Price paid: £ 600
Purchased from: Online
Features — 8
The amp is a 2 channel class A cathode biased amp running 12ax7 valves in the preamp and 6L6 valves in the power amp. An interesting note is that the 30 watt version of this amp still runs the same valves so it should come as no surprise that a 15 watt amp running 2 6L6 valves is a very clean sounding amp.
The cab is open back marine ply. It is open and airy but still manages to give solid tight bass.
It's a 2 channel amp. Channel 1 is clean and channel 2 is another clean channel. Channel 1 has a volume knob and a tone knob. The tone functions like many vintage 1 knob tone controls where it gives max bass and treble when centered. Go above half way and it cuts bass and if you go below half way it cuts treble.
Channel 2 has gain, volume, bass, mid, and treble. The EQ works exactly as anybody would expect. The gain doesn't give a lot of gain but if you crank it you can get some crunch.
The master section of the amp has Volume, digital reverb, and the blackstar's patented ISF. The digital reverb sounds good. It isn't anything to write home about but it works well and doesn't introduce any unwanted noise. I much prefer it to the spring reverb in my blackface fender amps.
The ISF is one of the things that makes this amp special. It is essentially a knob that lets you adjust between American or British amps. If you turn it a little to the American side it sounds like a tweed fender. A little more and it gets more top end and lower bass so you sound more like a blackface fender. If you go all the way it get's gives you the super bright vintage Gibson tone. If you go a little to the British side it sounds like an old Vox and if you keep going it rolls off the presence and you get into Marshall territory.
The amp also has an FX loop but I have not used it.
Sound — 8
The 1st thing I noticed about the amp is how quiet it is. There is almost no hum. I actually thought the amp wasn't turning on until I plugged the guitar into it.
The amp sounds amazing. They really have captured everything I love about vintage American and Vintage British amps. As I said before it's a clean amp and that makes it perfect for people that use pedals and for people that want headroom. I use got it because I wanted something warm and fuzzy for jazz and something bright and twangy for Les Paul style country and with a speaker swap it does those perfectly.
If you want power amp distortion you will be disappointed. If you use high output pickups and boost pedals you can get a lot of preamp distortion but the power valves will always stay clean.
The stock Celestion V-type speaker leaves a little to be desired. The V-type is basically a poor mans vintage 30 so I recommend swapping it for a real vintage 30 to keep the original character. I swapped mine for a Jensen P12Q which made everything sound a little brighter and more American which is what I wanted.
Reliability & Durability — 7
The amp is well built and is more than capable of taking a beating. It could be dropped, knocked over, or banged around in the back of a van and it wouldn't hurt anything. The only thing I don't like is that the pots are connected directly the the circuit boards but that is normal for most amps in it's price range. This means a hard knock on one of the knobs could damage the circuit board the pot is attached to however the circuit boards are pretty hefty and can take more abuse than what you see in most modern amps.
Overall Impression — 8
I love this amp. I've been playing for about 20 years and building guitars and amps for 10 or 15 years. Before getting this amp I was dragging 4 amps to every gig. Now I just need the one. It captures everything I love about vintage Gibsons, Fenders, Voxs, and Marshalls and it's much easier to use than vintage amps. Its ability to stay clean makes it perfect for pedals. I play mostly blues, country, and jazz and it is ideal for all of them. I also play a bit of classic rock, rock, and '90s alternative and with pedals in front it does that great too. If I want the high gain California tone I still have to pull out my mesa but this amp is good for everything else I've tried to make it do.
If I needed to replace the amp for any reason I would do it without hesitation.
If I could change anything about the amp it would be to add more gain to the gain knob and give the amp the ability to drive the power section. They designed an amp that is nothing but headroom and that is great but every once in awhile I would like to be able to crank it and get that warm valve distortion.