wide palette of tonal color available to me, and I’ve got about four times as many colors available on the Dumble. Any other amp sounds awful to me.”
With this kind of durability and quality, it’s no wonder the seller makes the assessment that the amp is in mint condition. Indeed, he describes the equipment as “All like new. Stored in Original Road Cases ~ The grey road cases are like-new, each road case has the name Todd Epstein and his contact information stenciled in white on the outside.”
Other famous musicians have clearly been wooed by the sound a Dumble Overdrive produces. Among the artists who have used the brand are Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ry Cooder, Tiran Porter, and the Beach Boys.
The listing and the article included therein are worth a full read, but steel yourself for one of the passages in the story, and remind yourself that it was printed in 1985:
“In spite of their steep price tags–a standard 100-watt overdrive head sells for $1,925.00; the Steel-String Singer and Dumbleland each go for $5000.00 before options–Dumbles are always in demand, and Howard has his hands full keeping up with orders.”
That’s right, the asking price for the Dumble amp has gone from 5K to 50K in a matter of decades. If only eBay sold time machines.