A relative newcomer in the world of guitar amps, Blackstar have quickly established themselves as one of the major players. Formed by a group of ex-Marshall employees in 2007, Blackstar are a British amp company and produce a bunch of different amps that have graced stages, studios, rehearsal spaces and bedrooms around the world. There’s a lot to choose from, so what are the best Blackstar amps?
Whether you’re a beginner looking for your first practice amp, or you’re after something to pump out some serious volume on big stages, there’s a Blackstar amp that covers your needs. From digital solid state amp to all-tube beasts, there’s a massive range in what they make and there’s not a genre of music that they don’t cover.
Blackstar have based a lot of their ethos around players being able to dial in the sound in their head. That is; whatever sound you’re after, you can probably dial it in on a Blackstar. As a result, they tend to be very versatile amps, catering for loads of different playing styles. While they’re a British company, their patented Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) which can be found on most of their amps lets you dial in a British or more American style voicing, or a blend of the two.
Blackstar amps are played by indie guitarists, blues, country and pop players, metalheads and more. So the best Blackstar amp is likely going to be different for different people - it boils down to personal preference after all. However, we’ve whittled down what we think are the best Blackstar amps, covering as many bases as possible.
Best Blackstar amps: Guitar World’s choice
When looking for the best Blackstar amp, it’s difficult to ignore the HT40 MKii (opens in new tab). It’s big enough to gig with, but the power reduction options make it a viable option for home use too. It’s massively versatile offering players great clean tones, and big heavy distorted tones too; all easily navigated by an included footswitch. It’s packed full of handy features but most importantly, it sounds killer.
If you’re seeking something more simple, with just a few knobs and a great tube tone, then we love the Studio 10 EL34 (opens in new tab). With its unmistakably British voicing and smooth overdrive, it’s the perfect choice for those that want a decent, uncomplicated amp. Also worth mentioning is the new St James series - probably the lightest tube amps on the market, and with great tones to boot!
Best Blackstar amps: Product guide & reviews
The Blackstar HTs have graced stages and recording studios all around the world over the last decade or so, and it’s no surprise why. They sound great, they’re massively versatile and they come in at a good price. The HT40MKii is a 40W, twin channel all-tube amp with a single 12” Celestion speaker.
The clean channel has two quite distinct voices - one more American style, and one more British. Push the volume on the latter to get some nice, old school classic rock crunch and keep the volume in check with the master control. Then there’s a separate overdrive channel, which again has two unique voices and a lot of gain on demand should you want it. Essentially, whatever sort of sound you’re after, you can probably get it with this amp.
There’s also an on-board reverb, USB output for direct recording, power reduction down to 10% and it comes with its own foot-switch for live use.
The idea behind these amps was to create something considerably lighter than most tube amps without sacrificing anything like tone or feature set. To say they succeeded with that would be an understatement - these are incredible amps and weigh in at around 47% less than a traditional tube amp.
It’s a two channel amp - the clean channel is lovely and sparkly, and at 50W, you’ll be able to push the volume a fair bit and keep it clean. The second channel has two voices - British and American and offers a ton of gain, so whether you’re playing classic rock, blues or heavy metal this amp has you covered! There is also an EL34 equipped version of this amp, if that’s more your bag. You can run the amp at the full 50W, or reduce the output to 2W - you’ve then got the option of running it in sag mode, giving you some really nice, natural compression.
Additionally, there’s a balanced output for connecting directly to front of house, with three options of cabinet simulation, as well as a USB output for direct recording and effects loop.
This is a nice, simple 10W tube amp with a classic British tone. With only four knobs, it’s really easy to dial in a great sound; from jangly cleans to chunky, crunchy overdriven tones. If you’re looking for a straight-forward tube amp for playing at home, or jamming with friends that does away with various different channels and voices, then this is definitely worth a look.
It delivers a fairly typical British sound - quite mid-rangey, and when you dial in the gain, it’s got a great bite to it that will really help cut through a mix. It’s a great recording amp as you can crank it up in the studio and it’s still going to be fairly manageable volume-wise. There’s also a boost button which helps add a bit more bite, saturation and sustain - great for solos. On the underside you’ve got an effects loop and an emulated output after the power stage, which helps send all of the nuance coming from your amp to front of house or an audio interface etc.
The Silverlines are superb modelling amps and offer players a wide range of high quality tones and effects. From bright, spanky cleans, to warm, vintage style bite and crushing heavy metal saturation, it’s great for pretty much any style of music. Not only can you select your type of preamp, but you can also change the style of power amp for each setting. Go from KT66s to EL34s at the flick of a switch - there are no tubes in this amp, but this incredible Response section will have you fooled.
With this model, you’ve got 100W and two 12” speakers pushing a good amount of air, so you’ll be covered for most gigs. We also love how the stereo effects work with the speakers to create an incredible lush and wide sound.
This is one of Blackstar’s more recent offerings and while it might look like a pedal (because it is), it still works very much like an amp head. It’s a 100W amp, with the option to switch down to 20W and 1W, in a pedal format, making it super transportable, but rest assured it still packs a punch.
There are three different voicings - British, American and Flat. The American voice stays pretty clean throughout, and makes for a superb platform for your pedalboard. The British option has a little more range, going from clean through crunch, to some nicely overdriven sounds, though it’s not a particularly high gain unit. The Flat mode is ideal for using with modellers like a Kemper or Helix, providing you with 100W of neutral power for your models and profiles to shine through. At the heart of the AMPED is the Response section - this offers you the response and sag associated with different output tubes.
If you plug this into a computer, you can access Blackstar’s Architect software to change things like virtual cabinet emulation, mic placement etc. It’s a really cool amp, especially for players whose pedals do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of their tone.
Read the Blackstar Dept. 10 Amped 1 review
One of the more compact offerings within the HT range, the HT5RH MKii is mighty little pocket rocket of a head. Boasting 5W of tube power and a couple of great sounding channels, this is the perfect tool for jamming with friends, practicing at home at maybe even playing some quiet, low key gigs with. If you pair this with a bigger cab, you’ll still be able to move a fair amount of air.
Packed with some superb clean tones, great crunchy rhythm sounds as well as higher gain settings, it’s suitable for a range of players - basically anyone that wants good tone in a small package. On board you’ve got a nice reverb, and on the back there’s a USB output which allows you to run the head directly to your computer for recording without the need for a microphone.
It’s easy to write many off these battery powered amps off as sheer novelties, but the FLY3 is actually pretty good. It’s the perfect tool for warming up in the green room before a gig - just ask Phil X or Joe Bonamassa. It’s also popular with buskers too as you can get some really cool electric guitar tones whilst you’re out on the move.
While only small, it’s got a couple of channels built in, catering for your cleans and your dirty tones. There’s even a delay effect which sounds great! Sure, you might not be gigging with the FLY3, but for a home practice tool, amp on the road or portable amp, it’s hard to beat.
This is a perfect little practice amp for beginners and more experienced players alike. There are six different voices covering everything from warm and bright clean tones, through mild crunch all the way to chunky distortion. You’ve also got a bunch of great sounding effects onboard too.
This is a stereo amp, so even with the volume down low, just playing at home, you get a huge, spacial sound. Using the delay and tremolo effects can give you a massive, wide sound that makes it seem like you’re playing a much bigger amp, or even playing through two amps at once.
You can also use this amp as a recording interface - just plug into the amp as normal, then take a USB from the amp to your computer for capturing some amazing guitar tones, with ease.
Best Blackstar amps: Buying advice
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If you’re looking for the best Blackstar amp, then you’re going to want to look for something that matches up with what you need. Are you looking for an amp you can gig with? If so, then you’ll need it to be loud enough. When looking at tube amps, you’ll probably get away with 20W, but 30 or 40 will give you more headroom. If you’re going down the solid state or digital route, then you’ll probably want to look at a minimum of 50W.
Tube or Digital?
That brings us to the next consideration you should make - tube amp or solid state amp. Blackstar’s digital amps are great as they give you a wide variety of tones. You’ve got different cleans, as well as bluesy, crunchy tones, plus heavier distorted sounds. This means they’re equipped to tackle any sort of music; it also means that if you’re not too familiar with the different amp styles out there, you can get to grips with them digitally first. Digital amps usually have effects built into them too, which can save you money on pedals.
Tube amps tend to be more expensive and heavier than solid state or digital amps, but 9 out of 10 players will probably say that they yield a better tone. Tubes in amps mean that they break up naturally when pushed so you get a really nice, organic sounding overdrive. They’re also very responsive to your touch and are really dynamic, allowing you to play with loads of expression.
While a lot of Blackstar amps cover loads of bases in terms of playing styles, if you’re predominantly a metal player, then you’re going to need something with enough gain. The HTs have a fair amount, and allow for channel and voice switching, so you can access different sounds for certain song sections etc. Many of their digital amps also have high gain settings. Some of the more traditional style amps, with less gain might be better suited to blues or classic rock players, though of course, you can always set the amp clean and get your distortion via pedals.
Head vs Combo
Some of our picks of the best Blackstar amps are combos - that is, the amp and speaker sections are all in one enclosed unit. A head on the other hand, requires an external speaker to make any noise with, though this means that you can travel with just your amp head and use speaker cabs that might already be at a rehearsal space or venue. You can also experiment with different sized cabs.
Many of the best Blackstar amps are packed full of player-friendly features. Additional things like switchable outputs, USB and emulated XLR outs and effects loops can make all the difference when you’re looking for the perfect amp. Many of their tube amps also have onboard reverb, which is really useful. Have a think about how, when and where you’ll be using your amp and some of these features might help you make your decision.
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