Helix vs Blackstar

Blackstar vs HelixI mentioned last month, as I awaited the Helix arrival, that I was considering going ampless- completely replacing my entire amp and pedalboard rig with a single device: the Helix.

So, once I started learning to edit on the Helix, the first thing I did was try to make a preset to match the sounds of the channels on my Blackstar Stage 60. This was surprisingly easy to do.  Very quickly, I had a Pedal Board preset in which I could switch between Clean, Overdrive, High Gain, and blistering Lead, all of which sounded close enough to my Blackstar.  And bonus, no more pause/delay in the sound when changing channels on the Blackstar. Changing snapshots on Helix is totally seamless.  Beautiful!

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Blackstar Stage 60 Setup

Blackstar Stage 60 Settings LeftBlackstar Stage 60 Settings Right

My Blackstar Stage 60 is a 3-channel amp, but with the additional gain switch on OD2, it’s effectively a 3 1/2 channel or 4 channel amp, depending on how you look at it.  I absolutely love this flexibility! Blackstar’s catchphrase is “the sound in your head”, and it’s true.  I’m really happy with the sounds I can get from this bad boy.  I’ve put my overdrive and distortion pedals back in storage, as I can get everything I need from the Stage 60’s channels.

I use the channels as Clean, Overdrive (OD1), Distortion (OD2) and High Gain Lead (OD2 with the gain switch on). As pictured above, I’ve marked my preferred settings on the front panel with a green glow-in-the-dark pen, which has saved my ass on numerous occasions, on a dark stage before a gig.

Since I want a Fender-like high-headroom Clean channel, I run the Clean channel in the Modern voicing rather than the AC-like Boutique voicing.  According to the manual, the modern voicing has

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New Stage Rig

New HD500X Pedal BoardGig Command Center

Played a Christmas party on Friday night with the Drop Daddies and it was a blast!

My new stage setup worked out great. All that hard work paid off! The Blackstar Stage 60 sounded righteous, and the HD500X pedal board was perfect.

Blackstar LDS Model

Blackstar LDS model

Found this on my amp today at rehearsal with the Drop Daddies
Apparently, the guys think my new Blackstar Stage 60 is excessively endowed. 🙂

What Do Bad Power Tubes Sound Like?

Blackstar Stage 60I was super-excited to get my new Blackstar Stage 60 earlier this month.  But immediately after plugging in and firing it up for the first time, I noticed some strange noise issues. I plugged the guitar in directly, with no other pedals and no effect loop.  On all 3 channels, I heard some very obvious gungy badness on certain notes.  The problem was not evident when listening through the speaker emulated output.

I made a couple recordings (mic’d with a Sennheiser e609 into Scarlet 6i6 recorded into Sound Forge on the Mac).  You can hear me stepping through the channels, switching on reverb, etc.  Some notes sound fine, and others clearly exhibit the noise. Here’s a couple example recordings:


Ruby EL34 Power TubesMy first thought was that it was a mechanical cab vibration, but it’s clearly coming through the speakers, and gets louder as I turn up the master volume.

My second guess was bad power tubes (when vibrated at cab resonant frequencies) so, I experimented with it a bit more. If I damped the vibration of the tubes with my hand, the strange noises were reduced but not eliminated. (ouch- these things get hot!)

To confirm, I borrowed a pair of JJ KT77’s from a buddy’s Marshall amp, and when I swapped those into the Blackstar, the problem was eliminated.

The tubes in the Blackstar Stage 60 are Ruby EL34BHT, labeled IMG matched #1341, PC 44, TC 3300.

When I sent all this info to Blackstar tech support at Korg USA, they promptly sent me a pair of new Svetlana EL34’s, and the problem is now gone.

It’s been smooth sailing ever since. And this amp is righteous!

New Blackstar HT Stage 60

New Blackstar HT Stage 60

Look what arrived today! I’m excited to try it out. That big hole in the box is a bit worrisome, but hopefully all is ok.

Blame it on the Blackstar

Blackstar Stage 60I’ve been using a hand wired VOX AC15HW1 for the last few years, and mostly loving it. I say “mostly” for a couple reasons. It sounds great in many situations, but sometimes I just can’t get what I need from it.

The AC15’s clean channel has an inherent break-up to it, which is ideal for a lot of songs (think Beatles, Chuck Berry, etc). But sometimes, I need a perfectly clean Fender-like sound (think of the gorgeous clean solo in Sublime’s Santeria, or the opening of Smashing Pumpkin’s 1979).  To have higher clean headroom in an AC amp, I guess I’d need to upgrade to the 30-watt behemoth, the AC30.

Loop Master AB SwitchAnother issue with the AC15 is the way the two channels work. There are two independent inputs for the two channels- the only way to switch between them is to use an ABY switch. I added an A/B switch to my custom Loop Master switcher.  This works, but is a bit ungainly with the multiple signal cables from the floor to the amp. Also, there’s no EQ on the clean channel- only on the top boost channel. And

A couple more nitpicks- the AC15 is old-school and simple, which means no reverb, and no effects loop – which limits the way I can use outboard effects.

Recently I had a chance to try several Blackstar amps, and was blown away by their flexibility.  One in particular, the Stage 60, made me completely reconsider my entire rig.  Here’s why:

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