For a company that got its start in 2004, Blackstar has quickly earned a reputation for great-sounding amps, and can boast an impressive list of pro users to back it up. Recent endorsements by Waddy Wachtel and up-andcomer Jared James Nichols for the new Artist 30 combo on review here should be enough to make anyone who’s in the market for a 2x12 tube amp want try it out.
Though based on the costlier, hand-wired Artisan 30 combo, the Artist uses 6L6s instead of EL84s, and it adds to the features list by offering foot-switchable channels, an effects loop, and the patented ISF control—which provides continuous blending between American-and British-type sounds. The upward-facing control panel carries Volume and Tone controls for Channel 1, along with Gain, Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, and ISF knobs for Channel 2. The Master and Reverb controls apply to both channels, and a footswitch is included to switch between them and bypass the ’verb. It’s all stuffed into a plywood cabinet slinging two Celestion V-Type 12" speakers. The weight is 49 lbs, which is light compared to most 2x12 combos. It’s a nice looking rig, too. The black covering and absence of plastic or metal on the corners give the cabinet a very clean appearance. The grille is a black/silver weave, and on top we find a black plastic control panel with pointer-style knobs and silver labels.
During our testing we did experience a sudden no-sound problem, which was traced to one of the connectors on the output lead from the amplifier slipping off a speaker terminal. Fixing it requires either removing a protective metal grille on the back of the cabinet (something you might want to do anyway), or lifting the chassis out to gain access to the speakers. Note that you also have to remove the chassis to get to the preamp and power tubes.
We tested the Artist 30 with guitars that included a Gibson ’59 Historic Les Paul, a John Page Classic Ashburn, and a G&L ASAT Classic fitted with Seymour Duncan pickups. With Channel 1’s controls a little past halfway, the tones were great for rhythm playing and the amp sounded deep and clear at all guitar settings. In fact, you can peg the amp volume and the sound remains quite clean—even with humbuckers—at least until the Master comes up enough to bring in some power-tube grind. The voicing of this channel is such that it was no problem switching between different types of pickups, and the Artist 30 excelled at preserving the sonic signatures of the various guitars. The tones sound best with a little reverb, of course, and the Artist 30’s spacious digital ’verb did an admirable job whether going for subtle or splashier textures.
Switching to Channel 2 provides much more gain, along with expanded EQ options for honing your tones. With our test guitars, setting the Gain knob between two-thirds to full up provided a nice spectrum of badass rock tones that could be easily dialed for a thicker or slimmer response with the ISF knob. It’s definitely a go-to control when switching from humbuckers to single-coils, as you can get what you need almost instantly without having to fuss with the other tone knobs. While not super high gain, Channel 2 provides enough distortion for solos and crunching rhythm work, and delivers it with brawny, Marshall-style attitude. Adding an OD pedal is the obvious way to go if you want tons of sustain—especially if you can’t turn the Master up enough to get the tubes cooking—and in that scenario a KHDK NO. 1 (also on review in this issue on page 104) integrated so well with the amp’s core distortion tone that it was like adding a third channel.
All said, the Artist 30 is a highly flexible amp that has the clean range to keep a jazz player happy, and will grind up beautifully for blues, rock, and pretty much anything else south of metal. It’s a cool choice for pedal users, it has plenty of volume for live gigs, and it sure comes in at an attractive price.
PRICE $1,099 street
CONTROLS Channel 1: Volume, Tone. Channel select switch. Channel 2: Gain, Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble. Global Reverb (with Dark/Light switch) and Master.
POWER 30 watts
TUBES Two 12AX7s, two 6L6s
EXTRAS Effects loop with sensitivity switch. Three speaker outs (1x16Ω, 1x8Ω, 2x16Ω). Line out. Footswitch included for channel switching and reverb bypass.
SPEAKERS Two Celestion V-Type 12s
WEIGHT 49 lbs
KUDOS Good range of clean and overdriven tones.
CONCERNS Would like to see soldered speaker connections. Tubes aren’t easy to access.