Dumble amplifiers are almost as legendary for their elusiveness as for their tone. Howard Dumble made a few hundred amps (broadly based on Fender platforms), sold them to musicians such as Carlos Santana, Larry Carlton and Robben Ford in the '90s, and then suddenly retired. So, why the hype for amps few have ever heard? Well, if you look at Dumble's client roster and listen to their work, you notice a couple of things: rich, throaty tone and expressiveness—two things most players like. The scarcity of the amps makes them obvious candidates for amp-in-a-box pedals; indeed, a few well-regarded takes have been on the market for years. Mad pedal professor Bjorn Juhl (of BJF Pedals and, uh, Mad Professor) has been knocking out boxes for One Control at a rapid clip, and now he's made his way to his own take on the Dumble sound: the Golden Acorn.
Bjorn is all-in on the Dumble sound—unlike, say, his Strawberry Red Overdrive, which has a trim pot that affects the voicing—the Golden Acorn has three controls, and that's it. Most Dumble-voiced pedals have at least two bands of EQ to help adapt the distinctively thick (and dark) voicing, but the Golden Acorn is all-Dumble-y, all the time. There's a volume control, of course, and "Ratio"—a nod to the original amp—which controls the amount of gain and, finally, there's "Bright," which adds some top end but leaves the low end intact.
With the Ratio all the way down, The Golden Acorn sounds like a dark, fat Tweed amp. The low end is thick and prominent, the top end muted. Turn the Ratio clockwise and the top end livens up even as the tone thickens and the distortion begins to compress. By the time Ratio is at noon, the gain is Marshall-y but the EQ curve is still phat city. By 2:00 the gain is thick and syrupy and the Dumble tone—at least as I know it—is right there. Crank Ratio and the distortion continues to compress, but not dramatically—it's still thick, still has a lot of sag and corpulent low end.
So how does this work in practice? Singlemindedly. Chords are possible at low to medium Ratio settings, but as you move past noon, the cranked Bright control might not be enough to cut through; even on a single coil bridge pickup, it's easy to overwhelm the top end on chords, to say nothing of using it with the neck pickup. But, boy, ratchet up the Ratio while you're on that neck pickup, and all the fuss becomes apparent, because, apart from providing amazingly deep low end, the thing the Golden Acorn does astonishingly well is respond to your playing.
If you weren't into vibrato, you will be when you plug this pedal in—every musical gesture is translated accurately and powerfully, and swathed in wonderfully gooey-yet-amp-like gain—it's a blast. The Golden Acorn is really dynamic; this trait is more meaningful at lower gain settings but, even with the Ratio blasting away, you can coax clean tones out of the pedal with an appropriately gentle touch. This is what the master noodlers—and their amps—are so famous for, and The Golden Acorn delivers.
What We Like: Corpulent low end that you can dine on and syrupy gain? It's like bacon and pancakes for guitar! Better still, the pedal is incredibly responsive to your playing.
Concerns: Tonally, this is a one-trick pony. That said, if this a tone you're interested but don't necessarily need a lot of, the diminutive One Control format still makes it easy to harness that tone without having to commit a lot of space or money.