Studio 20? Well, if your home studio happens to be Abbey Road, the Blackstar’s appellation might make sense, because this is one loud-as-all-hell 20-watter. I used it for a fairly large club gig— mated with the Blackstar HTV-112 open-back cabinet ($249 retail/$199 street)—and the amp was feisty enough to be heard across the stage and into the audience. Small wonder that when the soundman gave me a board recording of the performance, it was obvious the Studio 20 was not put into the house mix. This low-wattage titan filled the club all by itself, with just a little help from signal bleed into the vocal mics. But although the well-built Studio 20 is seriously road tough and gig ready, if you want to keep it as an “indoor” amp, its speaker-emulated 1/4" output and Master Volume let you record at low volumes if you’re miking, and silently if you’re going direct.
CONTACT Blackstar Amplification, blackstaramps.co.uk
MODEL HT Studio 20H
PRICE $629 retail/$499 street
CONTROLS Reverb, Master Volume, ISF, Treble, Middle, Bass, Overdrive Volume, Overdrive Gain, Clean Tone, Clean Volume
TUBES Two EL34 power tubes, two ECC83 preamp tubes.
POWER 20 watts
EXTRAS Digital reverb, speaker-emulated output, Effects loop, footswitch included
WEIGHT 28 lbs
KUDOS Super-pristine clean tone. Ballsy overdrive saturation. ISF knob for blending American and British EQ voicings. Good value.
CONCERNS You better like it really loud if you want gritty clean tones.
Sonically, the Studio 20 is almost like the Batman anti-hero Two-Face. The Clean channel is as pristine and pure as Snow White, while the Overdrive channel is all about fury and aggression. Tested with a Guild X-160, a PRS Mira X, a Hanson Chicagoan, and a Fender Stratocaster, the amp’s dual nature was marked in each instance by either: (a) massive clean headroom that refused to get even slightly gritty until the controls were dimed to Godzilla volume levels, or (b) pretty ferocious saturation. There’s precious little sonic real estate flanking the two contrasts, which makes it difficult to dial up tones that evoke, say, roots rock or old-school rock and roll. Such styles seem to be “between the knobs,” so to speak.
Putting some vibey grit into the Studio 20’s immaculate Clean channel required adding some of my favorite overdrive pedals to the signal chain—a move that revealed this channel is perfectly tailored for those players who desire “hi-fi” amplification to best show off all the tonal colors of their stompbox armament. The Overdrive channel rages like a rabid boar, and as I couldn’t calm the roar for spiky or skanky tones, I used the channel exclusively for solos and riffs. The Tone controls are quite musical, and the EQ section’s exclusive Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) magically shifts the Bass, Middle, and Treble knobs between American (more precise center frequencies) and British (wider center frequencies) voicings.
The Studio 20 offers two distinctive continents of tone, which is nothing but fabulous for studio work, where you can simply opt for sparkling or petulant. Onstage, it’s down to how you like to perform. If you’re a pedal fiend, then you’ll get a good amount of frontend mileage between the Studio 20’s uber-clean and saturated foundations. However, it you like to keep things organic, and mostly employ the amp alone for your sounds, it will be a challenge pulling a “D’yer Mak’er”-style tone from the Studio 20’s two channels.
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