AS A CERTIFIED GUITAR DORK, I NEVER HAVE A huff diving into an amp’s controls and crafting sounds. But true bliss is achieved when I plug right into an amp, and am immediately overwhelmed with a sound so righteous that I want to play non-stop for 17 hours, then take a bathroom/ nap/Cherry Coke break and start playing again.
That’s what it felt like the first time I plugged my favorite Les Paul into the Blackstar Series One 45. It held me in its sway after one chord, and didn’t release me—I can’t tell you for how long, because I was gone—until I had explored nearly every shade of its many clean and overdrive sounds.
Designed by former Marshall R&D engineers Ian Robinson and Bruce Keir, the Series One takes the classic British roar and ups the ante. The versatile beast can unleash a stout, ballsy overdrive that would do AC/DC proud, delve into outsider territory with Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Nels Cline-style sounds, serve up meaty clean tones, nail the gritty sting favored by ’60s traditionalists and garage rockers, and much more. While the Korea-manufactured Series One doesn’t deliver the tsunamis of saturation perpetrated by fire breathers from Mesa/Boogie, Krank, and Bogner, transforming it into an uber-high-gain machine is only a matter of adding the appropriate distortion pedal to your signal chain. By the way, I played several gigs without a boost or distortion pedal for solos, opting instead to simply click from the amp’s Warm Clean or Crunch mode to Super Crunch mode—a move that let loose a delightfully old-school, fat-butnot- overly-saturated lead tone.
To mete out its bountiful tonal options, the Series One employs a unique Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) that shifts the three EQ knobs to either British (sweet mids, blossoming lows) or American (tougher mids, tighter lows) characteristics, as well as a Dynamic Power Reduction control that sets the output from 40 watts to 4.5 watts. The ability to dial in more or less headroom with the DPR control, while simultaneously changing the voicing of the EQ via the ISF knob made working the Series One all about digging the initial clean/overdrive sound instantly, and then gleefully realizing, “Hey, if I just twist this knob, I can get a bit more [pick one] sizzle, chunk, kerrang, punch, articulation, low-end wallop, skank, midrange gristle, or you name it.” Very powerful stuff.
The only tonal downside is a very intense Bright Clean mode, where the hyped highs threatened to decouple my tympanic membranes if I wasn’t careful. I used Warm Clean exclusively, and, even then, backed down the Treble a tad. Others may find the aggro highs beneficial, as they can help cut through even the thickest band mix, or maintain note articulation when massive signal processing is employed.
For gigging, the nearly indestructible Series One is built like a World War II bunker. I dumped it rudely into car trunks and onto stages, and it still looks and plays like new. However, the trade-off for such toughness is weight, and after one punishing club gig lugging the 64-pound amp up multiple stairs and a raised stage, I prayed for an errant gamma ray to transform me into the Hulk.
The Blackstar Series One is a brilliantly muscular amp for anyone who demands glorious tube tone. It’s not an inexpensive proposition— and other options in its price range include excellent combos from Marshall, Vox, Egnater, Engl, and Bogner—but its ISF and DPR controls offer bold twists on tone sculpting, and it can handle just about any gig you throw at it. The Series One’s combination of versatility, innovation, and toughness win it an Editors’ Pick Award.
MODEL Series One 45
PRICE $2,249 retail/$1,799 street
CHANNELS Two (with four modes)
CONTROLS Power (Dynamic Power Reduction), Master Volume,Master Presence,Master Resonance,ISF, Treble, Middle,Bass, Overdrive Volume, Overdrive Gain, Crunch/Super
Crunch switches,Clean Volume, Clean Gain, Warm Clean/Bright Clean switches, Impedance Selector.
TUBES Three ECC83 and one ECC82 preamp tubes, two EL34 power tubes.
POWER Selectable 45 watts to 4.5 watts.
SPEAKER Two 12" Celestion custom Neodymium.
EXTRAS Effects Send/Return (with selectable +4dBV/-10dBV level), Speaker Emulated Output (XLR and 1/4” jacks), MIDI In/Thru (for channel and program changes), FS-2
Footswitch (Bright Clean, Warm Clean, Crunch, Super Crunch).
WEIGHT 64 lbs
KUDOS Instantly fabulous tones.Versatile sounds.Innovative EQ. Built to survive a nuclear blast.
CONCERNS Heavy. Bright Clean mode’s high end is very aggressive.