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My SRV_Story 1986
Roughly 30 years ago, I received a service call from a local venue in Royal Oak, Michigan for Stevie Ray Vaughan. I had heard his music but knew little about his gear. The tech told me he had a pile of Fender amps and this Dumble amp, called a Steel String Singer in need of repair. I had worked on a few Dumble Overdrive amps but had never seen a SSS amp. I had Mr. Dumble’s phone number so I called him, and he answered. I explained what I was going to repair and who it belonged to. He detailed in “tech” terms what the circuit was so I would know what to bring with me. His explanation clearly described an SVT so I took the parts and gear needed to repair an Ampeg SVT as well as the Fenders. Upon arrival I was greeted by his very friendly tech whose name I cannot recall. He showed me the setup and began to explain what they wanted done to the Fender amps and the SSS. I told him I had just spoken to Howard Dumble on the phone. He stopped me, obviously perplexed, and asked how I spoke to Howard Dumble? I said “I dialed his phone number and he answered”. He ran off ranting that Mr. Dumble would take a call from me (who he didn’t know) but not from Stevie Ray Vaughn! Apparently he owed them a couple of amps and was not delivering or accepting their calls. While he was gone taking care of that, I began work on the SSS which, and I quote, “just doesn’t sound right”. The worst complaint you want to hear when trying to repair gear in the field. As I begin inspecting this beast, it became clear that this was an SVT power amp chassis with the Dumble preamp. Not like an SVT, but an actual SVT chassis from an Ampeg amp. The repair was straight forward with the usual SVT problems. As I completed that repair, the tech returned and was no longer angry. He said “it has been handled”, whatever that meant.
Now it was onto the rest of the amps. Allow me to explain what I believed was the magic of Stevie Ray Vaughan. In front of me is literally a pile of Fender amps just stacked up in a totally haphazard way. I don’t recall all the different models but they were all Blackface combos. Probably half a dozen random amps. Also, teetering on the end of the pile was a Fender Vibratone Leslie type cabinet and the SSS on the other end. So, here is this wall of amps and hanging in front of them is a little sheet metal box with a bunch of ¼” jacks on it. Each jack is, in turn, plugged into one of the amps using those gray, plastic Radio Shack cords. On the floor is a wah pedal and a Green overdrive pedal. That was the entire setup. No fancy cables, buffers or splitters. Just six or more amps all parallel together through this little jack box. The tech says “let’s start here”. In the random pile is a Fender Vibrosonic. Basically a Super with a 15” speaker. Apparently, they had just purchased it on the road and stuck it into the pile. He goes on to show me what Stevie says is wrong. He plugs in the Strat set to the neck pickup and runs his hand across all the amp’s knobs so everything is now full up, as were all the other amps! His left hand is not on the neck and he strums the open guitar hard. Need I say what that sounded like? He tells me Stevie says it has too much bass and asks what can I do about it. I reach over and turn the bass knob down. He strums the guitar again and proclaims “that’s it!” I think we are done at this point. He then says “that is OK but Stevie wants it to sound like this (bass knob on 3) but wants to see everything full up”. You guessed it, I suggest rotating the knob so it looks full up. That was not acceptable because Stevie would find out and would be pissed. He had me go inside and modify the amp so when the knob was full up, it was really only on 3. The rest of the tasks were routine repair stuff.
Sadly, this did somewhat burst my SRV bubble. I assumed much of the incredible tone was from some finely tweaked amps but alas, I realized his tone was truly in his hands. Not only did he have an incredible attack and feel but he also knew how to control a pile of amps all on ten, all the time.
And that’s my SRV story.