The quest for worldwide domination of anything, in this case, the ultimate bass distortion pedal, can come from humble beginnings. This story begins with a tone-obsessed 13 year old bass player from Chile with a clear vision, in his mind’s ear, of the perfect bass tone for rock and metal. After years of playing, no amount of gear or the tweaking of it satisfied him. So, after graduating high school, he decided to forgo music, study electronics, and work as a repair technician. The only way to get that sound was to build it himself. Almost two years into the process of building his perfect distortion box, he almost had it, but not quite. Only one thing was getting in the way of creating his masterpiece: work. Only one thing to do: quit. Now he had the time to devote to his obsession. Of course he needed to pay bills, so freelancing on top of designing was the only way go. “I must have put in around 90 hours a week for a year straight!” he told me. On top of all of this was the decision to relocate to Finland three years ago, where a vibrant rock scene and favorable start-up environment could stoke his creative fire musically and electronically. And so, the inexorable journey of building and sharing his tonal voice commenced. And together, with friend Hugo Villarroel Navarro in Chile, (sales and artist relations,) and most recently, Spencer Doren of 3Leaf Audio in Seattle, (production,) this builder and his company have solidified this brand as a serious contender in the world marketplace; in less than three years. I find the upward trajectory of this company and the subsequent trans-global triangulation of talents that now make up the company’s family to be a compelling story.
The builder is Douglas Castro. The company is Darkglass Electronics. And the pedal is the Microtubes B3K. From the beginning, friends, players, and sound engineers have praised its tone and its simplicity so Doug knew he was onto something. Since then, it’s found its way into the hands of Tony Levin, Jeff Rouse (Duff McKagan’s Loaded,) Justin Meldal-Johnsen , Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse,) and many others. Lots of words have been written, chatter on various blogs and chat groups has been rampant, and industry types have taken notice. And the consensus is this: The B3K is one of the best sounding bass distortion pedals ever built. No matter where you set the knobs and switches, the thing sounds great. And, from top to bottom of the EQ spectrum, it doesn’t screw up the sound of your bass. I’ve included some videos for your consideration, but one thing’s certain, the B3K works perfectly for the bass guitar.
At first glance, it’s a pretty simple design. Three knobs: (LEVEL- level of overdriven signal you want, BLEND-to mix clean and overdrive signals, and DRIVE-the amount of gain you want.) … and two switches: (ATTACK-“Off” position is warmer, “Boost” position adds bite and clarity, and GRUNT-“Fat” “Raw” or “Thin” switch positions interact with the DRIVE knob so you can choose how much bass you want to saturate.) You would think that a greater feature set would yield a better result. Not necessary. The hybrid the JFET, (Junction Gate Field-Effect Transistor,) input and the CMOS, (Complementary Metal Oxide Semi-conducter inverter chip,) and all the tone shaping wizardry between the gain stages, allow Castro to get a very tube-y sound, subtle to extreme, specifically for bass. Worried about losing your low end? Don’t be. The B3K, of course, preserves that. But what’s most striking to my ears is that the high end clarity is in no way compromised either. You step on the B3K and it sounds like your bass, it’s now just a beautifully grindy, distorted version of your bass. All you have to do is choose the right amount, level, and blending of distortion you want, and your bass sounds fantastic. Furthermore, in demo-ing the B3K through a tweeter-loaded cabinet, I don’t find it necessary to dial back the horn to avoid the harsh bumblebee quality you get with some pedals. The B3K’s high end is rolled off before it reaches that threshold, so clarity isn’t sacrificed, it’s just dealt with correctly.
From the beginning, Doug Castro has prided himself on hand-building each and every one of the Darkglass pedals. But with the ever-growing popularity of the B3K, it became nearly impossible to do this. He was constantly building while Hugo was constantly selling and pushing to get B3Ks in as many hands as he could. Popularity, and lead times, was growing and availability was shrinking. To his credit, subsisting on greater quantities of coffee and fewer hours of sleep, (only four hours a night, rumor has it,) he pushed himself to the limit. Something had to give so Doug could spend more time on designing and less time on the tedium of assembling. Luckily, mutual friend, Spencer Doren of 3Leaf Audio, had been very interested in expanding his craft of building pedals to include circuit board design for other builders using his streamlined process. We chatted about the challenges Doug was having with growing pains and Spencer decided to contact him. So, after many late-night Skype-ing sessions including design upgrades, sourcing parts, import/export issues, etc…it was announced in June of 2012 that all Darkglass pedals, B3Ks, big brother B7Ks, and all future designs would be manufactured in the U.S. With Spencer now in charge of production and quality control, availability of the B3K is greater, the price is lower, and the quality of the pedal; with the upgraded relay bypass switching, beefier toggles, and tightened up circuit design, is better.
So that’s the story, from Finland to Chile to Seattle, WA. Worldwide? Definitely. Domination? Maybe, though every player’s idea of tone is indeed different. And what about the name, Darkglass. Doug says this, “I liked the name for both aesthetic and deeper reasons; I think it sounds pleasing and evokes simplicity and elegance, two of our main focuses and guidelines. And on the deeper more philosophical side, I think it reflects the way I approach life… something you almost see through but not really, often when you attempt looking through it, you end up seeing as much a reflection of yourself as of what’s on the other side… The concept of a Darkglass is just a metaphor of what I believe life is.” There it is. The story, to be continued….
About the author:
“I created BassEFX.com because the bass community clearly needed a place that would consolidate all the best effects pedals in one place. BassEFX.com gives bass players – and only bass players – a resource that showcases what’s available, offers the best advice and gets you the right effect. My background: I co-founded Bass Northwest, the world’s largest bass-only retail operation, and ran it for 15 years, (1994-2009.) In 30 years as a bass player, I’ve seen, heard, and played just about every amplifier, bass, cabinet and effect pedal imaginable.”