Gear Review: Blackstar HT-5R Amplifier

Let me begin by saying that I have a 100 watt Fender Ultra Chorus Amp that I bought for $400 years ago when I first got my Les Paul. It's a LOUD, tinny solid state amp that is impossible to practice with because the volume can't be cranked past "2" without massive feedback and/or shaking of windows. I needed a smaller amp with lower wattage that I could actually drive for gain and play without alienating every single one of the people I live with.

Once again, I headed over to Kaos Music and I talked to Lou, amp builder and guitar tone expert/extraordinaire. I asked for help. Do I get a Marshall? A Vox? Mesa? Fender? I am a bit of a gearhead, but I really just want to plug into an amp that sounds great and that I don't have to spend 30 minutes fiddling time with in order to get a decent sound out of it. (Spinal Tap anyone?) Lou asked me to try the Blackstar and tell him what I thought.

Well, I plugged in and was blown away by the variations of sounds capable of this killer amp.

First thought: This must be an expensive amp. There is no way something that sounds this good is within my price range. But I'll keep playing anyway.

Second thought: It's tube a 5 watt amp. AND it can be used to plug into a cabinet?!!?!? I was now dreaming of standing in front of a wall of 4x12 Blackstar cabinets, while the crowd chanted my name.

Third thought: How will I justify this purchase? (The crowd wasn't that big afterall ;) )

Good news: It was within budget! This allowed me not to worry about thought #3 above. :)

Once I got comfortable and was playing away, Lou told me that Blackstar was started by some of the guys that used to be at Marshall. True to their dedication to quality, they delivered an amp that is in my opinion superior to the current Marshall offerings within the same category.

Some great features in this epic little beast:

* Clean and Dirty channels, includes a footswitch
* 4x12 cabinet emulation
* input for headphones or an MP3 player so you can jam along to tracks
* effects loop
* built-in reverb
* 12" speaker
* "USA to UK" ISF feature that allows the amp to have the nice blues crunch of an American amp, or the clean, bright British overdrive of UK amps

That last feature may sound like a gimick (I thought it was until I tried it at the store and was floored by the versatility in sound), but it allows the user to customize their amp sound in a way that just fiddling around with the bass, mid, and treble knobs just doesn't allow. The folks at Blackstar hit the nail right on the head with this little amp. I could totally see myself using it not just to practice but to record as well....and until I can afford the Blackstar cabinet, I see myself bringing this to gigs and plugging it into my Fender amp to use it as my I get that Blackstar tone out of the louder 100 watt amp.

I was astonished too at the build quality of the amplifier. This is a solid amp and feels and behaves as though it could withstand a career's worth of small venue gigs. It's also got a really nice clean look to it. It's sharp and stands out. Everyone who has seen it has commented on how "high end" and "boutique" (as much as I hate that term/word) it looks. That's if looks matter to you at all. :) I'm just putting it out there that it looks as nice as it sounds. :)

What was my decision? Well, it's at home, sitting right next to me as I write this, and I ended up returning a multi-effects pedal I had purchased because the tones capable of this little amplifier don't require me to have a million different "simulated" amp sounds. This amp can do it on it's own. It's the little amp that could. Do yourself a favour....go out and try a Blackstar amplifier. I was shocked at how great they sounded, and I'm guessing that within the next few years, you'll see a lot more of them on stages everywhere.

If you want to see Blackstar's complete line of offerings, visit their website:
Blackstar Amplification

As an aside, Blackstar has just released 5 effects pedals that are sure to get some attention. If their build quality is anything like their amplifiers, they're going to be among sturdiest pedals out there and I won't be surprised at all when I see them on pedalboards of pros everywhere.