Two Blackstar pedals offer nuanced shades of “oomph.”
Blackstar Amplification has only been around since 2007, but the fast rise of the U.K. manufacturer shouldn’t be all that surprising, given that its design team boasts a number of Marshall veterans. Build quality, tone, and affordable prices have also helped make the high-gain-centric brand a top seller.
At Summer NAMM 2013, Blackstar introduced their new LT pedal line, which was designed with affordability in mind (prices range from $79 to $149). The series comprises five dirt pedals: LT Drive, LT Dist, LT Metal, LT Boost, and the dual-mode LT Dual.
Unlike Blackstar’s larger HT-series pedals, the LTs have no vacuum tubes and run on standard 9-volt power. LT pedals feature buffered bypass and click-less, noiseless footswitches. We check out the LT Drive, LT Dist, and LT Metal here. In this review, we take the LT Dual and LT Boost for a spin.
These days it’s not unusual for guitarists to use one pedal for rhythm sounds and another for lead tones, which makes dual-mode dirt pedals among the most practical designs around. They’re a great way to maximize pedalboard space and minimize cabling.
While the LT Dual has twice the functionality of its siblings, it’s only a bit bigger (although with a street price of $149.99, it is the most expensive pedal in the line). Even with the extra size, it’s smaller than Blackstar’s earlier HT series pedals. The Dual’s control panel contains gain and level knobs for each channel and shared tone and ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) controls. The ISF knob lets you gradually sweep between American- and British-style raunch.
Though Blackstar doesn’t specifically designate either channel as lead or rhythm, channel 1 is the lower gain of the two and is the better candidate for rhythm tasks. I did my first experiments in low-gain territory, setting both channels with gain around 7 o’clock, tone at noon, and ISF at 10 o’clock. At these settings, channel 1 was pretty clean unless I picked fairly hard, while channel 2 sounded thicker and readily kicked out the kind of low-gain dirt you want for a solid, classic-rock tone. To get both channels to a comparable state of saturation, I had to boost channel 1’s gain between 9 and 10 o’clock.
With both gain controls at noon, channel 1 delivered a crunchy, almost AC/DC-like rhythm tone. Cranking the ISF clockwise yielded a little extra British beefiness, though this came at the expense of detail and clarity.At the same settings, channel 2 was notably tougher but still fairly refined.
Cranking the gain makes channel 1 really aggressive, and here you start to see the potential of the two channels beyond the traditional rhythm/lead binary. At these settings, with this much gain, channel 1 would be an excellent lead channel. That said, when I compared it to channel 2 at the same settings, I often thought of the latter: “Now, that’s a lead tone.”
Initially, the shared tone shaping controls seemed like a drawback, particularly because I liked the strong personality of the ISF on the other LT pedals and would have liked to use two ISF controls to strike a greater sonic contrast on this device. But with the right tweaks, it’s pretty easy to find a setting that works for both channels and your rig.
It’s worth noting that although there are two channels, you can’t cascade them into each other or use one channel to goose its mate like you can with some other dual-mode dirt boxes. However, this omission doesn’t diminish the LT Dual’s killer sounds.
The LT Dual makes it easy to dial in excellent sounds for each channel. And if you combine the LT Dual with a sparkly clean amp, you’ve got a killer set of fundamental tones. Dual-mode dirt pedals can be a godsend when both channels sound truly compelling, and with the LT Dual, Blackstar hit the mark.
The LT Boost rounds out the LT line and at $80 is one of the most affordable pedals in the series. Unlike some boost boxes that contain only a single knob, the LT Boost offers three controls—bass, treble, and gain. What’s noteworthy is that the bass and treble controls can work as a frequency boost or cut. At noon, both controls are flat and there is no EQ effect on your guitar signal. Turning either of the controls clockwise increases the selected EQ range, while counterclockwise settings reduce it.
With both tone knobs flat at noon, the LT Boost delivers unity gain around 11 o’clock. From that point and above, the gain knob revealed surprising sonic versatility. Up to about 1 o’clock, I got relatively clean increases in volume. From that point to maximum gain, the LT started to really kick the amp in the butt. But while the amp output got increasingly more raucous, there was no loss in note clarity. Nor did I lose any picking dynamics, even as the amp went into subtle compression.
The EQ section’s range is wide enough that you can even use the LT Boost as a simple EQ pedal. I was able to fatten and warm up my almost-too-bright Ampeg SJ-12R’s clean sound by cranking the bass and lowering the gain.
Boost pedals are commonly employed with other dirt pedals and depending on where you place the boost and dirt pedals in your chain, you’ll get a different result. Placing a boost before a dirt pedal will increase the saturation but not the volume; placing it after will increase the volume (albeit with some additional compression).
I placed the LT Boost before the LT Dual and with a little push of the LT Boost’s gain knob, my tone got noticeably thicker. There wasn’t an overt tonal change but an additional and very welcome thickness that I missed when the LT Boost was off. Configured after the LT Dual, the Boost provided unity gain around 1 o’clock, and adding more treble lent a bold but slightly contoured edge to my tone. This came in handy when I wanted to be heard a little more but didn’t want to overpower everything in a cluttered mix.
While fairly basic in design, the LT Boost is deceptively powerful. Whether you already love your sound but just want a little more oomph, or want to turn your existing rig into a rowdy tone monster, the LT Boost is up to the task.