An orange-colored distortion pedal might not be the most original idea, but when a pedal kicks ass like the LT Dist, looks are incidental. At $99, the LT Dist is a little pricier than some of its siblings. But for the extra dough you get Blackstar’s patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) circuit, which offers EQ shades varying from British-type tones in the clockwise reaches to a more American vibe in the other direction.
The control panel consists of gain, level, tone, and ISF. I started with the gain around 7 o’clock and ISF almost fully counterclockwise. The LT Dist generated a sweet Stones-y rhythm grind that fattened up triads and more complex chords. For single-note playing, lower gain settings add more bite, but also a slight harshness. This is where the ISF comes in handy: Turn it clockwise, and the sound gets warmer and rounder, yielding a singing lead tone with lots of overtone color. The adjustment makes the sound easier on the ears, and it made my guitar feel more dynamic and forgiving.
When I advanced the gain to noon, things started sounding pretty aggressive. With the tone low and ISF fully counterclockwise, the sounds were rowdy and burly. When I moved the tone knob to noon, though, the added crispness generated a killer rhythm sound à la Accept’s “Balls to the Wall” and classic Dio. The IFS control’s sweet spot seems to be right in the middle—at far-clockwise things get a little woofy. It’s a great setting for leads where you’re primarily picking notes. It’s less than ideal for hammer-ons and pull-offs.
Cranking the gain didn’t deliver the drastic crunch increase you might expect, but the extra edge was useful and powerful. Rhythm parts took on the feel of a stack ready to explode. Lead tones sounded a little more refined. At maximum gain settings the LT Dist sounded best with the tone at noon and IFS counterclockwise. Turning the IFS any further clockwise (to its “British” side) made the tones thicker, more opaque, and less detailed.
The LT Dist offers both British and American distortion flavors and everything in between. While it would be easy to write off the IFS control as a gimmick (or just a creatively named presence control), it’s extremely helpful for tailoring the pedal to a specific rig or song, and it gives the LT Dist many distinct tones. Few distortion pedals can offer the tonal range of the LT Dist.