This Article Was Originally Published On: June 3, 2015 #Issue 16.
The Company Line
Darkglass Electronics is an intriguing, multi-national company which is really making waves in the bass world. CEO and co-founder Douglas Castro originally hails from Chile, but now lives in Helsinki, Finland (which is the official home of the brand), while co-founder Hugo Villarroel (who handles sales and artists relations) continues to call Chile home. Brand Manager Ignacio Barros (currently living in Australia) and Marketing Manager Franco Azócar (also from Chile), as well as three other people building the pedals in Finland (Pekka, Richard and Joonas) make up the remainder of the diverse team.
Needless to say, we were very excited to finally get the chance to review some pedals from this up-and-coming pedal company. Darkglass has been making a name for themselves not only with the quality of the products they are producing, but the tonal element they are extracting out of these electronics. Currently, as I am writing this review, Darkglass has five pedals in production: the Vintage Deluxe and Duality Dual Fuzz Engine, reviewed here, as well as the Microtubes Vintage, Microtubes B3K and Microtubes B7K. They also recently introduced a preamp called the Tone Capsule, which is designed to be wired directly into your bass guitar.
I’ve always been intrigued by the name “Darkglass,” and we asked Douglas Castro how this name came to be chosen:
“I don’t think I’ve ever told the story behind the name before! It’s quite simple actually; I started using it a decade ago, before I even started designing electronic circuits. Back then, playing bass and composing music was my sole obsession. I started writing and recording a lot of progressive metal tunes; I went with the name “darkglass” on forums to share my music – back then, I became fascinated with the place of individuals in a collective. I guess it’s normal for most teenagers to wonder about our place in the world as a species, and also as individuals, and I thought a lot about the idea of “isolated togetherness” – the fact that we as humans can interact, share and learn at incredible depths from and with each other, but at the end we are by ourselves. All we see from and show others is what we chose to let us see, just like dark glass would, you can almost see through but you really can’t. The name sounded cool, so it kind of stuck.”
Okay, one mystery solved! But what about the philosophy behind Darkglass Electronics and their products? Douglas explains:
“That one is a bit simpler to explain. We just love good bass sound, and our mission in life is to create and make tools that help musicians sound better, and perhaps even help them be a bit more inspired and create music they’re happier with. We don’t focus too much on effects or creations that enhance your sound, although I think that’s a perfectly valid approach towards making and using effects. We are more into making devices that help you transform your sound, we aspire to become a part of it.”
Let’s start off by taking a look at the Vintage Deluxe. This is the bigger brother of the Microtubes Vintage, with an added EQ for bass, mids, and highs. It also has a direct output with ground lift switch and a parallel out. The first thing that strikes you about this pedal is the wonderful packaging that Darkglass ships these in (a quality black box, with magnetic closure); definitely a notch or two above the competition. The enclosure, itself, is also worth mentioning. “The chassis are made of aluminum,” Douglas tells us. “We switched from the standard die-cast boxes for unibodies. This method of making casings is truly remarkable: instead of pouring melted aluminum into a mold, a behemoth milling machine carves them one at a time out of a single solid block. It doesn’t just look a lot better (the finish looks and feels very smooth, almost like silver), but the fact that they’re custom-made with the highest tolerances possible allows us to make a box that will perfectly fit the circuit. This makes things not only more consistent and more efficient to assemble, but also changes the game for us. Before, we had to make tradeoffs on the design for the circuit to fit the chassis; now, we get the chassis made specifically for that circuit! The chassis and all metalwork is done in Finland actually, which is something we are very proud of.”
On the right side of the device, we find the 9v DC power input, with a 30mA draw (any standard Boss-style power adapter with a center negative plug can be used). Following that is the ¼” Input jack, and lastly, the ¼” Parallel Output, which provides an unaffected pass-through of your input signal (which is useful for parallel processing, or for driving a “clean” rig). The unit which we are reviewing is one of the Limited Edition pedals (only 200 made) created to celebrate the company’s 5th Anniversary, and as such, it sports a killer stainless steel front plate. On the left side of the pedal, we find the ¼” Output jack, and an XLR Direct Output, with a selectable ground lift switch. This is a convenient package, and allows you to simply just plug into a studio board, or live sound rig, and go. With this level of EQ and the various signal routing options, the Vintage Deluxe could even replace your live rig (if you have in-ear monitors), or it could drive a powered enclosure. They don’t call this pedal a “dynamic preamp” for nothing! All of the connections on the Vintage Deluxe feel very solid, and plugging the ¼” cables to each jack is very smooth and has that solid “click” when fully inserted. This may seem like a minor detail to most people, but it is a hallmark of high quality and definitely shows how Douglas Castro pays attention to the details.
Looking down from above the pedal, the top row of knobs includes the Blend, Level, and Drive controls. The Blend is used to control the mix of the clean signal (which remains at unity gain) with the overdriven signal. This seemingly simple feature is incredibly useful, and it not only allows you to better control the character of your overdriven tone, but it also helps to keep the low end more tight and coherent. On some other pedals, a blend control can help to dial back in some of the lows that drop out when the drive is engaged. But I am happy to say that with the Darkglass pedals, the lows stay nice and full, even when set to their “dirtiest” settings. The Level knob is used to control the volume or “level” of the overdriven signal, which allows you to balance the volume of your affected signal to that of the bypassed signal, as well as help dial in the intensity of the overdrive to blend with the clean signal. The Drive knob controls the level of saturation in the overdriven signal, adding more saturation as you turn the knob from left to right. Between these three knobs, you have a very high degree of control when it comes to dialing in just the right overdrive.
Moving down to the second row of controls, we find my favorite knob, labeled as the “Era” knob. This knob is interactive with the Drive control, and effects the warmth of your tone. Move it all the way to the left, and get the warm, tube-like sounds of the classic rock greats, or move it to the right to get a more “edgy” sound. Next up is the active EQ section. All three controls allow for 12dB of boost or cut. The Bass knob is centered at 100Hz, followed by the Mid knob (centered at 1kHz), and finally the Treble knob, effecting your signal at the 5kHz range. Finally, located below the bottom row of knobs is the activation switch. There is a blue LED light above the switch, which indicates when the pedal is activated or not.
In use, the Vintage Deluxe is perfect from classic rock all the way to heavy metal, and honestly, this pedal could handle almost any genre. It will readily conjure up more vintage overdrive, ala Black Sabbath, but I was also able to dial in some RATM-style grind, and everything in between. I would definitely use this pedal in my rig – possibly alongside a B3k, to provide me an alternate overdriven tone. The more I played around with the Vintage Deluxe, the more I was impressed by the range of usable overdriven tones it offers. Once you have the Drive and Level settings dialed in, you can really change the character of the drive with the EQ and Era controls. The Mid knob is especially powerful in this regard. Then, you can play around with various amounts of clean Blend to really fine-tune things. All in all, this is a super flexible overdrive tool.
This pedal also does a lot for your sound, in general. If you aren’t needing an obvious overdrive, the Vintage Deluxe can help warm up your tone, if need be, or shape your tone to help cut through the mix. Heck, you can set the Blend control all the way to the clean signal and use the 3-band EQ as a footswitchable tone-sculpting tool without engaging any hint of overdrive. Not surprisingly, the Era knob does not appear to affect the tone at all when the Blend is set all the way to the clean side.
Duality Dual Fuzz Engine
Yet another pedal created by the genius minds at Darkglass is the Duality Dual Fuzz Engine. The name basically says it all. It’s a fuzz pedal with two different fuzz circuits built in, and – spoiler alert! – it is the first pedal I have found that let me dial in a fuzz that I like. I hope you like the word “fuzz,” because I’m going to be mentioning it a lot in this article… The two fuzz circuits include a high-gain circuit, and a gated saw-tooth wave. This pedal gives you the ability to dial in one or the other, or to blend the two together, giving you all the fuzziness that you can fuzzing handle.
Looking at the Duality from the top-down perspective, it includes a ¼” Output on the left side, and a ¼” Input on the right side, alongside the 9v DC negative center plug. The Duality’s high quality aluminum enclosure has a very sturdy, rugged feel to it, much like that of the Vintage Deluxe.
The Duality includes four knobs on the top: Blend, Duality, Level, and Filter. Starting with the Blend, which is located top left, this knob controls the mix of the clean signal with the affected signal, just like it does on the Vintage Deluxe. Turning from left to right decreases the clean signal. Next to the Blend knob, on the top right of the pedal, is the Duality knob. This is where the Duality separates itself from other fuzz pedals. The Duality knob gives you control over mixing the two circuits together or using them independently. Turning the knob all the way to the left gives you the gated saw-tooth wave, and turning it all the way to the right gives you the high-gain fuzz. Setting the knob anywhere in the middle gives you a variable blend of both circuits.
The Level knob located at the bottom left, is used to adjust the output volume of the fuzz signal, but it also seems to affect the sensitivity of the attack of the fuzz circuit(s). To the right of this knob is the Filter control, which can dial out the higher frequencies of the fuzz. This will come in handy when selecting the high-gain fuzz, as it tends to be a bit harsh in that area. Between the bottom knobs sits a blue LED which illuminates when the pedal turns on. Below the indication light sits the foot selector switch, which operates smoothly, but (like the footswitch on the Vintage Deluxe) it doesn’t have a definite “click” to it when pressed in.
I have to admit that going into this, I was somewhat biased against this pedal, as I’ve never really liked fuzz pedals, at all. Fuzz pedals have never really cut it for me. I’ve only really liked distortion pedals, and even then, I was very picky. So, when I glanced over the manual, the first thing that intrigued me was that it has two fuzz circuits. Then, I plugged it in and fell in love. This is the first pedal that actually allowed me to dial in the fuzz I was looking for. This is very important to me, and I’m sure for others, as well. Even if you are not partial to fuzz pedals, I would at least give this one a try. I would definitely add the Duality to my pedal board, without a question.
The Duality does not suffer from that “warm and fuzzy, but kind of thin” tone I have heard from other fuzz pedals I have tried. It has more cut and attack than many, and the low end does not drop off, as it can with some fuzz pedals. The saw-tooth wave circuit can sound almost synthy at certain settings. Speaking of settings, the Level control is very interactive with the Duality knob, and dialing in the right ratios of these two knobs is the key to getting the most out of this pedal. Then, blend in the clean signal to add a proper amount of fundamental to the fuzz. Finally, you can fine-tune the tone with the Filter. Collectively, these controls allow for great saturated fuzz tones that still have fullness and articulation to go along with them.
And in case you are wondering, yes, these two pedals sound absolutely fantastic when used in conjunction with each other!
One thing is for certain with regard to Darkglass pedals; they are built solid. Even down to the ¼” jacks, these pedals were thought through and built well. The knobs don’t feel like they are going to fall off, and they have a little resistance when turning them, but still allow for a very smooth rotation. The LED light is bright enough that it will shine through any stage light, letting you know the pedal is activated. The prices are a little steep, but keep in mind, you pay for what you get, and these pedals are worth every penny. They not only have a very solid build, but they both sound great, as well. I would highly recommend these pedals to anyone.
|Inputs:||¼” input, 9v DC center negative
|Outputs:||¼” parallel, ¼” out, XLR direct out|
|Controls:||Blend, Level, Drive, Era, Bass, Mid, Treble|
|Other Features:||Blue indicator LED, true-bypass switching|
|Dimensions:||4 5/8” L x 4 1/4” W x 2 1/16" H|
|Controls:||Blend, Duality, Level, Filter|
|Other Features:||Blue indicator LED, true-bypass switching|
|Dimensions:||4 3/8” L x 2 3/4” W x 2" H|