This hand-built stomper promises high-quality grit and more versatility than a garage full of vintage bass amps. Review by Gareth Morgan
Description: Dedicated bass guitar overdrive pedal. Handmade in USA
Contact: Bass Direct – 01926 886433 – www.bassdirect.co.uk
You may be familiar with the name of Darkglass from the excellent Microtubes B3K CMOS Bass Overdrive pedal, which ran the reviewing gauntlet in our August 2012 issue (Vol 23/11). We liked it enough to give it a special mention in December’s awards extravaganza and now Douglas Castro’s line of designed-in-Finland/hand-built-in-USA pedals have been augmented by the Microtubes Vintage, an overdrive and tube amp emulator.
At 60mm wide, 112mm high and 35mm deep on mini rubber feet, the Vintage is a little smaller than standard stompbox size and weighs a negligible 250 grams (0.53lbs). The box is a simple, unadorned metal affair with a brushed-effect face, and side-mounted input and output jack sockets are accompanied by the 9V DC input. Note that you have to run this pedal off an appropriate power supply but one is not provided – for ecological reasons, Darkglass no longer offers the facility of battery power with any of its pedals.
The Microtubes Vintage is designed as a distortion pedal and as a way of recreating the characteristics of various tube amps from the ’60s to the present. It does this courtesy of the Era control, a neat little feature that, very simply put, allows you to select from a wide range of frequency settings that dictate the overall colour of the sound.
The other three controls work as you’d expect: use Level to set the output level and to match volumes between pedal on and off (or to set up a bias as required); the Blend dial allows you to choose your preferred mix of distorted and clean signals;
Drive let’s you crank the gain to your chosen point of intensity.
The big plus with Darkglass pedals is the intrinsic quality of the distortion produced – it’s undeniably a class apart. Check it out in ‘all controls at 12 o’clock’ mode and you get a rich, chocolatey snarl replete with fizzing harmonics and devoid of any significant leeching of the bass end. Combining the Drive and Era controls uncorks a selection of nuanced variations, and the addition of Blend means you can set up a pretty volcanic tone (with Drive somewhere near fully clockwise) and have it subtly shadow your clean sound. With the Era control similarly clockwise, this option is useful for simulating a contemporary buzz-saw synth bass sound (unusual but works a treat).
Moving Era fully anti-clockwise focuses the distortion at the booty end and a little tweaking of Drive rapidly conjures up images of Jack Bruce’s cooking Marshall. Winding it clockwise introduces more midrange into the mix, providing better individual note clarity with more punch and impact, while retaining plenty of low-frequency content – it’s a warm and crunchy option that brings to mind Bootsy Collins’ lead sound, should you feel the need. Approaching fully clockwise, the bias moves towards higher frequencies so these variations are unsurprisingly brighter, slightly more metallic and more violently aggressive. Metal fans will love this and any purveyors of tapping will have loads of fun simply widdling.
Excellent. The basic quality of distortion is top-notch and low frequencies are joyously retained no matter how spiteful your tone. Whether the Era control actually ‘recreates some of the greatest landmarks in rock and roll bass history’ is not the point. What matters
in practice is that it enables fine-tuning of your distorted sound, one happy consequence of this being greater variation. As with the B3K, the RRP is
on the high side – but remember this is high-quality hand-made kit and right up there with the best available.