Gear Review: Darkglass Electronics Vintage Microtubes

December 4, 2013
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Embracing planetary collaboration, Finland’s Darkglass Electronics does a neat trick of designing the company’s pedals in Helsinki, but has them handmade in the United States by Seattle’s 3Leaf Audio. The Vintage Microtubes is definitely a “vintage”-styled overdrive pedal for bass, but there are no tubes in the equation—just crafty emulations of amp overdrive, tape compression, and mic-preamp coloration. But while disciples of ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s bass grit will absolutely find a lot to like about the Vintage Microtubes, the pedal offers more than just a trip back in time. For example, a little edge and gronk can help a bass line drive a track a bit more aggressively. Overdrive can also help the bass blend with distorted guitars, or add vibe and impact to a song that seems rather lifeless. These are just a few situations where the application of overdrive can render low-end sonics that enhance a work of any style.

Construction

The Vintage Microtubes comes gig ready in a UFC-tough, brushed aluminum casing. The footswitch—which employs 3Leaf’s truebypass, soft-touch relay—is near military grade, and it effortlessly clicks on and off with no glitches or noise. The Blend, Era, Level, and Drive knobs are big and turn smoothly, although they are positioned so close together that you can inadvertently move one of the top knobs while you’re tweaking one of the bottom ones. The pedal requires a 9-volt adapter for operation. That’s actually a benefit in my book, but the 9-volt jack is placed very low on the bottom right of the pedal, which can mean the power cable may bunch up towards the lip of your pedalboard.

Sound

Vintage is definitely spoken here, but the Drive, Blend, and Era knobs let you dial in a ton of tones that just about cover rock, blues, funk, and dance styles from the Beatles to Daft Punk. The fun is in finding the sounds that evoke those eras for you, because the Era knob is cagily “un”-labeled. You can assume the left-knob positions are earlier, and the right-knob positions later—and you’d probably be right—but even that doesn’t begin to detail the subtle variations you can craft by auditioning different Blend, Era, and Drive levels. What you’ll definitely find by spinning the knobs are these sonic jewels: a fat, ’60s-style compression that evokes vintage Urei and LA2A units, a frizzy buzz that simulates overdriving, say, the mic preamp on an old Trident mixing console; stunning, amp-like mid-range grit (think Ampeg SVT rumbling on a wood stage); and near-distortion with frayed lows and smeared mids.

Adding to the coolness is that you can tweak the Blend to completely pummel your bass tone with processed madness, or just sneak in a taste of overdrive to a predominantly clean low end. There’s almost no end to the versatility of the Vintage Microtubes, and, furthermore, the pedal’s Level knob has enough volume on tap to send your bass solos and/or signature riffs right over the top of the mix.

If you love experimenting with different overdrive characteristics, you could slap down the bucks to work in a recording studio populated with racks of vintage signal processors. Or you could borrow every compression, preamp, and overdrive plug-in you can get your hands on. Or you could plug in a Vintage Microtubes and be done with it.

SPECIFICATIONS

Darkglass Electronics

Vintage microtubes
Street $250
Pros Accurately emulates tape compression, old-school console preamp drive, and amp overdrive
Cons None

Bottom line A no-fuss option for crafting versatile overdrive tones.

Contact darkglass.com

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