||Download Example 1
||Download Example 2
|All clips recorded with a Fano JM6 with P-90s (volume at 8) through a silverface Fender Champ; Pedal settings: Gain at noon, Volume at noon, Tone at 2 o'clock, Jali at 2 o'clock
It’s said that any good musical instrument
becomes an extension of the player. But
sometimes it’s where a guitar, amplifier, or
pedal leads a guitarist that makes it great. The
Dumkudo overdrive by Toshihiko Tanabe is one
of those seemingly living, breathing pieces of
musical gear that will talk back to you, point
you down a different path, and holler encouragement.
It’s a pedal that can stay out of the way
too. Or give you just what you need when you
want to play it safe and speak up within your
comfort zone. And in doing all of these things
well, it’s likely to replace a lot of pedals that leave
players feeling a little flat.
The multi-voiced Dumkudo overdrive is not
Toshihiko Tanabe’s first stab at an overdrive. His
Zenkudo impressed a lot of blues-rock players
with its sweet, controlled overdrive flavors. The
Dumkudo shares the Zenkudo’s cultivated voice
in some measure. But it also has a lot more sass
and swagger. And it’s bound to appeal to everyone
from blues and roots-rock players that like a
little more horsepower under the hood to jazzers
willing to dabble with more impolite tones.
Dressed up for Saturday Night
The Dumkudo is what a good Anglo rocker
might call a “flash geezer.” The polished aluminum
case and faux-abalone-and-kanji-festooned
faceplate stick out amid a pedal array like a
sharp-dressed gangster in the corner booth of a
crowded club. And when you kick the pedal on,
the LED—which switches between red, blue,
and green depending on what voice you select—
can seem virtually blinding next to your average
dull, red pedal light.
The pedal’s four knobs sometimes seem a little
cramped on the MXR-sized, 1590 enclosure.
But they are easy and intuitive to use once you’ve
tinkered with the pedal for a few minutes. The
top two knobs are for Gain and Volume. The
two sound-shaping controls—Tone and the curiously
name Jali knob—are positioned just below.
On the side, a small, unlabeled slider-switch
selects one of the pedal’s three voices: a pretty
hot “red” mode, a more mellow and rounded
“blue” mode (an approximation of the Zenkudo
voice), and another hot “green” circuit that gives
the pedal its more Dumble-like characteristics.
The pedal’s guts are a fairly cramped affair—
no surprise given the four very wide-ranging
controls and the switchable voices. I nearly gave
myself a headache contemplating Tanabe performing
the surgery that must go into constructing
the Dumkudo. But for how busy it looks on
the inside, it’s clearly built to last. Critical controls
like the switchwork and certain connections
on the circuit board are sheathed in a rather grotesque
looking protective goo that ensures that
this pedal remains intact, reliable, and road-ready
over the long haul. It’s hard to imagine anyone
other than Tanabe working on the Dumkudo if a
problem were to arise. But you also get the feeling
this pedal could outlive your grandchildren.
Personality and Transparency
The buzz about the Dumkudo is the Dumble-like
tones that apparently lurk with in the pedal (we’re
guessing the first three letters in its name aren’t there
by coincidence, though Tanabe claims this pedal
is not intended to be a Dumble emulator). But
playing through a range of clean Fender amps, the
Dumkudo kicked out a lot of tones that were just
as reminiscent of a cranked AC30, a JBL-equipped
Showman or Twin, or a bucking 50-watt Marshall.
I explored the Dumkudo’s many voices using a
Fender Stratocaster with a Seymour Duncan mini-humbucker
in the bridge, a ’70s Ibanez-built Les
Paul Standard copy, and a Fender Jaguar running
through a blackface Fender Tremolux, a ’68 Vibro
Champ and an Ampeg Super Jet.
The first thing that became apparent is that
the Dumkudo does not discriminate—humbucker
or single-coil, hot or low output pickups, you
can find a setting just by manipulating the Gain
and Volume knobs that will put some dynamite
in your signal without robbing the guitar or amp
of too much character.
The mini-humbucker on the Strat and
Gibson-styled humbuckers on the Les Paul copy
both became exceptionally lively with the Gain
and Volume set flat—lending a discernable pick
sensitivity that really beckons you to toy with the
dynamic potential of pick attack and manipulation
of a guitar’s volume and tone knob. Diming the
Volume and Gain controls in the Red and Green
modes made the humbucker-equipped guitars
sound positively explosive without making a Devil’s
trade for detail. Such settings didn’t leave much
room for slop, however. If, like me, you’re a player
who uses a lot of slurring bends, pick sweeps, and
jabs for your most expressive playing, this pedal can
be a little like the horror of gazing at your complexion
in a super-magnifying mirror. If, on the other
hand, you have the chops to venture where John
McLaughlin dared to fly on his Mahavishnu jams,
this might be the pedal of your dreams.
The humbuckers also responded well to the
Dumkudo’s very versatile tone manipulation
circuit. Getting a little aggressive with the Tone
control (which seems to roll off bass as much
as it boosts treble) and the Jali control (which
functions like a presence knob) had the Strat’s
mini-humbucker sweetly squealing in a manner
that cried out for an open-G slide workout. At
the same settings, the Les Paul copy took on a
distinctly Beano-era Bluesbreakers identity when
running through the Tremolux and Super Jet.
The Jaguar’s basically snarky, mid-scooped
voice also meshed beautifully with the Dumkudo’s
higher-gain and treblier settings—particularly in
the Green and Red modes. The Blue mode worked
quite nicely for adding a little grit to basically clean
arpeggios and low-key, Gilmour-y lazy blues leads.
In the Green and Red modes, however, careful-but-aggressive use of the Gain knob led the way
to some very sweet spots where the Jag, Tremolux,
and Super Jet sat right at the brink of feedback—a
really fun place to be if you’re inclined to tinker
with amp proximity, finger vibrato, and assertive
tremolo techniques. And at times, I could get
the short-scale Fender quaking and cutting like a
smoother incarnation of Jorma Kaukonen slicing
eardrums at the Fillmore, circa 1968.
The Dumkudo can just as easily coax you
down the path to mellower overdrive without
leading you into the realm of generic blooze tones.
Again, it walks the fine line between keeping your
guitar and amp’s personality intact and adding a
touch of skunky roadhouse swagger and attitude.
And working with this pedal at lower-gain settings
can lure you into an attentive space that keeps you
focused on melody and nuance. One note can
sound just that interesting.
Toshihiko Tanabe has accomplished an admirable
feat in the Dumkudo by taking the well-trodden
territory of Dumble-styled, cooking blues-rock
tone, and building in the capacity for wider
expression, character, and responsiveness. There’s
just something a little more alive in the Dumkudo
than in your average blues-rock overdrive—an
organic property that makes it feel a little more
like a part of your amp and guitar. At 310 bones
direct from the builder, it’s not cheap. But given
that the Dumkudo has the range, build, and character
to replace 300 bucks worth of less satisfying
ODs you may have sitting around the jam space,
you can safely consider it money well spent.
you crave aggressive, dirty
blues-rock tones, but need a little
more personality and range.
you get everything you need out
of your TS9 or Blues Driver.