Returning to our ‘Gear Talk’ series, it’s now time for Nick to share his potted history with amp breakage, and spill the secrets of his Marshall head, used extensively on Ellipsism.
Anyone who knows me personally in a musical capacity will be aware of my magnetism towards things that break. In my 4 years a member of Ba’al I have had exploding valves, melted transistors and disintegrated pedal chassis on a regular enough basis that it became a running joke and a recurring source of gig related anxiety. You name it, I’ve broken it, and often just by looking at it.
Before I joined Ba’al I had been using an old, and funnily enough broken, Marshall combo amp. The thing was so decrepit I could hear the poor thing wheezing with each turn off a knob. With that I mind I bought a reasonably priced Bugera head and cab. I forget the exact model but it was a 5150 clone and it cost me about £300, needless to say this 19 year old student was beyond thrilled with the acquisition. The wise amongst you will probably have already guessed that this amp’s life expectancy was relatively short and, true to form, it broke several times and eventually found itself sent to the amplifier knackers yard, aka Tom’s spare parts cabinet.
And so the heavens (well, eBay) saw fit to bless me with a Marshall JCM 2000 DSL and since the day I bought it, it has performed admirably. At 100 watts it carries plenty of punch but leaves plenty of headroom for more delicate clean parts. I’m a huge fan of bands like Alcest and Deafheaven and the versatility of this amp means I can switch from sweet shoegazey passages to full on Primitive Man level filth with just a couple of stompboxes. It’s beautifully clear and the built in spring reverb sounds quite excellent too. Owen from Hundred Year Old Man also uses one and if you’ve heard HYOM you’ll understand why that alone is enough reason to want to buy one (although his is green and looks marginally cuter than mine). The amp has been around the block a bit but neither I nor the previous owner have ever encountered a problem with it (or so he says) which is a relief given my past tendencies. Again I acquired this amp for the paltry sum of 300 imperial credits of the realm and I can’t imagine myself looking for anything else for a while. Reliable, versatile and a direct line to the TONE ZONE, this amp is basically everything I’ve ever really wanted.
Continuing our gear talk series, we now turn to some of the amp heads used on the upcoming album Ellipsism, starting with Richard’s Darkglass Microtubes 900, which is still pretty new to the Ba’al family.
As I mentioned in my blog about my bass, I’m the absolute opposite of a gear nerd and know next to nothing about anything technical unless guided by copious online research and advice from knowledgeable friends. So if you’re looking for a spec sheet, this isn’t the place to come I’m afraid…
When I joined Ba’al in 2016, I hadn’t been regularly playing bass for several years (I play guitar in another band), and all I had amp-wise was a Laney RB3 combo. After one practice it was abundantly clear that this was not anywhere close to cutting the mustard in this band, and our then-guitarist helped me out in finding some good deals on something better.
This led me to getting a very cheap 300W Behringer Ultrabass head, which is about the dimensions of a small VCR and about a quarter of the weight. It was incredibly convenient, sounded surprisingly decent, and was so light that we could literally throw it to eachother during loading. Unfortunately, this also meant it was very likely to vibrate it’s way onto the floor during live shows…
As our sound evolved, I found that the beloved Ultrabass was once again not quite providing enough heft, so I next I borrowed an old Ampeg head (I forget the model) from our ex-guitarist Tom, which was definitely a step up in sound. I used this for a good few years (both the Behringer and the Ampeg feature in combination on our first EP), until eventually it developed a fatal fault which was never identified and I went back to the Ultrabass for a while – including our last gig to date in January 2020.
As is often the way I do things, the imminent studio time for the Ellipsism sessions kicked me into gear and got me thinking I should probably up my game again, so I started researching online and taking suggestions from nearby gear heads for a new head. Having tried out a Gallian-Krueger that belongs to the bassist in my other band, their MB500 fusion model was in the running, as was the EBS Reidmar 502. However, with the reputation that Darkglass have been gaining in recent times, and the sound I’d heard coming from them at other bands’ shows (Archelon and Wren being two examples that come to mind), I was mainly drawn to their Microtubes 500 model. Then I was alerted to an alarmingly good second hand deal on Facebook for it’s older brother, the Microtubes 900, and one very awkward trip to the post office later I was sorted.
After my favourable experience with the lighter-than-Nick’s-entire-body Ultrabass, I was keen to stick with something easily portable, and the Microtubes definitely fits that bill, coming in a handy small carry case which also fits all the cables inside. The main thing, though, is that upon switching it on and plugging in, I was immediately about 500% happier with my sound than I had ever been before. The extra headroom and power that I get with 900W immediately fixed niggling issues I’d always had with getting my tone to stay consistent and beefy at the high volumes needed to keep up in this band. I don’t think I’ve needed to go above about 10 o’clock on the master volume yet, and that’s given me a lot more space to play with sounds.
It takes unbelievably well to the various overdrives, distortions and other weird effects I throw at it and, as if that’s not enough, it’s got two of Darkglass’ very own overdrive units (the B3K and the VMT) built into it, with a footswitch to control them, as well as an inbuilt preamp that lots of people have in pedal form. I’ve honestly barely scratched the surface of all the sound possibilities in this little unit.
As you can see from all the knobs, you can really get into the nitty gritty of EQing different frequencies, which I find really helpful in such a bottom-heavy, low tuned environment as Ba’al; cutting through whilst still keeping the aggressive low-end is really important for me, and at long last I have no problems doing so.
Having only got this amp this year (sadly after the one gig we played pre-COVID), it’s only seen use thus far in the practice room – writing and rehearsing the album tracks – and then in the studio, where it truly shone and made my tracking at No Studio an absolute dream. The bass on the album sounds infinitely bigger, clearer and heavier than on any of our other releases, and this amp really carries it. I truly cannot wait to vibrate people with its power when we can finally play live again.