Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay: What is it?
The idea of a electric guitar or bass to have built-in effects alongside tone and volume controls is nothing new. When Vox was at its most eccentric – when pop culture was at its most eccentric, in the late ’60s – he had classical electric guitars with built-in effects like the Starstream and Ian Curtis preferred the Phantom VI.
But the concept has had mixed fortunes. Perhaps his most notable success was the aluminum-clad DL-OR that Hugh Manson built for Muse’s Matt Bellamy; with the Z.Vex Fuzz Factory and MXR Phase 90 phaser pedal circuits incorporated into its electrical circuitry, it showed what could be achieved with the right approach.
Other companies, such as Gibson’s Firebird X, were less fortunate. But these poorly starred models need not stop progress. There is always another way. Even now, in the golden age of pedalboard conservation, we’re presented with an electric bass guitar that puts effects at your fingertips, and it combines the talents of two of the bass world’s most esteemed companies.
Ernie Ball Music Man x Darkglass Electronics: It’s quite a collaboration, and it resulted in the DarkRay, an EBMM StingRay augmented with Darkglass circuitry. Disregard business synergies for a second, it makes perfect sense. Here you have the StingRay, one of the most iconic bass models of all time, featuring a dual-band Darkglass preamp with two separate dirt circuits – named Alpha (distortion) and Omega (fuzz) – for grit and integrated thunder. It’s really cool.
Like your regular Ocean StingRays, this one also has select hardwood construction, roasted maple neck set to the body with a five-bolt joint, 11-inch-radius ebony fingerboard, 34-inch scale, 22 stainless steel frets and Custom Music Man with Clover button tuners. The bridge is generally sturdy, a Vintage Music Man top loader with a steel bridge plate and vintage nickel-plated steel saddles.
The finish, of course, is high-gloss obsidian black (graphite stone is the alternative), all the better for popping those color-coded LEDs on the gain control. How cool is that? An onboard gain control, sitting right next to the usual Volume, Blend, Treble and Bass pots.
There’s also a three-way blade selector which might initially cause some confusion; the DarkRay is a one-pickup affair and has one of those oversized neodymium humbuckers sitting at the base of the egg-shaped pickguard. The selector allows you to choose between Alpha and Omega distortion types and to use the bass only with the preamp.
Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay: performance and verdict
There’s understandably a lot of excitement around the Darkglass preamp and its two dirt circuits, but what the DarkRay does most of all is remind you of just how tactile the StingRay chassis is, and by extension, much of from the current Ernie Ball Music Man range. This too has had its roasted maple neck treated with the house special sauce of special wax and gun oil and feels just as amazing.
Combined with the reputedly balanced proportions of the StingRay, it makes it an extremely accessible instrument with an addictive and flattering ride for the player. Again, that tactile element is extended to hardware (black, naturally) which has a matte feel.
• Bass Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray HH
The StingRay HH is a truly fantastic bass. Not only does it look truly stunning, it produces an equally stunning variety of solid sounds to die for.
• Darkglass Electronics Microtubes X Ultra
You can add dirt to your sound the old-fashioned way, except as a DI-cum-EQ with compression and distortion, the Microtubes X Ultra is an innovative pedal.
• Sterling By Music Man Stingray 34PB
The StingRay34PB sounds exactly like you’d expect from a Ray, delivering all the grit, punch and bite associated with the model, but at a much more accessible price.
But accessible isn’t what EBMM and Darkglass thought when it came to some of the sounds you can infer from the DarkRay. Of course, set it to “preamp only” and you’ve got a mighty active StingRay, with an EQ more than capable of gouging out the mids for smooth, electric bounce, or creating a low-end that feels like it could sink a freighter.
Sky is the limit. Except that’s not the case. There is more. We have two types of distortion. So dial in something awesome, then give it some teeth via Alpha Mode. This is more classic distortion, and no matter how hard you crank it, the gain doesn’t dampen your sound. Subtle adjustments will reward you with some warmth in the signal; penny for Motörhead.
The Omega, on the other hand, will give your sound a thick skin of fuzz. Again, definition remains impressive and there’s plenty of travel on this dial, accommodating old-school players and sonic extremists alike. Plus, you can blend the two dirt tones via the blend control – really, a godsend.
For pros and serious amateurs, the DarkRay is a fun twist on a classic four-string that has all the playability and core tones of the originals, but with a convenient built-in dirt solution for rock and metal. And hey, it’s not cheap, but it will save you the price of two high-quality distortion pedals.
MusicRadar Verdict: A StingRay with big teeth and pointy hair, the DarkRay’s dual distortions augment a tried-and-true recipe, turning one of the bass world’s most playable instruments into a true face melter and low-thunder thunderer. of range.
Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay: The Web Says
“The DarkRay is designed for serious gamers, and it delivers the reliability and playability that those musicians demand, even if they barely use effects. The reality is that once a player plugs in and experiences these modes , he will find it almost impossible to lower the bass.”
Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay: Hands-On Demos
Ernie Ball Music Man
Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay: Specifications
- MADE IN: UNITED STATES
- BODY: Select hardwood
- NECK: Roasted Maple, Bolt-On, Five-Bolt
- SCALE: 34″
- TOUCH: Ebony, 22 stainless steel frets
- RETRIEVE: 1 x neodymium humbucker
- CONTROLS: Custom Darkglass two-band active preamp with two separate distortion circuits (Alpha and Omega); volume, gain, blend, treble, bass, three-way distortion selector (Preamp Only, Preamp + Alpha Distortion, Preamp + Omega Distortion)
- MATERIAL: Custom Music Man tuners, lightweight with tapered string shafts and ergonomic trefoil design, top-loading Vintage Music Man steel bridge plate with vintage black-plated steel saddles
- MASS: 8.8 pounds
- LEFT-HANDED: Nope
- CONTACT: Ernie Ball Music Man