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Dusky Electronics - a Tone Seeker by Night

One of these things is not like the others...


by Blake Wright


Chris Rossi is a freelance software developer by day and a tone seeker by night. He started Dusky Electronics over three years ago when he found he spent more of his downtime in a garage building amps than working on software projects. Today, Dusky remains on a slow, measured growth curve with its long-term sights on greater dealer representation, a bevy of new products and bringing on staff.

Remember the old Sesame Street sing -along “One of these things is not like the other…”? The tune fits when it comes to Dusky Electronics and its flagship D2O amplifier.
While its guts say classic tones, its skin is one of the more unique in the boutique amp business.
The head is folded metal wrapped around an aluminum chassis, and the deco is something more akin to an art nouveau piece than the monochrome, tolexed boxes we’ve come to know. Its baby blue and orange boldness signals not only change on the surface, but something new all together. The amp gets its name from the chemical formula for heavy water. 


HEADQUARTERS: The front room in Rossi's North Carolina home is strewn with electronic parts and bits of artistic inspiration.


Builder Chris Rossi said that the name was derived from the heavy, but clear sound of the amp. “It is an all-new design, but it is a classic architecture, so short signalpath, clean pre-amp, right into a power section,” explains Rossi,  who started Dusky about three years ago. “The power section is 6L6s which are cathode-biased. The cathode bias is self-adjusting so there is actually a good bit of tube rolling you can do with the power section. It will accept other kinds of power tubes. It is set up to accept EL34s. Those work just fine in there. 6550s. Any of the KT-family of tubes… 66, 88 on up. The pre-amp tubes are 6SL7s, which are octal pre-amp tubes and a little different that most. The vast majority of amps today use 12AX7s, which are little nine-pin sockets. These are more like what you would see with power tubes because they use the same base.

Ampeg used 6SL7s in their amps in the 50s and 60s. The famous B-15 was a 6SL7 amp so there is some interesting pedigree there.” Rossi also elected to go with a Baxandall tone stack on the D2O amp, which gives the user a wide range of control over treble and bass, including allowing him or her to set the controls flat for a starting reference.

“Your standard Fender, Marshall, Vox tone stacks already have a built-in mid-scoop to them,” says Rossi. “There isn’t as wide a range with what you can do with the controls. The Mid control is actually after another gain stage so it is electronically isolated. It is actually a mid-scoop that takes out the low mids… it cleans up the muddy frequencies. You can go from really warm to a clearer sound without losing the bass.


ON THE BENCH: During our visit, Rossi's workbench held a breadboard with his latest fuzz circuit wired in.


The cut control is in the power section. It is just like a Vox cut control. The purpose of that is basically if you’re cranking the amp up and you’re getting some drive out of the power section those extra harmonics can add up and get harsh. The cut control allows you to dial that back and control it. It’s a 32-watt amp, but there is a switch in the back that puts it in an 8-watt mode. For the most part tone-wise there is little difference in modes, except one is quieter.”

The D2O was in research and development for about a year. The seed of the idea was matured during the first half, then the tweaking commenced.  "And how I knew I was done with that part is when my test sessions turned into jam sessions,” says Rossi. “When I stopped thinking about the amp and just played

I knew I was getting close. The sound wasn’t inspired by anything really, other than being an amp
with the sound that I wanted to play. The one exception was even though I started with the idea of a clean amp I wanted to make sure that it overdrove in a nice, musical, interesting way. As I started playing with that I found myself thinking about my friends in Sicily that are in a band called Uzeda, which are pretty noisy post rock stuff. As I was dialing in the overdrive sounds I drew some inspiration from the guitarist Augostino (Tilotta) and his sound.”


AROUND THE SHOPA fresh cabinet and a pedal-board loaded with Dusky Product. The unlabeled orange pedal was the prototype for the recently released Mandorla boost.


Dusky headquarters is the front room of Rossi’s house in Durham, North Carolina. It also doubles as the control room for Space Lab Recording Studio, which is something he has done for almost 20 years. Earlier on in life, he expected to pursue sound engineering. Instead, electronics came calling, and during downtime between software jobs he tinkers with circuits.

“Being a software developer there were some ideas there that I started to work on and found what I was actually doing was sneaking out to the garage to build amps, because that was more fun,” he says. “It is the old cliche, if you had a million bucks what would you do… so the same as if you weren’t constrained by having to make money how would you be spending your time. I’m doing it. I figured I would turn it into a business and see what happens.”

All Dusky amps are assembled at the workbench, which is tucked in the corner. The circuit boards are turret boards, which are drilled out using the press in the garage. Rossi drills them out, mounts all of the turrets and wires them up. The speakers for his cabs are exclusively Warehouse Guitar Speakers product. He gets his transformers are from a company called Edcor in New Mexico. The ones inside each D2O are over-spec’d for the circuit, but just means that everything is coming through, according to Rossi.

“That is one of the things that makes this amp stand out is when you play through it, you are getting a lot of information,” he says. In addition to the flagship amplifier, Rossi also has a range of pedals he offers under the Dusky banner — the More Me boost, Octomotron octave fuzz, Toasted drive and the recently released Mandorla boost.

“The pedals sound really good,” boasts Rossi. “The overdrive is no Tube Screamer. This uses a pair of FET gain stages. No clipping diodes. It overdrives because it is overdriving. The FET stages overdrive each other. You can turn the gain down and use it more as a clean boost or you can crank it up and get more grind. It really complements the D2O well, or any tube amp really. It is like adding a gain stage to your amp. The boost pedal is also FET-based. The idea for this is that the FET adds a bit of extra harmonic distortion and sweetens the sound up a little bit. It also rolls a bit off the high and low ends. The fuzz is not subtle or transparent. It is crazy. It can get really synth-y sounding or even ring modulator tones.”

R&D TIME:  Rossi ponders electronic circuitry.


The latest addition, the Mandorla boost started with the idea of the old Rangemaster Treble Boost, but instead of the germanium diode, Rossi again turned to FETs. It is set up to be more non-linear than the More Me. It is also more harmonic. The Meat knob allows the user to dial bass back into the mix.


“It is like taking your amp from black face to tweed in a way,” he says. “There also a knob where you can bring the bass back in and get a heavier, richer sound out of it. The last pedal is another fuzz, but not an octave. At higher gain settings it’s really fuzzy, but at lower gain settings you can get a drive tone.”


Rossi believes there are just over 40 D2O and about 100 or so Dusky pedals in the wild. He has
a handful of dealers and growing that number is a constant project. Dusky products are also sold direct off of the brand’s website, but Rossi knows the value of a potential customer being able to walk into a store and play through the hardware themselves.


“I have ideas for a second model, but with R&D there is a lot of ex- perimentation involved,” he says. “You could hit a wall... and I’m only going to sell it to people if I dig it. I have a lot of people ask about a combo amp so I am definitely going to take a stab at that at one point. I haven’t quit my day job yet. My one frustration is that the R&D takes longer than I wish it would.”


photo credits: Blake Wright


Who Are Gearphoria? 

Blake and Holly Wright are Gearphoria. They travel full-time in their 25-foot Airstream while writing about cool guitars and guitar accessories. Gearphoria is a bi-monthly free-to-read online publication. You can visit their website by going to www.gearphoria.com and while you are there, sign up for their free e-zine.


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