Blackstar has created some notable tube amps over the past few years, such as the English- designed Series One models—which range from a 45-watt combo to a 200-watt head—and the handwired Artisan 15-, 30-, and 100-watt combos and heads. The company’s HT line of amplifiers, cabinets, and pedals has also been expanding to fill the needs of beginners and working players alike. The newest model, the HT Club 50 Half Stack, pairs a 50-watt head with a 4x12 cabinet for an “introductory” price of under $1,000, which is pretty amazing considering that many tube heads of that power cost well over a grand by themselves.
The Club 50 features two footswitchable channels, digital reverb, and an effects loop. The Clean channel has Volume and Tone controls plus a Voice switch, while the Overdrive channel features a more expansive “Equalisation” section that includes the company’s patented ISF control (Infinite Shape Feature) and Voice switch. There’s also a Master Volume to adjust the overall level and a global Reverb control.
The Club 50’s steel chassis slips out of the cabinet easily after taking off the rear panel and removing the six screws that hold the chassis in place. Inside we find a production-style circuit with all the components—except the transformers and power and standby switches—mounted to a pair of PCBs. The cabinetry, which is made from rugged plywood with finger-locked joints, is neatly covered in black vinyl with gold piping accents.
Tested with a Gibson Les Paul, a PRS SC58, and a P-90 equipped G&L ASAT, the Club 50’s Clean channel offered abundant headroom, good dynamic response, and lots of grind when the Volume control was turned all the way up. The higher-gain tones are not unlike those of an older master-volume Marshall, and depending on the Volume setting, it was possible to get everything from crisp rhythm textures to touch-responsive lead tones that sounded great with humbucker and singlecoil guitars. The Tone control shifts the balance in brighter or darker directions, while the Voice switch alters the character of the sound. According to Blackstar, activating this function changes the channel from a Boutique voicing to a Modern voicing, which has more headroom for enhanced clean tones. The Modern mode has a “pre voicing” based on a Super Reverb’s input circuit that provides extended bass response and makes the high treble more articulate, and feedback is also reapplied to the power amp to keep the bottom end tight and controlled.
The reverb’s spring-like sound added a nice airiness to these tones. The Light setting worked best overall, though the Dark mode sounded cool for jazzier sounds when using the Modern setting along with a little attenuation of the Tone control.
The Club 50’s persona changes significantly when switched to the Overdrive channel. There’s much more gain on tap, as you’d expect, but the distortion has a more sizzling top-end and less of the touch sensitivity found on the Clean channel—particularly at higher gain settings and/or when the Voice switch is set to the Modern position. Power-amp damping is reduced in Modern mode to provide livelier highs and lows, and Blackstar says that some pre-tube, mid frequency boost is also switched in, which alters the character of the Overdrive channel from a classic “master volume” style to a more modern, hot-rodded type.
The EQ knobs provide lots of ways to shape these sounds, and the ISF control works in tandem with the EQ and the Voice switch to make it possible to get tones that cover everything from hard rock to classic and modern metal. So if you’re a young shredder looking to get your Gus G. on or summon the underworld à la Paul Allender, you likely find exactly what you’re looking for. But if you’re also yearning for the rich, harmonically saturated grind that a preamp section with four or more 12AX7s delivers, you may want to consider one of Blackstar’s Series One or Artisan amplifiers.
Still, there’s no denying that the HT Club 50 offers a lot of bang for the buck. And whether your stylistic tastes run toward Eric Clapton or Cannibal Corpse, this split-personality setup could be a good choice for gigs that call for a loud 50-watt rig.
CONTACT Blackstar, blackstaramps.com
HT CLUB 50 HALF STACK
PRICE $1,629 retail/$999 street
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, Voice switch (Clean channel). Volume, Gain, Voice switch, ISF, Treble, Middle, Bass (Overdrive channel). Master Volume, Reverb
TUBES Two 12AX7 preamp tubes, two EL34 output tubes
POWER 50 watts
EXTRAS Effects loop w/level switch. Speaker emulated output. Reverb Dark/Light switch. Three speaker outs. Two-button footswitch included.
SPEAKER Blackstar HTV 412 cabinet with four 12" Celestion speakers
WEIGHT 25 lbs (head), 80 lbs (cabinet)
KUDOS Wide-ranging Clean channel. Lots of gain. Great price.
CONCERNS Not necessarily a concern, but the sound and feel can differ significantly between the Clean and Overdrive channels depending on the gain and Voice switch settings.