The Ol' Dirt Road (Special, that is)

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The Ol' Dirt Road (Special, that is)

Ask any musician what Electro-Harmonix is famous for and you'll likely get one answer: EFFECTS. Lesser known is the fact that EH also made some very cool amps. In the early 70's, the Freedom amplifier was all the rage and toward the end of the decade came the Dirt Road Special.

The Mike Matthews Dirt Road Special, EH-7050/1313, appeared on the scene sometime around 1977. Ads for this amp mention that the amp was "named for its gritty funkiness, great power efficiency, and extreme durability.", all important features for any amp at the time or even today.  Early EH literature written by Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders mention the amp in development but without the Mike Matthews name on it.  Instead, it was mentioned using a couple of famous guitarist's names.



Like tweed Fender amps, the Dirt Road has the control panel mounted on top and to the rear. The amp wasn't much bigger than its Celestion G12M speaker, a logical choice since EH was the American distributor of Celestion speakers at the time. The controls for the amp portion consisted of Volume, Tone, and Bite. Bite was a feature that was also found on the earlier Freedom ampsl that accentuated the treble and really did give it "Bite". By itself this was a cool amp, but EH went one step further and included a Small Stone phase shifter circuit board with a Rate control, on/off switch, and a Color switch.


"Yes, yes, that's all fine and dandy," you say. "What about the sound?" Let me start by reminding you that I'm a bassist and by my standards this is one extremely cool solid-state amp. The amp is rated at 25 watts RMS and 65 watts peak but is still a pretty loud amp, especially with any Bite in it. This amp did considerable duty as the test amp on my workbench for 3 1/2 years and it never gave me any trouble. If I had to list anything that I didn't like about it, it would be that the phase shifter isn't footswitchable. If you want to turn it on/off or turn on the Color, you have to reach down and flip a switch.

The Dirt Road Special was pretty basic with the entire amp section contained on a small circuit board. The only IC is a 4558 dual op-amp. The power amp uses 6 transistors to generate the mighty sound. The phase shifter board is the same one used in Small Stones of the late 70's era. Unlike some of the Freedom amps, you have no choice but to plug it into the wall via a detachable power cord.

Like Fender amps, I've seen these things in both blackface and silverface. I believe that in this case, however, the silverface is the earlier model.

If you find one that sounds kinda bad with lousy tone and uncontrollable feedback at small amounts of Bite, try replacing the IC. It can make a world of difference. While you're at it, install an IC socket to make it easier the next time.

The Mike Matthews Dirt Road Special carried a price of $249.95 in 1978. Used ones these days aren't as common as, a Marshall or a Crate, but can be had for anywhere up to $250 which is still not really a bad price for an amp with a stock 12" Celestion speaker and a built-in phase shifter.

And now, a new feature: THE EH GRIPE SEGMENT! Have you noticed that just because something says EH on it, some people automatically assume its worth a lot regardless of useful an item it really is? Case in point: there was a dealer that was offering NOS EH 9 volt batteries (that have probably been dead for at least 10 years) for $50 each. Even if they still had some charge in them. I don't think your EH pedals would sound any better with them than with the cheap 50 cent ones down at your local dollar store.

Thanks to Jim (last name unknown) of Arkansas (?) who sold me this great amp back in '92. I hope things are going better for you these days. Also thanks to Tyler, formerly of Roadworthy Guitar and Amp here in Bloomington. He found the amp for me while looking for an Orange amp.