Looks aren’t everything…
But tone sure is…
Today we have for review some unique circuits that are meant to emulate the classic and ever-elusive Dumble Amplifier’s Tone. Though are they that original? The Hermida Zendrive 2 and the Amplified Nation Big Bloom are both well known in the gear community, though despite having having the same essential design criteria they have extremely disparate origins…
The Original: personality
The Hermida Zendrive 2 was an instant hot seller, released in an “era” that didn’t have Dumble emulators available from more than 20 different manufacturers. Being based on the original Zendrive, which itself was an instant classic, The Zendrive 2 was definitely unique to the market. The origins of its design seem to be a bit difficult to sort out, though many claim it can be traced back to the venerable Ibanez Tube Screamer. The circuit upgraded to a 12AX7 tube to enhance it’s soft overdrive tones, albeit in a low-plate voltage fashion. Be that as it may, the tones speak for themselves: warm yet biting drive that responds amazingly well to picking dynamics, remains relatively clear and has a Hi-Fi quality to its voice.
Set right, of course. This isn’t the usual 3 control overdrive with an additional tone knob. Though the stoic faceplate and control layout keep things simple, it takes a little bit of extra care to set these controls: not only do both the Tone and Voice controls affect each other but the Gain as well. And they do so in a non-linear fashion. Furthermore, it excels at clean boosting, it takes even more tinkerin’ to get it set in its truly sweet spot. That Voice knob is purportedly designed to match the amplifier and pedal seamlessly, but doesn’t make thins any easier. But fear not: the results are worth the experimentation. Breathe deep and enter this sea of tone carefully.
The Contender: PRESENTATION is key
The Big Bloom is built by Amplified Nation, a company know for their cabinet making as much as their amp cloning. And it shows. Period correct knobs, faceplate and even font round out the pedal enclosure, which itself is wrapped in an alligator skin-like covering. Admittedly this could be considered overkill, but it has a certain character to it especially compared to the austere plastic looking faceplate of the Zendrive.
The circuit itself has been gleaned from yet another Dumble emulator, the Shin’s Music Dumbloid. And it does so with pride, though this circuit was much easier to verify as far as lineage goes: surprise, it’s (mostly) a Tube Screamer! It’s tones however are more reminiscent of a vintage British amplifier than a low gain overdrive from back in the day. Now that’s a versatile circuit! Thank you, Susumu Tamura (田村進)!
Adorned with the familiar 4 Knob set up used by so many pedals emulating Alexander’s creation, it also has the added air of authenticity with the inclusion of the Jazz/Rock switch used on the real O.D.S…It’s a subtle addition, but that actually makes it fairly accurate, since that seems to be the resultant experience on the amplifier. The key to this pedal is the (copied) parts list. When put together, these components make for complex tone. The original Dumbloid whichitis based on is that much closer not only to the Zendrive, but to the the Dumble tone itself.
Whether it was modelled after a different example of a Dumble (they were all different amplifiers built for different owners after all) the Big Bloom exudes a rougher, grittier drive that is much more brash and aggressive than the Zendrive’s smooth and sultry voice. It’s definitely more Marshall compared to the Zendrive’s Fender friendly voicing. It’s big and bold, and holds a bit more weight with each note, but does so with the sacrifice of clarity. If folklore holds true that a valid Dumble emulation is “hard to play chords on” this would be the pedal for the Rocker who can’t really wrap their head around the concept of a amplifier being “more suited to solo lead lines.” Definitely for the the Power Chord Basher. Coincidently, the controls on the Big Bloom are far more forgiving, if less responsive to sculpting your tone. That Jazz/Rock Switch ? Consider it more of a Rock/More Rock option. It’s subtle, but it adds that bit of gain that you might have being looking for in every other Dumble-esque pedal before…Think of this as a cross between a classic JCM era Marshall and a Hi-Fi Stereo. It still retains a boutique amp vibe whilst giving up some loud, midrange bark and grind. Whereas the Zendrive prefers to be set for clear, bell like tones, the Big Bloom likes having the gain piled on.
But here’s the catch: much like the Big Bloom, the Zendrive comes across as a high-end boutique amp, but amp comes with a fresh set of vintage N.O.S. tubes. It is softer, smoother and clearer, but it still retains that immediate attack a well tuned Dumble is known for. Tube or not, it is a responsive design, with a subtle perceived compression added to the original tone likely by the tube.
So there you have it: the barking, aggressive mid focus of the Big Bloom distortion versus glassy, polished overdrive voiced of the Zendrive 2 circuit. The former looks more the part but comes across as a modernized version that should make it more accessible to a larger market. The latter, though a almost sterile aesthetic, delivers sweet, sweet tones that are not only reminiscent of the amplifier it is meant to mimic, but offers a few more practical uses as well. A shot of Moonshine versus a snifter of single malt.
Did you know?
The 4 Knob Dumble style pedals can sound a bit “odd” with the gain set at the absolute minimum…It takes a bit of tweaking to get a sweet clean boost but set just right it can even be used as a kind of Hi-Fi booster, well suited to lead lines. It’s sort of like running your guitar thorough a turntable before it goes to your amplifier. It shines in sparse groups such as small combos and jazz trios.