RUST Magazine recently doled out our Blackstar Artist 30 amp to Reluctant Saints’ Brian Cameron for a minute so he could check it out and get down and dirty with it. After working with it for a couple weeks, here is what he had to say about it:
“50 Shades of Blackstar”
The sleek, dark Blackstar cosmetics have always, in my mind, looked like they belonged at a Joan Jett photo shoot. A tuxedo black and white rock & roll machine to match her white and black Melody Maker. The sound – the edgy plugged straight in sound of rock & roll. But not like some of the amps we usually mention. It sounds like a Blackstar.
So I walked into this amp thinking it would be a more refined version of their HT Venue series amps. And I was wrong. Only 2 channels? And both of them essentially…. clean??
This amp featured a more traditional 3 way tone stack in one channel (including their ISF knob) and a 2 knob volume/tone *think Dr. Z* on the other. Cranking the master volume yielded some open sounding power tube distortion, and both channels sounded equally good loud and quiet.
Now…. Some amplifiers have so much range with their tone controls that you can get myriad tones out of them and subsequently get yourself in trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing. This is no such amplifier. It is very forgiving, even at extreme settings. And it always sounds very consistently Blackstar-ish.
The two channels differ slightly, though not a lot until you add an overdrive pedal in front of them. Then they begin to really open up. The 2 channels take on completely different voices when pushed by pedals, which really helps you dial in “that” sound you look for with overdrive or distortion. Just swap channels! I liked a TS-9 in one channel and the Boss SD-1 in the other.
One could read all the reviews in the world about the effects loop. It has one. It works. It likes every pedal you throw at it!! Many amps have this feature, but what Blackstar amps have that none other have is the ISF knob. It says turn left for “American” sounds, turn right for “British” sounds.
To my ears, what this magical dial does is to shape the midrange and loosen/tighten the bottom end slightly. It won’t make it sound like a Fender vs. a Marshall. It will, however, give you 50 Shades of Blackstar…. and that in itself is a powerful tone sculpting tool, and in my opinion this amp is more responsive to the ISF than other amps from the company.
So Blackstar has reinvented themselves yet again with the Artist 30 combo. It is, as advertised, a great platform for pedals. It sounds like a grown up Blackstar. A mature and experienced version ready for sonic experiments. A Blackstar designed for an Artist.