The competitively-priced Blackstar HT Club 40 is well-constructed and contains enough tonal versatility to be used in a wide variety of situations.
Founded by a cadre of former Marshall amp designers, Blackstar Amplification has turned quite a few heads in the company’s relatively brief existence. Of course, with a team of experienced amp designers running the company, you would expect solid performance. Blackstar Amps are designed in the UK and built in Korea to the company’s exacting specifications. The HT Club 40 is an affordable dual channel 1×12″ combo that focuses on tone rather than a slew of ancillary (and probably unnecessary) features. Is it a worth contender in an already crowded field? Let’s take a look and see.
The Blackstar HT Club 40 is a 40 watt tube combo powered by 2 ECC83 (12AX7) preamp tubes and 2 EL34 power amp tubes. A 12″ Celestion speaker is standard. The Clean channel features independent volume and tone controls as well as a voicing switch that selects either “boutique” or “modern” settings. The Overdrive channel sports individual controls for gain and volume in addition to its own voicing switch that allows you to pick from a more classic overdrive to a more modern mid-focused drive. Channel 2 EQ controls are bass, middle, and treble.
Unique to the Blackstar is a patent-pending ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) control, which lets you assign a more American or British sound to the amp or some combination of the two. A digital reverb is included, as is a reverb voicing switch (warm/dark or bright). Rounding out the feature set is a switchable effects loop, compensated output, and 2-way footswitch.
I tested the HT Club 40 with a Fender Deluxe Stratocaster HSS and a G&L ASAT. The first thing I noticed upon inspection is what a quality feel this amp has, especially given its price. I know from experience that quality gear can be made in Asia, but I also know sometimes companies cut corners with Asian manufacturing. I have had great luck with Korean-made guitars, and this Korean-made amp is no exception. The build quality is excellent. The layout is also very logical and obviously made by guitar players who are also engineers, not engineers who happen to play a little guitar. It’s logical and easy to move around.
The clean channel, channel one, is extremely versatile and allows you dial in tones reminiscent of Vox, Hiwatt, Tweed, and Mesa/Boogie cleans quite easily. The key is using the voicing switch and tone knob judiciously. For me, an amp isn’t very useful if I can’t use it with an array of effects pedals, and I can’t remember the last time I had a more pedal-friendly clean channel.
Of course, this is a two-channel amp, and any amp designed by former Marshall R&D guys has high expectations. Just to sum it up succinctly, the HT Club 40‘s distortion tones are everything you’d want in a small combo amp. The amp can easily cop some of the best Marshall and Mesa/Boogie overdrive sounds you’ve ever heard, and the tonal controls are especially versatile.
Channel Two’s ISF control lets you shift between UK and American sounds or blend the two if you so desire. In practice, I found the ISF control best suited for finding the perfect sweet spot in a crowded mix. The tonal variety in the lead channel is truly stunning and one of the most versatile yet easy to use overdrive channels you’ll ever encounter. It sounded equally good with humbuckers and single coils. The amp was also particularly quiet, given the amount of gain on tap.
The reverb was very good for a digital reverb, and I was glad when using the amp that Blackstar didn’t pack the amp with a ton of effects that I probably wouldn’t use anyway. The best thing about the reverb was the light/dark switch, which allowed you to change the basic tonal quality of reverb itself. Personally, I like digital reverb, since it doesn’t “boing” when you move the amp and it’s generally pretty robust compared to a reverb tank. It may not be your cup of tea, but I think it was good.
If you wonder if a Korean-made amplifier can compete with the big boys, don’t worry. The Blackstar HT Club 40 is well-constructed and contains enough tonal versatility to be used in a wide variety of situations. It’s also very fairly priced given the amount of features it carries. Bottom line – it’s a winner.
Name of Gear: Blackstar HT Club 40
List Price: $879.99
Manufacturer Info: Blackstar Amplification; blackstaramps.co.uk
Pros: Incredible value; wide range of clean, overdrive, and distorted sounds
Cons: Digital reverb not as convincing at higher settings