In Focus: Blackstar Amplification

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In Focus: Blackstar Amplification

Blackstar Amps
Words by Rob Gee

Today, we explore some of the standout Blackstar amps and modellers within the brand's current range.

I first had the chance to listen to a range of Blackstar amps around 14 or 15 years ago, when they were first making their way into the Australian market.

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At the time, Blackstar was a bold, new concept – a brand offering low wattage, respectably priced valve amps; leading the way in the valve amp revolution is many aspects, especially with built in attenuation and digital effect integration. Since then, the brand has gone from strength to strength, with valve amps ranging from 1 to 100 watts, effects pedals, solid state amps and modellers. They deliver a very British sound, as one would expect, but harness all that the world expects from an amplifier.

This year, we’re seeing some great products from Blackstar that will get many guitarists interested in the inevitable upgrade to a lighter model.  

St James Series

I am not up to speed with my theology, but it wouldn’t surprise me if St James was heralded as the patron saint of chiropractors with this amplifier lineup. Blackstar have taken the pain out of the load-in with a range of 50-watt valve amps that are about half the weight of what you would expect from a similarly spec’d head, cabinet or combo. In lifting these up, you almost feel like they forgot to include the innards, like an empty wooden cabinet. But it’s in all there – valves, transformers and tone! 

St James offers two heads, two combos and two cabinet options. These are built to deliver two classic tonal circuits, one with a pair of EL34, the other with a pair of 6L6 tubes. The EL34 models, as is to be expected, are all about classic British crunch. And they do it very well. There is big headroom in the clean channel, that can be pushed with a pedal up front, and the drive channel is pure rock and roll. The 6L6 model offers the same US style of clean headroom, but goes wild on the drive channel with what Blackstar claim to be their heaviest overdrive circuit to date. Now, if you remember some of the high gain models Blackstar have presented over the years, then you’ll be keen to hear just how far this one goes.

The combos and speaker cabinets have their weight kept down with the inclusion of 12” Celestion Zephyr speakers. These are an exclusive speaker for the St James series that offer a very Vintage 30 style sound, but with reduced magnet weight to keep transport as easy as possible. 

AMPED Powered Pedals

If valve amps that weigh half of nothing are still too big for your needs, Blackstar have gone to new levels with the AMPED Series… floor level in fact. This series is made up of three pedals that grow in size and features, designed for the greatest of ease in rehearsal and gigging environments. They all feature a 100-watt power amp, in the pedal housing, so you can go directly into a speaker cabinet or PA without the need of a separate amplifier. 

AMPED-1 is the simple little beauty of the range. It offers a selection of preset voicings, matched to a sting of different valve responses. You get a 3-band EQ, Gian, Master and Reverb and that’s it. Backed by the grunt of the 100-watt power amp on board. It’s an ideal amplifier to sit at the end of a pedal board.

AMPED-2 gives you a whole lot more, with a separate Drive channel, as well as Delay, Mod effects and even a built-in tuner. You could do away with your pedal board and just show up with this beast and you’d be ready to rock.

AMPED-3 is the big amp lover’s pedal. It offers multiple amp channels like many of the big 100-watt amplifier heads do, but all crammed into a pedal format. You get a Clean, Crunch and Overdrive channel, with an additional Boost switch too. As with the other AMPED models, you can choose from a selection of tube voicings and power outputs, with the 100-watt power amp offering the backbone to the unit.

What all three models in the AMPED range have in common, of course, is the 100-watt power amplifier built into the pedal board. This really makes it easy to keep your rig to a minimum. Even if you’ve got an overly endowed pedal board with one too many overdrives, this can help in keeping the rig simple, with your amp now a part of the board too. Direct outputs for recording and or going straight into the PA are aided by cabinet, microphone and room emulations with Balckstar’s CabRig technology. So, you can get that big speaker cabinet sound, without having the big speaker cabinet to lug about.

These three powerful pedal boards represent the urge of Blackstar to offer guitarists with big sound solutions, in smaller, more manageable hardware. Just like the St James range of valve amplifiers, and so many imaginative concepts they have come up with over the past decade and a half. We were all amazed when Blackstar offered us the 5-watt valve amplifier, only to back that up with a 1-watt valve amplifier. Now, with these new releases, the British are again proving that classic designs can still be improved. It’s all about blurring the lines between the studio, the rehearsal room and the stage. With an amplifier for every guitarist’s needs that can be easily migrated from one space to the next. 

If you haven’t found the time to play a Blackstar amplifier yet, you’re really doing yourself and your tone an injustice. Get into your local guitar store and give one a test drive before you even consider your rig to be complete. Whilst the design team at Blackstar have gone about the business of reducing size and weight, they still are completely focused on tone. There is a Blackstar amplifier for whatever style of music you’re into. You just need to hear it for yourself!

For more information, head to Blackstar Amplification. For local enquiries, check out CMI Music.