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Blackstar Amps: Pedigreed and Making Waves

Former Marshall designers'' amplifier company brings its Artisan amplifier line to the United States.

Northampton, England (February13,2008) -- As you know, there are a lot of amplifier companies on the scene right now catering to everything from boutique to budget demands. With so much being released by so many companies it can be difficult keeping up with what''s hot and what''s not. Well, here''s a new company that has certainly picqued our interest despite the crowded field:  Blackstar Amplification.

Here''s why: the UK-based company was founded by four former Marshall employees. Obviously, we have the utmost respect for Marshall. Who doesn''t? We''ve also seen this scenario before and let''s be honest -- often times, former insiders fail miserably at outside start-ups. Naturally, we''re curious to see how this thing pans out. But get this -- despite their newness, Blackstar''s hand-wired stuff was solid enough to gain a distribution channel through Guitar Center’s Platinum Stores. Oh, and UK mag Guitarist had the following to say about a Blackstar head: “Is this the best hand-wired head you can buy? Probably…” 

We''ve been chatting with the folks at Blackstar and here''s what we''ve learned:

Blackstar debuted at Musikmesse in March 2007 with a line of five effects pedals. Amplifiers followed in November and their first products made it to the U.S. on GC’s Platinum Store shelves in January 2008.

Artisan 100 with 412A and B Cabs
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The Marshall Pedigree
Blackstar’s staff now includes six former Marshall insiders. Among them: Ian Robinson, former Marshall R&D Director, and Bruce Kier, former Marshall Technical Director.

“There’s no doubt that if you’re into rock guitar then working for Marshall is probably the best job in the world,” said Blackstar Artist Relations Manager Joel Richardson (also a former Marshall guy). Which begs the question, why leave? “As a team we had lots of ideas for products we knew wouldn’t be right for Marshall, and over time we slowly came to the realization that the only way we would ever bring those designs to fruition would be to do them ourselves,” Joel explained.

When the team of four made a massive departure from Marshall, they pursued these ideas and their two patent-applied-for technologies were developed.

It is clear that Blackstar’s focus is innovation – it is the reason they left Marshall, and their goals are lofty. “Each range we release will have something unique to enhance your guitar playing,” said Joel. The first two unique components are the patent-applied-for ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) and DPR (Dynamic Power Reduction).

The ISF feature debuted on their very first products – the HT Range of valve overdrive pedals. Joel describes ISF as, “an interactive control that allows you to infinitely adjust the response of the tone control network between any of the traditional voicings.” The control sits alongside the standard Bass, Middle and Treble controls, and allows the tone stack response to switch from American, Fender-esque tone to British, Marshall-y sounds, and every response between the two. It is from the versatility and flexability of this control that the company coined their slogan, “The Sound in Your Head.”

“You can design your own sound and truly find the sound in your head,” explains Joel. The feature will also be available on their Series One amplifiers.

The DPR system is found on Series One amplifiers as well, which aren’t yet available in the States. This system gives players control over the output of the amplifier, down to ten percent of its rated power without affecting the tone; the Series One 200, a 200-watt amp, using this technology, can function normally at 20-watts.

The HT-Boost is one of five valve effects
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Amps and Effects
Though Blackstar has two lines of amplifiers and one line of effects, only their Artisan Series is currently available in the United States. The HT Range of valve overdrive pedals will be arriving stateside in about a month, and their other amplifier line, Series One, is on its way as well.

Each amplifier in the Artisan Series is handwired point-to-point and features vintage red Tolex and etched aluminum panels. The series includes a 15-watt combo, a 30-watt combo, a 100-watt head, and two 4x12 cabinets. What do they sound like? Blackstar’s website says the amps offer “the widest range of reference vintage tones.” The street prices at Guitar Center for the Artisan series are $1499 for the 15-watt combo, $1799 for the 30-watt combo, $1699 for the 100-watt head and $699 for each 4x12 cab.

The HT Range of effects consists of five valve overdrive pedals: HT-Boost, HT-Drive, HT-Dist, HT-DistX and HT-Dual. The pedals feature the patent-applied-for ISF control. HT-Boost and HT-Drive will be $149.99, HT-Dist and HT-DistX will be $179.99 and the HT-Dual will be $199.99.

Series One turns around and runs in the opposite direction. Featuring both of the company’s patent-applied-for technologies, the amps take full advantage of the Blackstar staff’s combined 50-plus years of amplification experience. Each amp is 100 percent all-valve, and the line promises power with a 45-watt combo, a 100-watt head, a 200-watt head, and two 4x12 cabs. Since these amps don''t have a launch date for the U.S., pricing was not available.

Needless to say, we''re as curious as you are. Keep an eye out for future reviews!

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