Document 130133

Price: £799-£1199
s t I mpres
Amp Review
Fi r
Fi r
ressi o n
Im p
st dwired
Han rcuits,
class A dy/black
burgu breaker
Blues it’s a
cabs– less
match tion.
Fi r s t
Handwired amps with toneful, no-frills Class A circuits, useful low-power switches,
quality Celestions and boutiquey looks? At these prices? Dave Petersen is impressed
Artisan 30 & Artisan 15
ince Blackstar introduced these,
their first models, at the London
Guitar Show last summer, they’ve
been attracting a healthy amount of
interest. Designers Bruce Keir and Ian
Robinson are the team behind some of
Marshall’s more recent successes, and
Northampton-based Blackstar aims to
offer hand-wired gear at reasonable cost,
with classic design, high component/
assembly quality, and exceptional sound.
Design and distribution is UK-based, with
manufacture carried out in South Korea.
Both amps have a solid, purposeful air
with a traditional simplicity in their
layout. Laurel-leaf linework on etched
black control panels, knurled knobs,
industrial-weight toggle switches, wide
radius contouring and faultless burgundy
cabinet covering give an impression of
quality. As on a Marshall, the chassis is
fixed at eight points to the rear panel and
is carried on 18mm battens, as in the
classic Bluesbreaker and 20W 1974
Pure Simplicity: the 15 has two
channels with Volume and
Tone, plus a 1/3 power switch
September 08 – Guitar & Bass
Description: 15W & 30W valve
combos. Built in Korea
Artisan 15 specs: one EZ81,
two EL84s, two ECC83s and
one EF86 valve. 12" Celestion
G12M speaker. Control panel:
Channel 1 input jacks (paired);
Volume, Tone. Channel 2 Input
jacks (paired); Volume, Tone;
Pilot; 5W/15W output selector;
Standby; Mains. Rear panel:
IEC mains socket; mains fuse;
HT fuse; output selector 4-816 ohms; paired speaker jacks.
Comes with slipcover
Dimensions: 62cm wide, 52cm
high, 24cm deep. Weight:
RRP: £799
All Blackstar amplifiers come
fitted with Electro-Harmonix
valves as standard
This Northampton-based company aims
to offer high quality handwired gear with
classic design and exceptional sound
combos. In both Artisans the frame is of
18mm ply with 12mm front and rear
panels, while the chassis is of 1.5mm
plated steel with welded corners. It’s the
kind of solid quality you might expect
from a no-expense-spared handbuilt.
Both amps are cathode-bias class A
EL84-driven designs with valve rectifiers
and choke-filtered HT supplies, and
Electro-Harmonix valves fitted as
standard. Circuits are fairly conventional,
with a mix of early Vox and Marshall
influences. In both amps, one preamp
channel is fitted with an EF86 pentode,
the other with a 12AX7 twin triode. The
30’s EF86 channel emulates the old AC15
with its switched bass contour and single
tone control, while its 12AX7 channel is
wired with a three-band tone stack, a
bright/warm Voice selector, and Gain and
Volume controls. The Artisan 15 has nofrills Volume and Tone in both channels.
Both amps feature a low-power switch
that cuts the output from one phase of
the push-pull driver, effectively changing
the amp from push-pull to a single-
Artisan 30 specs: one GZ34,
four EL84s, three ECC83s and
one EF86 valve. Two 12"
Celestion Vintage 30 speakers.
Control panel: Channel 1 input
jacks (paired); Volume, Tone,
five-way Bass Shape selector.
Channel 2 input jacks (paired);
Gain, Voice selector bright /
warm; Treble, Middle, Bass,
Volume; Pilot; 15W/30W
output selector; Standby;
Mains. Rear panel: IEC mains
socket; mains fuse; HT fuse;
output selector 4-8-16 ohms;
paired speaker jacks. Comes
with slipcover and castor set
Dimensions: 72cm wide, 56cm
high, 26cm deep. Weight:
RRP: £1199
Others in range: Artisan 100
head & cab
01536 312620
September 08 – Guitar & Bass
Amp Review
EF86 channel, Class A output
and blue speakers combine to
make a strong challenger at
similar street price level
RRP: £1299
FRAMUS Ruby Riot 2
More extensive features, but
otherwise comparable if you’re
not looking for handwiring
RRP: £1625
Class A-driven blue-speaker
update of one of Vox’s finest.
Low-cost build but great sound,
keen pricing, an comes with
tremolo and reverb
RRP: £485
MARSHALL 1974X Handwired
One of the feeder designs for
the Artisan series – maybe Ian
and Bruce were worried this
one might turn up! Handwiring,
EL84s, tremolo and benchmark
tone, but at a UK-built price
RRP: £975
ender but leaving the output stage bias
currents at normal levels, avoiding rises
in supply voltage that might lead to
overheating. Circuitry is laid out on a
single long pax board using underwired
turret-tags rather like on early Marshalls.
Wiring runs are short, which suggests a
methodically-designed layout and
benefits transient pulse response.
Switches and ceramic valveholders are of
good quality, and very few components
are fitted off-board in a way that might be
vulnerable to vibration.
The valve rectifiers ensure a fuss-free
warm-up, but the cautious may prefer to
use the Standby switch as well. The amps
run quietly with zero Volume settings
although the preamp stages aren’t gated.
With half Volume white noise increases,
but even with single-coils this setting
takes us near the amps’ limits in clean
mode. A Strat in the 30’s Channel 1 has a
clear, chimey response at full gig levels,
while with the SG we’re already edging
into saturation, and the Volume has to go
down to around 3/10 to stay clean.
There’s a mix of clarity and edge with
both guitars, but the SG benefits from a
rolled-off Bass switch setting to keep full
The Artisan 30 has one Voxy
EF84 channel and one 12AX7
channel with three tone
controls and a Voice selector
September 08 – Guitar & Bass
The tonality is best-of-British, but the
jangling complexity of the harmonics
suggests a high-end American EL84 amp
chords from flapping out. It’s tempting to
describe the tonality as best-of-British,
but the jangling complexity of the
harmonics has a suggestion of high–end
American EL84-driven amps. In the 15,
the EF86 channel (2) sounds similar, so
the pentode gives both amps a more
lively and open sound; indeed, the actual
12AX7 channels sound more reined-in and
docile. Some players will prefer that,
because it sounds more ‘older amp’, and
it’s nice to have the choice. Channel 2 of
the 30 has a more conventional gain and
tone structure, and will sound familiar to
users of Hiwatts and early Marshalls.
Beyond the clean limit – gig-worthy in
either amp – the saturated sound is
smooth and open, with a clear grittiness
and little tendency to add undertones.
The SG blends effortlessly into octave-up
overtones and the ‘sweet spot’ balance of
2nd and 3rd harmonics is very easy to
find, although the 30’s hard-hitting
volume level may be too much for this at
anything but big gigs – even the most
energetic drummer will have some
serious competition. Pushing the Gain
against the Master on the 30’s Channel 2
to get earlier distortion doesn’t get the
same result – in fact it doesn’t seem to
overdrive much with single-coils at all,
and, like the older Hiwatts, really needs
humbuckers for this. There’s also a
tendency to undertoning, although the
bright Voice selection helps keep it tidier.
By contrast, the low-power selection is
good for rehearsal and recording,
retaining clarity but saturating nicely at
more practical levels. The 10W setting on
the Artisan 30 is still pretty loud, so if
you’re doing pub/club work, the 15 may
be easier on your back and your finances.
Both these amps are among the best in
their classes, regardless of price. The lack
of footswitching or an effects loop may
seem over-simple to those used to more
elaborate amps, but the direct wiring and
signal paths are an important part of that
harmonically rich, punchy sound that you
get so much of for your money.
Build Quality ...........................18/20
Playability ...............................16/20
Sound .....................................18/20
Value for money .......................18/20
Vibe ........................................16/20
TOTAL ................................... 86%
Good for... indie pop, blues, blues rock, jazz and
hard rock
Look elsewhere... for country or heavy metal