Wouldn’t it be cool to walk into a store and just buy David Gilmour’s tone in a box? Well, now you can! Robert Keeley’s Dark Side boldly promise to provide the full experience and magic of David’s classic mid 70s sound. Here’s my review.
How do you present a signature sound in one single box? How can you capture not only the actual tone but also the feel of owning and operating something close to the original vintage gear? We’re talking about perhaps the most recognisable tone in the history of modern music and guitar playing.
But you can always expect something special from Robert Keeley. The bar is high but few seem to really understand tone as much as him.
The Dark Side is the second in a new line of artist inspired pedals. As the name implies, the pedal is designed to capture the essence of David Gilmour’s tones from Dark Side of the Moon, as well as Wish You Where Here and Animals.
The Dark Side has two sections, fuzz and modulation/delay. They can be used simultaneously and the different modulation effects and the delay, is selected with a toggle switch. The rear features the usual in/out jacks, as well as TRS send/returns for additional pedals, expression pedal and for swapping the order of the fuzz and modulation/delay sections.
The Dark Side is packed with an almost exhaustive amount of controls and I won’t go into detail on every aspect of the pedal here but rather give you an idea of how it all sounds. Please visit robertkeeley.com for all the details.
The fuzz is analog and based on the late 70s Op-amp Big Muff. A strange choice perhaps, since David never used that particular model, but the circuit has been seriously modified and the tone is perhaps closer to the early 90s Sovtek Civil War, with a thick saturated gain and that slightly throaty character.
A 3-way switch allows you to choose between scooped, flat or full (boosted) EQ modes, similar to the mid range switch seen on many Big Muff clones.
It’s got that unmistakable Muff tone but there’s plenty of harmonics present, with a raw edge and I have no problem dialling in some really nice silicon fuzz tones typical of the era. Delay David Gilmour famously used a Binson Echorec during the Dark Side years and the multi head echo has been a popular offering among many makers lately. The Dark Side delay offer 12 different delays based on that classic Binson machine. David mainly used a single head but sweeping through the different stages, provides the full Binson experience with an impressive accuracy and authenticity.
Clones offered by Catalinbread and Boonar has more controls, providing a more authentic circuitry, but with a hint of organic sounding modulation and the basic controls for time, feedback and volume, you can easily dial in some lovely and very musical echo with the Dark Side.
The modulation section feature four different effects: flanger, phaser, rotary and Uni-Vibe. All of which are representative for Gilmour’s 70s tones.
Select either flanger and rotary or phaser and UniVibe and use the blend control to either get the pure effect or, and this is very cool, dial in some new unique tones, like a Leslie with sweeping jet-like flanging.
The flanger is undoubtedly based on the Electric Mistress that David used during the late 70s and early 80s. It sounds a bit dark and chorusy compared to the original, but some fine tuning of the controls takes it close to the ’76 Mistress, with that liquidy and slightly metallic flanging.
Less mid range and low end and a slightly wider sweep would easily have made it one the best sounding clone of the original Mistress available.
Rotating speaker simulators often sound more like a chorus or flanger than an actual Leslie cabinet. The doppler effect depends on the resonance and distance between the horn and the surroundings, so to recreate this with convincing authenticity is almost impossible.
The Dark Side Rotary is designed to sound more chorusy than your conventional rotary. I assume that’s with David’s Yamaha RA-200 cabinets in mind, which indeed has more of that watery chorus character rather than the woody tremolo of the Leslie.
It sounds really nice on slow speed and you can clearly hear the sweep of the horn and the low hum of the speaker. On high speeds, it’s definitely more chorusy but perhaps a bit too much and it sounds slightly detuned or closer to a vibrato.
It would be very interesting though to have a dedicated mix control for the rotary. It would allow you to blend in the rotary “behind” the main chain of effects or, as David did, in addition to his Hiwatts, for that subtle rotary effect.
Again, based on the MXR Phase 90 that David used on the 1974-75 leg of the Dark Side tour and the recording of Wish You Where Here. Not much else to comment on other than it’s hard to get any closer to the orange box than this!
The Uni-Vibe is undoubtedly more associated with Hendrix and Trower than Gilmour, but what would Breathe have sounded like without it? In fact, when touring with “Eclipse”, an early work in progress version of Dark Side of the Moon, in 1972, the Uni-Vibe was featured on almost all of the songs.
The Dark Side Uni-Vibe sounds surprisingly analog, with a beautifully tweaked character and feel. That crisp top end, with the dark throb is easy to dial in and it sounds equally focused and authentic on high speeds, which is needed for songs like Any Colour You Like.
So, to sum it up, I think the fuzz sounds really great. Easily among the finest Big Muff clones on the market and I like the fact that you got the 3-way mid range switch, allowing for a wide range of different tones from the era. Including fairly convincing Powerbooster-ish overdrive when the gain is backed down.
The delay, phaser and Uni-Vibe also sounds really impressive and with a bit of tweaking, the flanger also does the job. The rotary is OK but in my head, I will always compare rotary simulators with the Strymon Lex, which is perhaps not fair. As mentioned above, it would be interesting to have a dedicated mix control for this one.
My main issue with the Dark Side is the fact that you can’t have a modulation effect and the delay selected at the same time. They share the same circuit and can’t be used simultaneously.
You can add stand alone modulation pedals with the send/return jacks in the back but as much as I love the fact that you actually can do that, it kind of makes the Dark Side less of a Gilmour-in-a-box. Delay is essential to all of his tones and it would be cool to have everything integrated in one box.
But I must say that I’m surprised and I’ve had such great fun exploring this pedal. Overall, it sounds great and I would have had no problem using it as a part of my rig or in a recording setup. It’s a super cool pedal for jam sessions or a trip to the cabin, when you just want to bring your guitar, a small amp and little else.
The Dark Side is also an excellent start for the novice pedal collector and Gilmour fan. You got everything at your feet. It sounds great and you can expand, with more pedals and connected them to the Dark Side.
See robertkeeley.com for more details and reviews.