Rarity is one of the factors that turn me on, but I don’t lust over any pedal just because it’s rare — I’ve never dished out $$$ on Klon or original Tube Screamer. It’s the sound that intrigues me first and foremost. The Dumble thing, though, is on my radar as a terrain to explore, mostly to see how that smoothness translates into my brand of rock/hard rock riffs — I’ve always found traditional tones for that sort of music to be buzzy, hairy, harsh, and unrefined. Yes, I want to rock and be refined at the same time!
Gaspedals Dumbbell, though, has been on my wish list for years because of the mystique and the internet hype. I’m delighted to get my hands on one finally. It wasn’t cheap, but I’m not disappointed. Let me share with you what I found.
Not much to tell you here. The pedal I have is v2 with 3 knobs — Volume, Tone and Gain. And two footswitches. One for on/off and the other for boost.
Well, what’s noteworthy here is the fact that Tone and Gain do virtually nothing. I can sit there strumming and turning the knob at the same time, and the difference I detect is subtle, or none at all depending on your guitar/pickup choices. The Volume can give you plenty of it, so at least that works. With my Strat, it’s a low-gain affair without the boost — clean when you pick lightly, dirt when you strum hard. The boost bumps up the gain quite drastically and the volume at the same time.
If you’re looking for buttery-smooth sound typically associated with the Dumble name, you may be disappointed here. You’ll need a dark guitar with a light touch to coax really smooth tone out of this pedal. It is fairly bright, though not annoyingly so. What I mean is that it seems to be on the brighter spectrum of what we consider the “Dumble” sound, which I’m sure most of us have never played so we only guess what that might sound like based on recordings and online videos.
There is that sense of refinement, though, and there is an interesting mid range going on. You’ll have to check out my video to get a sense, but the trademark Dumble mid contour (I’m really not sure how to describe it, really) is there, and the pedal definitely has its own voice. For one thing, the thick mid range really doesn’t match well with any pickups in parallel configuration. Neither my Strat nor my Les Paul fare well with in-between settings — the dirt sounds loose and stuffed, resulting in really muddy, muffled tone.
I realize that so far I’ve told you all about what it doesn’t do. Then what does it actually do, where is the hype coming from?
First of all, the feel. Man, what dynamic response. This pedal doesn’t compress at all — when I play my guitar clean through my Laney LC-50II amp, and when I turn this pedal on, the feel doesn’t change. You play softly, the pedal purrs. You dig in, the pedal roars. Other pedals tout being amp-like or touch-responsive, but I can’t recall a pedal that feels this natural, including some very expensive tube pedals. Other pedals have dynamics, sure, but there was always something that feels different from actually plugging directly into the amp. This pedal really feels like a super responsive, boutique amp.
And incompatibility with in-between positions notwithstanding, the pedal sounds great with any of my pickups, when one of them is chosen and not two in parallel. It’s dynamic but it also has beautiful sustain. If you kick in the boost switch, it just sings. Because this pedal has little control, you just end up playing the pedal, and every nuance of your playing just comes through. That means all imperfections do, too, but this is the pedal to play if you want to develop good touch. And mastering the touch will give you a bigger range as a musician, as you can vary your expressions through your touch alone — and this pedal will respond and reflect what you’re playing.
This isn’t a pedal for everybody. It’s kind of like a stubborn, crusty old chef, who knows one dish that he can just nail every time and doesn’t cook anything else. If his dish is your thing, then there is no equal. But if it doesn’t suit your taste, then this pedal will not adjust at all to meet you even half way. It’s just a highly responsive overdrive pedal, with essentially two gain settings (boost on or off) and a volume knob. Unfortunately it’s very rare at this point and expensive (I paid $280 for mine — are you really willing to pay $300ish for an inflexible overdrive pedal?) but if a refined, expressive, organic and responsive overdrive is your thing, then be on the lookout for one.