“Designed, not modeled”: Blackstar expands its digital amp arsenal with St. James EL34 and 6L6 plugins – which promise to provide “the most authentic guitar amp plugin experience possible”

Blackstar St. James plugin
(Image credit: Blackstar)

Blackstar has expanded its ever-growing suite of amp sims by rolling out two individual St. James plugins that promise to deliver “the most authentic guitar amp plugin experience” possible.

The St. James name will probably be familiar to most, but for those unaware, last year Blackstar sought to create some of the lightest tube amps “on Earth” through its new St. James portfolio, which has since been bolstered to include a host of heads, cabs, and combos.

Then, earlier this year, the boutique British guitar amp manufacturer broke into the amp sim software market by debuting its flagship St. James plugin – a holistic plugin package that relayed two incomprehensibly lightweight St. James tube amps into a digital format.

Blackstar St. James plugin

(Image credit: Blackstar)

Now, Blackstar has split that suite into two, unveiling streamlined standalone plugins for its EL34 and 6L6 amp models.

We say “models,” but Blackstar is keen to avoid that word – instead, it’s adopted a “Designed, not modeled” mantra, which, in essence, is the company’s way of saying that these are less amp simulators and more guitar amps in their own right.

It is, of course, a sensible idea, and one that not only gives guitarists the chance to play through one amp without having to download the other, but also one that considerably slashes the price point. 

To that end, the EL34 and 6L6 plugins each carry an introductory price tag of $29. That’s exactly $100 more affordable than the fully fledged St. James Suite plugin. Granted, the price will eventually rise to $69, but that’s still pretty competitive.

Blackstar St. James plugin

(Image credit: Blackstar)

As an overview, the EL34 is designed for US cleans and British crunch, and is marketed as an ideal pedal platform for funk, blues, and beyond. The 6L6, meanwhile, is more focused with “pristine cleans and hi-gain overdrive tones,” and is especially concerned with “classic crunch and aggressive modern metal sounds.”

Owing to the way each plugin was designed and set up (“meticulous measurements using highly technical equipment, decades of technical experimentation, and in-depth market research”) the EL34 and 6L6 are said to provide the unparalleled touch and feel response that is so often seen as the downfall of many digital amp sims.

Each package arrives with Blackstar’s CabRig next-generation DSP speaker simulator, which offers separate channels of cab and mic combos. At this point, it’s worth noting these presets are “fixed,” meaning players aren’t free to experiment with mic positions or cab combinations, which was the case with the larger suite.

Similarly, whereas the flagship plugin offered pre- and post-effects and an EQ, these separate plugins deem such features surplus to requirements. 

Both of the above were designed by the same team that developed Blackstar’s Artisan, Series One, ID:Series and physical St. James products, so you can bet they sound top notch, too. Other appointments include an on-board tuner and noise gate.

As well as all the above, the EL34 and 6L6's predecessor has also been treated to its first upgrade. The flagship St. James suite now offers a tuner and artist-designed presets, and of course, both the individual EL34 and 6L6 plugins.

The individual St. James EL34 and 6L6 plugins are available for $29 apiece. 

Head over to Blackstar’s plugin website to find out more.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.