Review: Fender Bassbreaker 18/30 Combo

fender-bassbreaker-18_30-top-logo

Imagine a brainstorming session at Fender R&D in sunny California, sometime in late 1966. The brief of the day is to come up with a new guitar amplifier.

One of the guys speaks up: ”I’m kinda bored of sparkling TV cowboys and clean-cut entertainers. How about we design an amp for the Blues and Rock players? I’ve heard some little company in England has been doing a sort of Bassman-on-steroids thing, and it seems to catch on. We should try to come up with something that really rocks, too!”

In reality that meeting never took place, but what if it had?

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fender-bassbreaker-18_30-front

The new Fender Bassbreaker 18/30 Combo (list price in Finland: 799 €) could well have been the result of our imaginary R&D session.

The Bassbreaker 18/30 is like a visitor from a parallel universe, in which Fender has taken a turn in the mid-Sixties to design guitar amplifiers with a distinctly British accent.

This is a 2 x 12 Fender combo with a cool new trim, called Gray Tweed. The cabinet is built from birch ply, resulting in a combo with a still-manageable weight of just below 23 kg.

fender-bassbreaker-18_30-top

The Bassbreaker 18/30’s model name hints at the fact that this amp features two different Fender designs in one package:

Channel One of this two-channel amplifier is based on a Blackface Fender Deluxe and gives you 30 watts of output power. Channel Two on the other hand has been lifted from the earlier brown version of the Deluxe combo, and puts out 18 watts.

fender-bassbreaker-18_30-back

The Bassbreaker is an all-valve guitar amp with solid-state rectification, and it runs in Class A/B.

The preamp section is designed around a pair of 12AX7s, while the power amp uses a quartet of EL84s, instead of Fender’s more traditional 6V6 or 6L6 power tubes.

The back panel sports jack sockets for the channel-switching footswitch (included, as is an amp cover), external speaker cabinets, and a post power amp line level output.

fender-bassbreaker-18_30-valves-and-speakers

In addition to the more ”British accent” of the Bassbreaker 18/30’s power amp valves, Fender has also opted for a pair of chunky 12-inch Celestion V-Type speakers, instead of the Jensen and JBL models the company favoured in the 1960s.

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fender-bassbreaker-18_30-control-panel

The 18/30’s Channel One – the Blackface channel – offers you a full three-band EQ-section for your clean tones, while Channel Two (”Brownface”) is more spartan with its single tone control.

fender-bassbreaker-18_30-angle-2

First, let me stress that the Fender Bassbreaker 18/30 is really very loud! This is a non-master volume tube combo, which lies in the same ballpark as similar amps, such as the Marshall 1962 Bluesbreaker or Vox AC30 combos, when it comes to sheer sound pressure levels.

The 18/30 really isn’t meant for living room use, because you need to raise Channel Two’s volume substantially, if you want to enjoy the combo’s tasty dirt. And this is despite the fact that this Bassbreaker combo shuts off two of its power tubes, whenever you engage Channel Two, in order to drop the amp’s headroom so it will distort earlier.

If high volume is an issue, but you still want a piece of that Bassbreaker action, I’d suggest you check out the Bassbreaker 15 combo, which comes with a master volume control.

At low volume settings both Bassbreaker 18/30 channels will give you clean tones, with Channel One having a brighter and more chimey voice, and Channel Two sounding a bit earthier. Thanks to the EL84 power amp, this isn’t your traditional Fender combo, but rather a mix of Fender character and UK-style mid-range growl and attitude.

Here’s a short clip of both channels set to clean (volumes between 9 and 10 o’clock) and played with a maple neck Stratocaster:

The demo song features two rhythm guitars – a Gibson Les Paul Junior (Channel One, stereo right) and a Fender Telecaster (Channel Two, stereo left) – and a lead guitar part, that has been played on an Epiphone Les Paul Standard with vintage-type EMG HZ-pickups through Channel Two (volume at 3 o’clock):

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fender-bassbreaker-18_30-angle-1

Fender’s Bassbreaker 18/30 is a great-sounding guitar combo for the Blues and Rock guitarist, who knows how to coax great tones from an in-your-face non-master valve amp. The 18/30 manages to combine the best aspects of 1960s Fender amps with the chunk and grit usually associated with British designs.

The Bassbreaker 18/30 is too loud to be used as a bedroom or home studio amp. This combo has been designed as a professional tool for the gigging guitarist, who doesn’t have to ”turn it down” all the time.

fender-bassbreaker-18_30-logo

*****
Fender Bassbreaker 18/30 Combo

MSRP: 799 €

Contact: Fender

A big thank you to DLX Music Helsinki for the loan of the review combo!

Pros:

+ workmanship

+ design

+ birch-ply cabinet

+ sound

+ high volume levels

Cons:

– high volume levels

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Now on SoundCloud: Fender Bassbreaker 18/30

Fender Bassbreaker
• Two-channel all-valve combo with solid-state rectification
• Channel 1 – 30 watts Blackface Deluxe-style
• Channel 2 – 18 watts Brown Deluxe-style
• Two 12″ Celestion V-Type speakers
• Two 12AX7 + four EL84
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Demo Song
• Rhythm guitars: Fender Telecaster on channel 2 (left) & Gibson Les Paul Junior on channel 1 (right); both channel volumes at 10 o’clock
• Lead guitar: Epiphone Les Paul Standard with vintage-style EMG HZ-pickups; channel 2, volume at 3 o’clock
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Clean Sounds
• Maple-neck Fender Stratocaster (middle + bridge PUs); both channel volumes at 9 o’clock

Contact: Fender

Fender Bassbreaker 18/30 control panel

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Review: Bluetone Shadows Reverb

For many guitarists the Vox AC30 is the greatest guitar amp ever made – bar none.

The combo was originally designed for the instrumental group The Shadows, but it became known worldwide as ”The Beatles Amp”. Over the decades, many other guitarists have favoured Vox’ best known design. Users include people like Brian May (Queen), Rory Gallagher and U2’s The Edge. Many Finnish Shadows-/Ventures-style bands (”rautalankka”) also favour the AC30.

Despite their legendary status, vintage Vox AC30s also do have their issues:

This large 2 x 12″ combo weighs quite a lot, making it a little hard to carry alone. Old Voxes also are non-master volume amps, which means that attaining natural distortion comes at the cost of serious sound pressure levels – often too much for small clubs and function gigs. Old AC30s also have all their valves – yes, also the power amp tubes – placed inside an almost completely closed metal chassis. This has led to vintage-Voxes getting an infamous reputation as relatively prone to catching fire.

vox-chassis-studiofreak-photobucket

(photo: Studiofreak/Photobucket)

Boutique amp makers Bluetone (from Helsinki, Finland) have recently come up with their special take on the beloved classic combo. Their new amp is called Bluetone Shadows Reverb, and it comes with a whole number of welcome improvements and modern features.

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bluetone-shadows-reverb-front-angle

Bluetone’s Shadows Reverb (reviewed version: 1,950 €) is a single-channel all-valve amp loaded with a genuine spring reverb. The combo represents the company’s view of what constitutes a perfect Top Boost-channel tone, all presented in a much more compact format.

The Shadows Reverb is a class AB amp, and it offers between 15 and 30 Watts of output power, depending on the setting of its built-in Variac.

bluetone-shadows-reverb-back-angle

The combo’s cabinet is made from high-grade plywood. The Shadows Reverb is a good deal smaller and less deep than its classic forebear from the 1960s.

bluetone-shadows-reverb-speakers

This reduction in heft is due mostly to the use of 10-inch Celestion Alnico Gold speakers in place of the AC30’s 12-inch speaker pair.

The speakers in the Shadows Reverb combo have been ”played in” for a number of hours (using an oscillator) to get rid of the typical tightness of brand-new Alnico Golds.

bluetone-shadows-reverb-power-amp-valves

This Bluetone-combo uses three 12AX7-tubes, and a single 12AT7 in its preamp section.

bluetone-shadows-reverb-premp-valves-transformers

The power amp runs on a quartet of EL84 valves. The Shadows Reverb is a cathode-biased valve amp, which means that replacing the power amp tubes doesn’t usually necessitate any rebiasing.

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bluetone-shadows-reverb-front-panel

Yes, the Bluetone Shadows Reverb is ”just” a single-channel combo, but it is far from a single sound guitar amplifier. In large part this is thanks to the brilliant modern features Bluetone has incorporated into this homage.

The Shadows Reverb offers you two guitar inputs – High and Low – for use with single coil- and humbucker-equipped instruments.

The preamp features a two-band Baxandall EQ-section – with typically interactive controls for Bass and Treble – as well as a three-stage Bass Cut rotary switch, which offers you two fatter alternatives to the famously bright and wiry Vox Top Boost sound.

The onboard spring reverb sounds fantastic and is a real treat to work with, giving you everything from completely dry tones to Surf Music antics.

The power amp section comes with three controls:

Cut allows you to make overall adjustments to the combo’s treble output.

Bluetone’s Master Volume-control is placed after the phase inverter, right at the end of the signal chain. This allows you to get juicy power amp distortion at low volume levels, and with only minimal changes in the amp’s tone.

As mentioned before, the Shadows Reverb comes with a built-in Variac circuit. Although the Variac also has a bearing on the combo’s output level, it works in a completely different way to the master volume, namely by dropping the voltage the power amp runs on. Turning the Variac down will result in a good deal less clean headroom and more power amp sag.

Due to large public interest, I had to return the Shadows Reverb much earlier than anticipated, but I still managed to record two different demo tracks with the Bluetone amp.

The first (clean) track features rhythm guitar tracks played on a Fender Telecaster (left channel) and a 1970s Japanese copy of a Gibson ES-335 (Kasuga; right channel). The lead guitar part was played on a Fender Stratocaster. All guitar tracks have been recorded with an AKG C3000 microphone placed approximately 80 cm from the combo’s front:

The second track (overdriven) has been recorded with a Stratocaster. The distortion comes from the Shadows Reverb (no pedals used), and all tracks have been close-miked with a pair of Shure SM57s:

bluetone-shadows-reverb-master-section

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Bluetone’s Shadows Reverb is an outstanding boutique amp take on the Vox AC30 motif. Like all other Bluetone amps, the Shadows Reverb is carefully handmade in Finland to the company’s strict quality standards. This results in reliable top-drawer tools for the musician, with extremely low levels of hiss and negligible AC hum.

I had a great time test driving this combo. The Bluetone Shadows Reverb simply delivers all it promises with style and panache. The combo weighs approximately half of the original classic (AC30s usually weigh between 31 to 36 kg, depending on their specific vintage and the speakers they come loaded with). The reduced size means you won’t be having any problems lifting this beauty into the boot of a small car, such as a Ford Fiesta.

Thanks to the additional features of this Bluetone combo – like the Bass Cut and the Variac – you will be able to enjoy the great sound of the Shadows Reverb anywhere you want, be it at home or on stage.

****

Bluetone Shadows Reverb

Prices starting at approx. 1,700 € (reviewed version: 1,950 €)

Manufacturer: Bluetone Amps

****

Pros:

+ handmade in Finland

+ size

+ weight

+ valve-powered spring reverb

+ Variac- and Master Volume-controls

+ sound

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Testipenkissä: Bluetone Shadows Reverb

Monelle kitaristille Voxin AC30-kombo on se yksi ja ainoa varteenotettava kitaravahvistin.

Alun perin brittiyhtye The Shadowsia varten kehitetty AC30 tuli kuuluisaksi The Beatles -vahvistimena, mutta se on löytänyt tiensä monien erityylisten kitaristien backlineen. Tunnetuimpiin käyttäjiin kuuluvat mm. Brian May (Queen), Rory Gallagher sekä U2:n The Edge. Myös Suomen rautalankabändien keskuudessa AC30 kuuluu vakiovarustukseen.

Suosiosta huolimatta vanhoilla AC30-komboilla on myös huonot puolensa:

Isokokoinen, kahdella 12-tuumaisella kaiuttimella varustettu putkikombo on melko painava ilmestys. Vanhoissa Voxeissa ei myöskään ole master volume -säädintä, mikä tarkoittaa sitä että vahvistimen omaa säröä pystyy hyödyntämään asianmukaisesti vain isoissa keikkapaikoissa. Lisäksi vintage-Voxeissa kaikki putket – kyllä, myös pääteputket – on sijoitettu lähes kokonaan suljettuun metallikoteloon, minkä takia vintage-AC30:t voivat (käyttötavasta rippuen) syttyä palamaan herkemmin kuin moni muu vanha kombovahvistin.

vox-chassis-studiofreak-photobucket

(kuva: Studiofreak/Photobucket)

Helsinkiläinen vahvistinpaja Bluetone tarjoaa nyt oivan ratkaisun klassikkovahvistimen ongelmiin Bluetone Shadows Reverb -nimisen putkikombon muodossa.

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bluetone-shadows-reverb-front-angle

Bluetone Shadows Reverb (testattu versio: 1.950 €) on yksikanavainen, jousikaiulla varustettu täysputkikombo, joka lupaa aitoa Top Boost -soundia selvästi pienemmässä paketissa ja nykyaikaisilla ominaisuuksilla höystettynä.

Shadows Reverb on AB-luokan vahvistin, joka tarjoaa 15-30 wattia tehoa, riippuen Variac-säätimen asennosta.

bluetone-shadows-reverb-back-angle

Shadows Reverbin kaiutinkotelo tehdään vanerista, ja se on selvästi pienempi ja litteämpi kuin 1960-luvun esikuvansa.

bluetone-shadows-reverb-speakers

Pienempi koko on osittain mahdollistettu käyttämällä klassikkokombon 12-tuumaisten kaiuttimien sijaan 10-tuumaisia Celestion Alnico Gold -kaiuttimia.

Shadows Reverbin kaiuttimia on, siniaaltogeneraattoria käyttäen, ajettu sisään useamman tunnin ajan, minkä ansiosta on saatu vähennettyä uusille Alnico Gold -elementeille tyypillistä alkukireyttä.

bluetone-shadows-reverb-power-amp-valves

Tässä Bluetonessa käytetään etuasteessa kolmea 12AX7-putkea, sekä yhtä 12AT7:ää.

bluetone-shadows-reverb-premp-valves-transformers

Päätevahvistin tuottaa tehonsa neljän EL84-putken voimalla. Shadows Reverb on katodibiasoitu kombo, mikä tarkoittaa sitä, ettei pääteputkia yleensä tarvitse biasoida vaihdon yhteydessä.

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bluetone-shadows-reverb-front-panel

Vaikka Bluetone Shadows Reverb on ”vain” yksikanavainen kombo, sen soundimaailma on selvästi laajempi kuin uskoisi. Kiitos siitä kuuluu Bluetonen monipuolisille ominaisuuksille.

Shadows Reverb tarjoaa kaksi kitaratuloa – High ja Low – single coil- ja humbucker-mikrofoneja varten.

Etuasteesta löytyy kaksikaistainen Baxandall-EQ – interaktiivisilla basso- ja diskanttisäädöillä – sekä kolmiasentoinen Bass Cut -bassoleikkuri, joka tarjoaa aidon Vox Top Boost -soundin lisäksi kaksi hieman muhkeampaa vaihtoehtoa.

Reverb-säätimellä hallitaan kombon putkivahvistettua jousikaikua. Kaiun soundi on erinomainen, ja säätimen skaala yltää täysin kuivasta kaikuisaan Surf-vatkaukseen.

Päätevahvistimelle on varattu jopa kolme säädintä:

Cut-säätimellä voidaan säännöstellä kombon kokonaisdiskanttia.

Bluetonen Master Volume -säädin on signaaliketjun loppupäässä (vaihekääntäjän jälkeen), ja sen ansiosta voidaan tuottaa päätesäröä myös pienillä volyymeillä.

Shadows Reverbissä on myös kolmiasentoinen Variac-tehonsäädin. Variac toimii eri tavalla kuin perinteinen master volume -säädin, se nimittäin muuttaa pääteasteen sisäistä jännitettä. Tehoa laskettaessa päätevahvistimen puhdas headroom ja putkikompressio muuttuvat.

Testikombon palautuksen suhteen tuli ylättäen hieman kiire, mutta ehdin kuitenkin äänittää kaksi erilaista demobiisiä Bluetone Shadows Reverbillä.

Ensimmäisessä kappaleessa komppikitarat soitettiin Fender Telecasterilla (vasen kanava) ja vanhalla japanilaisella puoliakustisella (Kasuga, oikea kanava). Soolokitarana toimi Fender Stratocaster:

Toisessa biisissä särösoundi tulee pelkästään kombosta itse. Kaikki raidat on soitettu Stratolla:

bluetone-shadows-reverb-master-section

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Bluetone Shadows Reverb -kombo on erinomainen boutique-luokan muunnelma Vox AC30 -teemasta. Kuten muutkin Bluetone-vahvistimet, Shadows Reverb rakennetaan kokonaan käsin Suomessa tiukkojen laatustandardien mukaan, mistä kielivät mm. kombon erittäin alhainen kohinataso, sekä käytännössä olematon verkkohumina. Vahvistimen laatuun suhteutettuna pidän Shadows Reverbin hintaa erittäin reiluna.

Testikokemuksen perusteella voin vain todeta, että Bluetone Shadows Reverb lunastaa lupauksensa avokätisesti ja tyylikkäästi. Bluetone-kombo painaa lähes tarkalleen puolet vanhan klassikon painosta (AC30 painaa noin 31-36 kg, vuosimallista ja kaiutinvarustuksesta riippuen), ja sen pienempi koko tarkoittaa, että Shadows Reverb mahtuu helposti esimerkiksi Ford Fiestan takakonttiin (kokeiltu on).

Bluetonen lisäominaisuuksien – kuten bassoleikkurin ja Variacin – ansiosta Shadows Reverbin tarjoama soundikattaus on yllättävän laaja, ja kombon erinomaisista soundeista voi nauttia sekä omassa olohuoneessa että keikkalavalla.

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Bluetone Shadows Reverb

Hinnat alk. 1.700 € (testattu version 1.950)

Valmistaja: Bluetone Amps

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Plussat:

+ käsintehty Suomessa

+ koko

+ paino

+ jousikaiku

+ Variac ja Master Volume

+ soundi

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Review: Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

The Bluetone Black Prince Reverb guitar combo sees the boutique amp makers from Helsinki branch out into a new and interesting direction.

Bluetone Crossroad head – 1

All the Bluetone models we have known thus far have been (and still are) produced as pure and genuine custom-made valve amplifiers.

This means that each new amp is ordered by the customer based on a certain Bluetone configuration on their website – like an à la carte-menu. The chosen model is then tweaked according to the customer’s wishes, and there are plenty of different options available – from the details of the amplifier’s internal specifications all the way to the type of finish of the cabinet and the font on the control panel.

Bluetone Crossroad – handwired board 3

Due to the nature of custom amps, such as these, every Bluetone Custom amp is built completely by hand, starting with a clean slate – meaning: an empty metal chassis, and an empty fibreglass eyelet-board.

The board is then riveted at the right spots to take all the necessary wiring and electronic components going into this specific custom order. Everything is soldered into place by hand (point-to-point).

This is a very involved and time-consuming process, requiring a steady hand and a keen eye, which of course is reflected in the price of a Bluetone Custom amp. The advantage of building this type of point-to-point amp is, of course, that it gives the customer free reign to have his dream amp built.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – hybrid PCB 2

Bluetone’s dynamic duo – Harry Kneckt and Matti Vauhkonen – have recently decided to launch a second model range alongside their strictly custom-made amps. The new range will include a few models that will be made and sold ”as is”, with only very limited options to choose from.

These new amps will be made using so-called hybrid boards.

Bluetone’s hybrid boards are very sturdy PCBs made of fibreglass, and are of a considerably higher quality than what you’d find in mass-produced valve amplifiers. Each component’s place on the hybrid is clearly labelled, and some of the ”wiring” is already incorporated into the board itself. In contrast to many mass-produced affordable amps, Bluetone’s new range will see all tubes and transformers mounted securely to the metal chassis (like on their custom-made amps, too), and not directly on the PCB (like on many affordable Far Eastern designs).

The rest of the building process is virtually identical to the more costly custom-made amplifiers – the components are fitted to the hybrid board by hand (from the top) and hand-soldered to the board. Thanks to the hybrid board the new amplifier range will be much easier and faster to produce, which will be reflected in the pricing of the new hybrid amps vis-à-vis the point-to-point custom orders.

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Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – front view 1

The first new Bluetone-combo is called the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb (approx. 1.500 €).

This compact and handy combo takes a lot of inspiration from Fender’s legendary ”Blackface” Princeton Reverb (version AA1164), but due to the Bluetone’s many refinements you can’t really call the Black Prince a straight copy.

In addition to the basic version in wine red tolex, you can also order the Black Prince Reverb in genuine tweed, or with an oiled cabinet made from mahogany (both at extra cost).

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – control panel

I very much like the businesslike and sober look of the Blacktone’s front panel. Everything is clearly labelled, which can be a great plus on a dimly lit stage.

The Bluetone Black Prince Reverb offers two different inputs for singlecoil and humbucker-equipped guitars (High and Low). The EQ-section is a three-band affair, with an additional Bright switch to liven up dull sounding pickups.

Even though the Black Prince Reverb is such a compact combo, it still featured both a genuine, valve-driven spring reverb and a tube tremolo.

Bluetone uses a post phase-inverter master volume in most of their designs, because it has the least negative impact on an amp’s tone and feel.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – back panel

There’s a Fender-style open back on the Black Prince.

The back panel sports outputs for additional speakers, as well as the jack for the combo’s two-button footswitch unit (included).

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – footswitch

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – back view

This is what the Bluetone looks like with the open back removed.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – valves

The Black Prince Reverb combo is an all-valve machine, loaded with the following tube types (from right to left):

The first 12AX7 is the combo’s preamp valve. The spring reverb circuit uses a 12AT7 and a 12AX7 valve. The 12AX7 works as the amp’s phase-inverter and tremolo tube.

The Black Prince leaves Bluetone’s workshop equipped with a pair of 6V6GT power valves, which will translate to about 20 watts of output. You can also re-bias this amp for a pair of 6L6GCs, which would boost the output to almost 30 watts.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – spring reverb

This combo’s short reverb tank is supplied by MOD.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – Warehouse Retro 10 speaker

Bluetone have chosen a Warehouse Guitar Speakers Retro 10-speaker for their new combo, even though this model is distinctly different from the old Jensen speakers in vintage Fender designs.

This choice is, of course, deliberate and based upon many listening tests:

The WGS Retro, which is made to withstand far more output than this combo can deliver, keeps the Black Prince Reverb’s tones clean and dynamic under all circumstances. This speaker’s British character also makes the Bluetone-combo sound larger and fatter than you’d expect.

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Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – pilot light from PS

Oh, boy, this is a sound you cannot get enough of! At least in my case only a minute or two of playing the Black Prince was enough to make me consider getting myself in debt.

It’s hard to put into words what that special ingredient is, but this is what a clean electric guitar should sound like! This combo sounds clean, fresh and dynamic, but never clinical, cold or brittle. There a good dose of chime, but it doesn’t hurt your ears. The bass strings sound big, but never mushy.

The sound of the short MOD reverb tank is surprisingly dense and complex, and there’s more than enough of it to satisfy Surf Music fans. The Black Prince Reverb’s tremolo works like a treat, too, offering you anything from slow and soft to machine-gun mania.

Here’s a clip, recorded with a Fender Telecaster, gives you an idea of the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb’s dry tone, as well as its spring reverb and tremolo effects:

The Black Prince also excels in keeping your guitar’s own character intact. These three clips feature a Fender Telecaster…

…an Epiphone Casino…

…and a 1970s Japanese ”lawsuit” copy of a Gibson ES-335:

This combo’s fantastic clean tone is a fantastic platform for pedal addicts. The demo track was recorded using an analogue chorus pedal, a tube screamer-type overdrive, as well as the amp’s built-in reverb and tremolo.

The rhythm parts were played on a Fender Stratocaster, while the lead was played on a Hamer USA Studio Custom:

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – power valves

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Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – front view 1

In my view, Bluetone’s Black Prince Reverb is a top-drawer choice as a combo for use at home or in the studio. It’s also great for smaller gigs, when too much noise on stage can be a problem, or you can mike it up for larger venues.

The Black Prince Reverb is a nicely compact boutique-grade valve combo offering fantastic cleans, as well as fine reverb and tremolo effects.

This amp hasn’t been spoiled by unnecessary ”tube voodoo” or distracting graphic. I’m all for the clean and understated looks this Bluetone has to offer!

This is a handmade, Finnish boutique combo, offered at a very fair price.

****

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

1.500 €

Contact: Bluetone Amps

****

Pros:

+ value-for-money ratio

+ handmade in Finland

+ workmanship

+ fine spring reverb and valve tremolo

+ sound

+ master volume-control

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Review: Blackstar Artist 15

Blackstar Artist 15 – logo

In a way Blackstar Amplification’s new Artist Series breaks new ground for the British amp maker.

Until now most of Blackstar’s designs were based on the typically British tones of EL34 and EL84 power tubes, often associated with Marshall designs.

The new Artist combos feature power amps built around 6L6 valves, as used in many of Fender’s classic designs. According to Blackstar the new Artist amps are designed to combine the best bits of the typically British Class A tone (with two ECC83s in the preamp section) with the dynamic range and chiming top end of a 6L6 power section.

Kitarablogi.com was given the opportunity to take the smaller Artist model – the Blackstar Artist 15 (current price in Finland: 799 €) for a spin.

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Blackstar Artist 15 – full front

The Blackstar Artist 15 looks like a typical Blackstar combo – black vinyl covering and a dark grey grille cloth.

For a combo that comes equipped with a single 12-inch speaker the amp’s cabinet is rather large. The reason for the cabinet’s size becomes clear when you look at the Artist 15 from behind.

Blackstar Artist 15 – full back

The combo’s Celestion V-Type G12-speaker has been placed deliberately to one side of the combo. Blackstar doesn’t tell us exactly why this configuration has been chosen, but I’d wager that the idea behind this is to harness the benefits of a large, stiff front baffle and a larger cabinet – namely: a crisp attack, and a warm, full bottom end.

Blackstar Artist 15 – Celestion V-Type speaker

Celestion’s V-Type comes loaded with a ceramic magnet. According to Celestion this speaker combines a classic tonality with a modern power rating.

Blackstar Artist 15 – back panel

The Blackstar’s back panel sports a whole array of connectors for things such as external speaker cabinets, a speaker-emulated line out, an effects loop, as well as the channel footswitch that comes with the amp.

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Blackstar Artist 15 – controls 1

Blackstar’s Artist 15 is rated at 15 watts of output and features two preamp channels:

Channel 1 is the so-called boutique channel, designed to put the least possible amount of components between your guitar and the speaker. This channel sports only two controls – Volume and Tone – before the signal is sent on to the master section.

Channel 2 gives you the full Blackstar-experience – you’ll find separate Gain and Volume knobs, a three-band EQ section, as well as Blackstar’s proprietary ISF-control. Setting the ISF knob to zero will result in bright and sinewy Fender Blackface-style sounds, while ISF at full on will give you muscular, Marshall-type tones from this channel.

In addition to the Master Volume control, the Artist 15’s master section also includes the level control for the combo’s very nice digital reverb.

Channel 1 clearly has a much rounder and warmer basic tonality than the (more versatile) second channel. With clean settings Channel 1 will give you a fuller mid-range compared to the more Fender-like, chimey Channel 2.

Here’s what Channel 1 sounds like played clean with an Epiphone Casino (first clip) and a Gibson Melody Maker SG (second clip):

…and here’s Channel 2 played with the same guitars:

The Artist 15’s channels also differ in the amount of gain they offer:

Channel 1 will take you from clean all the way to Rockbilly-style breakup and traditional Blues overdrive, while Channel 2 offers more than enough dirt for chunky Rock tones.

Here’s Channel 1 at full gain (Casino and Melody Maker SG):

…and here are two clips of Channel 2 with Gain full up:

The rhythm guitar tracks on the demo song have been recorded with a 1970s Japanese ES-335 copy (made by Kasuga; left channel) and a maple-necked Fender Stratocaster (right channel). The lead is played on the Kasuga:

Blackstar Artist 15 – angled

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Blackstar Artist 15 – pilot light

The new Blackstar Artist 15 isn’t your typical two-channel combo, which offers you a clean channel and a dirty channel. This is a valve amp that’s all about choices and flexibility.

Blackstar have noticed that pedalboards are becoming en vogue again, which is why their new Artist combos offer enough headroom for clean tones in both of their two channels.

For pedal users the big advantage of the Artist 15’s architecture lies in the fact that the combo offers two high-quality clean variants in the same amp. Channel 1 is a back-to-basics boutique-/AC30-style channel, while Channel 2 offers a much broader range of clean tones, all the way from Fender to modern Marshall.

Of course, you’re free to use the Blackstar Artist 15 in the traditional channel-switching fashion, too, which will give you a top-notch clean sound from Channel 1, and a very versatile array of quality overdriven and distorted tones from Channel 2.

Either way – the Blackstar Artist 15 hits bull’s-eye, in my opinion, and I can only recommend checking one out for yourselves.

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Blackstar Artist 15

799 €

Finnish distribution: Musamaailma

Pros:

+ workmanship

+ clean headroom

+ versatile amp sound

+ great reverb

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