The Keeley Dark Side Workstation: Fuzz, Phaser, Univibe, Rotary, Flanger Multi-head tape delay

dark-side-workstation-fuzz-delay-face-keeley-no-trs-1000x1000The new addition to the Keeley line is an homage to the mid-70s David Gilmour sound, resting comfortably in the classic Dark Side to Animals (even The Wall) period of the Pink Floyd guitarist’s work. As with Keeley’s recent Jimi Hendrix-inspired Monterey pedal, the Dark Side sports beautiful workmanship, low noise, a great layout and a cornucopia of features. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll plug in a stock early 70s Strat (I had to for this pedal!) to a clean Fender-style amp and put the Dark Side into play.

Coming in at the size of a popular flanger box, the Dark Side presents a versatile, but uncrowded workspace on a matte black finish. The unit is divided into two sides: the Modulation effects on the left, while the right side is occupied by the Fuzz section. Each side’s Level knob controls the mix between the effect and direct signals. In general, the effects order is Fuzz going into Modulation/Delay, but with the current Version 2, an Order Switch pushbutton on the case’s front lets you reverse that order with some interesting results. The In and Out jacks, along with the power input (a standard center-negative 9-volt) and Expression pedal jack reside on the front, as well. Both sides of the Dark Side are compelled by footswitches lit with bright blue LEDs, that way you know which side you’re with.

Flexibility is the key to Fuzz section, in that you have much more tweak-ability, courtesy of the Filter knob and the 3-way Fuzz Mid switch, in addition to the Fuzz and Level controls. The fuzz here is based on the later 70s big fuzz op-amp similar to units Gilmour employed, with more gain on tap than a regular Fuzz sound from the earlier 70s. So, there’s no problem dialing up searing, silicon Fuzz Face Pompeii-style lead tones, but you can take it quite a bit further. The Filter knob helps define the ‘wooliness’ and the Fuzz Mid switch offers Flat, Full (boosted) and Scooped EQ choices. The interaction between these controls is a lot of fun, ranging from a civilized (think germanium transistor) crunch, to a sputtering, deranged feel, as required. Considering how much time you can spend here, the Fuzz would be a hell of a standalone unit on its own.

The Modulation side requires more of an orientation period, and this review could never account for all of its possibilities, given the number of, and muscle flex for each effect. There are three main components to the Mod side: Rotary (Flanger and Rotary), Delay (select between 12 tape heads) and Vibe (Phaser and Uni-Vibe). You select one via the three-way switch. Once in the chosen mode, the Blend knob acts to select between the two effects, by going full left for Flanger and full right for Rotary. What’s neat is that it actually acts as a Blend knob, too, so that some slick combinations are to be had by combining both sounds. The Depth and Rate knobs work as just that in the Flanger, Vibe and Rotary modes, like on a regular modulation pedal.

Now, the Delay mode changes up the controls a little bit. The Blend knob now acts as a selector for the 12 different tape heads available, while the Depth and Rate knobs now become the familiar Time and Feedback controls for the delay. But this is no typical delay. It’s based on the Binson Echorec, a spinning magnetic drum-style delay favored by Gilmour during this period. The Echorec’s unique chiming character is present in many Floyd songs, either as a featured delay effect or for sonic ambiance.

The Dark Side recreates the entire Echorec experience with the original 12 tape head modes available. The ref card that comes with the unit helps explain how all of these modes work, and it is really helpful. The main idea is to provide different syncopated feels, such as on Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2, or even earlier works, like One of These Days. It’s very easy to conjure these sounds here, and while this section requires a little more involvement on your part, it’s worth it. The delay is warm and lush, like the original, and a hint of modulation gives it an organic feel. The characteristic Echorec “ping” really shines with single coils, and setting a snappy slap-back delay with a Telecaster took it from outer space right back down to earthbound Country. While definitely favoring a Gilmour theme, the Delay covers much more territory than its Floydian name implies.

dark-side-workstation-fuzz-delay-face-keeley-no-trs-1000x1000Another useful feature of the Dark Side is the Expression pedal input, which lets you vary the Rate control in the Rotary, Vibe and Modulation settings, while additional madness can be created elsewhere by letting you adjust the Feedback or Regeneration in the Delay mode. That sounds very intriguing.

Only one tiny quibble, the Modulation side only allows one effect unit at a time, so there’s no way to have the mod and delay on at the concurrently. Since time delays figures so much in the Gilmour sound, especially in this era, this can be slight bummer, given the already expansive nature of the pedal. Yet, it’s an understandable tradeoff, however.

What’s a lad to do? Why, he’d simply pair a favorite delay or mod pedal with the Dark Side and shine on.

Like the Delay section, the Modulation package reveals itself formidably when used with a clean amp. The Flanger nods to the 70 Electric Mistress flanger, maybe not as radical sounding at the edges, but also without the high noise floor. I spent a lot of time dialing up plenty of classic chorus and flange sounds in here, all of which sounded very full and smooth. It makes short work of delivering those early chorus sounds like Gilmour, The Police, Rush or anybody circa 1977-80! Having the Level control to adjust the blend makes these sounds more applicable in a mix situation, too.

On the other side of the switch, the Rotary presented here is a little different than the one on the Keeley Monterey pedal, with a bit more of a chorus effect. The low speed sweeps have that defined horn movement and some of the cabinet’s character added, it’s maybe a bit more pronounced and deep than the Monterey’s rotary. At higher speeds, the chorus is more apparent, but not obtrusive. Mixing it with the Flanger yields some very beautiful and unique sounds.

The Phaser is worthy of its own little 45/90 orange box, copping that wide, lush sound in spades. And being able to mix the Phaser with Vibe section lets you have the best of both the opto-coupler-based U-Vibe pulsing, and the chewy op-amp Phase 45/90 sweep. It nails the deep, dreamy swirl of Breathe and the grittier Have a Cigar swoosh. Both effects stay crisp and detailed, even at high-speed sweeps, like the bubbling lead tone on Any Colour You Like. This is definitely a great weapon for those 70s sounds, with ample ability for bringing them into today’s light. The base layer of classic sounds being crafted into new experiences has always been a Gilmour trademark, and the Dark Side provides all of the requisite flexibility.

The workstation concept comes in particularly handy for designing an efficient pedalboard, allowing for more than one set of sounds in a given space. Or for a smaller rig, a practice setup or recording session, having a bunch of inspiring, easily available sounds right there is a big advantage. In a band situation, you can cover a huge range of sounds with this one pedal, while creating some of your own. The Dark Side’s controls are intuitive and it’s easy to conjure new or familiar sounds on the fly. And, being able to blend between the different effects leads to some pretty cool places. It’s a fun piece of gear that’s very serious in its design, function and abilities. And while the Dark Side sits alone in front of you, it never feels like just one pedal.

As with the superb Monterey, the Keeley Dark Side presents a wide, ready canvas on the stand and a brimming palette of color options on your arm. From there, you can paint by numbers or go full-on Picasso, but that, of course, is entirely up to you.