Something very cool is happening the basement of Mr. Music, Boston’s favorite family-owned music store in Allston, Massachusetts.
After a lifetime of gigging, amp repair, studio building, and tone tweaking for stars like Joe Perry of Aerosmith, master technician Rob Lohr is building some of the finest boutique tone monsters to come along in a while.
I have always been impressed with anything I heard that was built in his shop, located in the basement of Mr. Music. Rob is a person of great detail. A technical question put forward to Rob usually yields a tutorial on the workings of electrons with respect to our favorite instrument, the guitar. Through the years, Rob and I have had many conversations about what a practical amp should sound and look like. A veteran of the gig scene himself, Rob understands what the working artist needs. In my world, 50 percent of the reason why something sounds good is because it does not need a crew of roadies to transport it, set it up, and break it down. These days, as indie artists, even for high-profile shows in theatres, we usually show up with our own favorite rig. It had better be light and tone-worthy!
When I heard Rob’s Dumbalina, an amp inspired by the legendary Alexander Dumble’s Overdrive Special, I was instantly hooked. Here was an amp the size of a Fender Princeton Reverb that was a very high quality, point to point, hand-made tone machine that had a kick like amps twice its size. Rob Lohr had somehow managed to pack all of the essential features of the best Dumble-inspired amps into a space the size of a Fender Princeton Reverb. He did this with no sacrifice in power (45w) and the highest quality components!
There are many other great D-Style amps whose components are a cut below Dumbalina’s. Yet Rob charges a modest $1800.00 for the basic amp, with additional costs for any custom work. Okay, yes, I did have to pay extra for him to add my name to the front in vinyl lettering with Fender-style script. Don’t be confused though, this is not the “Thaddeus” amp!
With a switchable 4, 8, 16 ohm extension speaker output, the amp offered everything you might need to grow your rig. Small gig: use the onboard 12-inch G12-T75 and walk in with the amp in your right hand and guitar in the left. Large gig: take an extension cab and utilize all of the 45 available watts to rock the stage with two or more 12-inch speakers.
The footswitchable Overdrive channel sounded like the mating of a Dumble Overdrive Special and a Two Rock Custom Reverb Signature. Overdrive that sings without over-saturation and responds to tonal tweaks on your guitar or subtle finger ornaments. The quality of OD of this amp, I will testify, is simply one of the best I have played. The clean channel can be crystal, but if you push it, you can get a singe on the top notes and a roar on the power chords.
The +4 effects loop provides you with the opportunity to use the highest studio grade effects in the loop. Aside from being whisper quiet, plugging in a high-end effect processor seems to lend a three-dimensional quality to the amp that makes it sound much bigger than its physical proportions might suggest. Of course, you can use a dumble-ator or clone thereof to use line level floor pedals, but why not use some of the high-quality studio grade pedals that are coming out these days? TC Electronics makes a couple and so does Eventide. More and more pedal manufacturers are giving you the option of the studio level +4 signal, ready to plug into your D-style effect loop. (See previous post on Effects Loops).
The three switches that you normally find on D-clones for Bright, Mid, and Bass are neatly hidden in Dumbalina: Each tone knob (Bass, Treble, Mid) has a hidden, whisper quiet, pop-less pull-boost feature which takes the whole thing up to a different kind of 11 heaven. The Volume knob has a presence boost. When the Tone Bypass is engaged (often called Pre-Amp Bypass or PAB in other Dumbl- inspired amps) the treble pull pot doubles as a bass boost. The result is the most useful “PAB” option that I have ever seen with a corresponding increase in low end that makes this feature a very practical and useful option for me. Usually I shy away from PAB because it might sound a little gnarly, or less friendly in lower volume settings, even though it works wonders for cutting through in the heat of the mix at high volumes.
My most recent gig was a power trio gig, a Hendrix tribute concert. I used Dumbalina’s overdrive channel for the solos that were not over-the-top, so to speak. When the band started really bashing, I could get away with using my Tone Bypass to cut through the mix. Really very flexible tones on this puppy! The 45w is just what you need to sing at lower volumes. Push the envelope a bit and you get great power amp overdrive without scaring the non-guitarists out of the room. In addition, there is a master volume/loop send level that allows you to get the tones you are using at lower volumes without changing the character of the settings. A well thought out amp for the working musician. At 34 pounds, the amp is welcome at any gig that I play!
In the studio, Dumbalina reigns supreme. I have just completed tracks for a tribute cd. R&B versions of Jimi Hendrix tunes. I used Dumbalina for many of the guitar solos and rhythm tracks and, well, tune in next year in the Spring to hear what I think are pretty amazing guitar tones.
Current wait time is only something like three months, since Rob is building each one by himself. I am sure as the word gets out, that list will grow and grow. It will still be worth the wait, I promise!
Here is the icing on the cake: roughly six months or so after you get the amp, after the amp has been broken in. Rob will sit there with you and do the final tweaking of the components WHILE YOU ARE IN THE SHOP! He will look at the levels and settings that you choose and tweak the internal components so that a great amp becomes an even greater amp, tuned to YOUR signature style of playing. This is an amazing benefit and it is the feature that pushes Rob to the front line of amp builders. (Isn’t that why Dumbles became so popular and expensive? Alexander Dumble would tweak them to the playing style of the owners). Rob recently spent 10 hours—yes folks, 10 hours in the basement at Mr. Music—tweaking an amp for client Alex Potts, so he could have it ready for his move to LA. In my Berklee Online course, Funk/Rock and R&B Soloing, I talk about signature tone. Folks like Robben Ford, who within a couple of notes, announce their presence on the recording whether or not you are even close enough to read the album credits. I believe that this amp can open a door to this concept, and with the post-build tweak, you just might be creating some new history.
Here is the latest version of Dumbalina that Rob is completing, with a couple of new tweaks and slightly different cosmetics on the faceplate, which include corresponding faceplate lights for the lighted footswitchable Overdrive and Tone Bypass features: Sweeeeeeet!!
Here is the scoop on Dumbalina, from the hand of the builder himself, Rob Lohr:
CABINET-The cabinet is Grade “A” pine joined with machine cut half blind dovetail joints and internally braced with poplar. I will cover the cabinet with any available tolex and grille cloth, and you have your choice of appropriate loudspeaker*. The standard faceplate is brushed aluminum with black letters, but I can do colors for a small upcharge and you have your choice of knobs**. The handle is a good quality faux leather that comes in brown, black, or blue, and I use 1″x2″ heavy duty rubber feet and stainless steel cabinet corners and hardware.
*speaker must be of appropriate power handling.
**knobs must fit 1/4″ shaft and comply with existing chassis hole spacing.
CHASSIS– The chassis is steel with welded joints and all hardware is stainless steel. The transformers are MERCURY MAGNETICS FBFVL-P 120v power transformer, FC-VIBROL choke and FBFVLR-OS Fatstack output transformer(4,8,16 ohm selectable). I can do selectable AC input for a small upcharge. The tube compliment is: 2x 12ax-7(pre), 1x 6sl7(PI) 2x 6L6GE(output) and a GZ34(rectifier). I use Belton tube sockets and retainers. I use a combination of Alpha, Clarostat, and Bourns potentiometers, Cliff and Switchcraft jacks, plugs and switches. All shielded leads are Mogami console cable. All unshielded signal leads are teflon coated solid copper core silver clad. All power supply wiring is PVC jacketed stranded copper.
ELECTRONICS– 100 percent hand-wired point to point construction. Hand made 1/8-inch fiberglass turret board, a combination of Metal oxide, metal film and carbon composition resistors, Oil and foil signal capacitors, and high quality electrolytics. There are some other solid state components, but they are related to the switching circuits and are not in the audio path.
LIMITED LIFETIME WARRANTY– I don’t warranty speakers, tubes, or output transformers for obvious reasons …but if anything else ever breaks I will fix it for free for ever and ever. Or until I die, which ever comes first.
Here is the bullet list of Dumbalina Specs:
Output power———–45 watts
Tube compliment——–2x 6L6GE, 2x 12AX-7, 1x 6SL7, 1x GZ34
Output Impedance——4,8,16 ohm selectable
Effects loop———— post pre/ pre power half normalled break out with send level.
Foot switches———-Over-drive and tone bypass(PAB). Both can also be controlled by front panel switches and are indicated with both front panel and foot switch mounted LED’s. The footswitch over-rides the front panel switches.
Controls—————-Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Overdrive, Level (ratio), send level.
Pull Treble————–Hi mid boost
Pull Mid—————–Lo mid boost
Pull Bass—————-Bass boost
Speaker Celestion G12T75, 8 Ohm
Rob Lohr can be reached at Mr Music in Allston Massachusetts at 617-783-1609 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are few demo videos that I just did: