Finland's Darkglass may be a small manufacturer but it's earning itself a great reputation for the quality of its effects. Dan Veall checks out one of the latest - the Vintage Microtubes.
Hot on the heels of the incredible Darkglass B3k pedal (that we reviewed in issue 8) comes this very cool pedal, the Vintage Microtubes.
I'm going to cut straight to the chase here: this pedal sounds superb. Don't my word for it, check out the video. Darkglass says it was designed to emulate the sound and feel of classic tube amplifiers and to reproduce those fat, gnarly bass tones of yesteryear, but that with a twist of a knob it propels the player in to modern aggressive bass sounds all from one compact pedal. I can only agree.
The Vintage has a very simple layout. Just four controls take you from a light grit and rounding of your bass tone to blooming low end and mid range grit. Starting with the top right hand corner, the blend control allows the mixing of the pedal's effected distorted signal in with that of the dry clean sound. Perfect for retaining the character of your bass under heavily distorted tones. This also serves to retain the unaffected punchy low end of your bass without it becoming too mushy under high gain settings. Unless that's what you want!
The level control sets the volume of the overdriven sound only and while on the subject of drive, the control next to it 'Drive' sets the amount of saturation in the overdriven signal. The travel of the control starts at a mild bite and goes all the way up to what I would call a medium high gain distortion. Like the B3k and EBS Billy Sheehan distortion, we aren't in to high gain guitar distortion territory here.
This just leaves us with the Era knob - it can be described as a variable equaliser that affects multiple frequency points but just on one knob. It interacts with the drive control for maximum flexibility. Darkglass has combined hybrid FET and CMOS transistor circuitry configured to emulate the organic characteristics and warm valve tones and the feel of a natural dynamic response of old tube amps. Punchy, valve-like compression and midrange warmth are definitely the order of the day. Check out the video to hear my bass warmed up through the clean combo bass amplifier we used in the studio for the review!
The electronics are housed in a cleanly laid out metal housing. No fancy paint jobs, flashing lights and crazy graphics here. The Vintage pedal means business and it does it with style. On a pedal board, it integrates perfectly with a standard 9v adaptor socket, drawing a mere 20mA from your supply chain. The Vintage however does not take batteries, a choice that Darkglass made for ecological reasons. Frankly, I'd rather depend on a power supply than mess with batteries in each of my pedals anyway, so thumbs up here.
The Darkglass Vintage feels great to play through. The drive characteristics are real, organic and sound every bit as good as you'd hope without amplifier modelling DSP getting involved - a good thing for all you analogue purists out there. Its compact size means that you're not going to struggle getting it on your pedal board or in your gig bag either. However, the lack of battery power will mean that you're going to have to make room in your gig bag for a separate power supply. No big deal if you have space on your pedal board though. Any other downsides? Well for me, I'd have liked a wee bit more gain and sustain - maybe a way of eking a bit more compression out of the circuit for those 'bowed cello-like' sounds. That's just me though. OK, and although the pedal doesn't break the bank in terms of cost, we are looking at boutique prices.
I highly recommend this pedal, especially if you're running a lack-lustre D-Class amplifier that could do with a bit of valve warmth. Oh, yes - and it works for guitars too.