Review: Blackstar HT-1R 1w Tube Amp

Yesterday the family and I visited friends up in Montpelier and I happened to stop by Guitar Sam to chat with owner Kevin Crossett. After much catching-up and shop talk (he showed me a really fun tenor-necked faux-cigar-box uke he'd just finished up building) he was taken away by customers and I glanced over the stuff available in his shop. I like to check out the current market because I like to redirect folks that are looking for first instruments or more modern instruments up to Kevin's to see if he has anything more "in tune" with their needs.

As I hovered over the amps I spotted this white and black little number and within a half hour I was out the door with it. And the best bit...? My Esquire matches it!

If you've been following some of my amp tastes you might know that I've been in love with a Fender Greta I re-cabbed and re-speakered to turn into a delicious tone-monster at low volume. Its direct out (while finicky as you have to play with your guitar's volume pot so as not to fizz it out) for PA use and all-tube innards made it my ideal amp for practice, recording, and jamming with in acoustic or light electric settings. I liked the sound of it in a bigger box, though, and that made it a little more annoying to carry around.

When I saw this amp with 1w tube power, integrated reverb, emulated speaker direct out/headphones jack, interesting tone shaping EQ knob, and overdrive channel... well... I had to try it. I was pleasantly surprised and Mr. C even hauled over a big PA speaker so I could test out the direct out as I might actually use it on stage. I was delighted: the direct out has none of the quirky bull that plagues so many tube amp direct out jacks: no fizzy noise when driven hard, no emaciated signal or bizarre tone squeeze. It had the sound of the speaker -- only bigger. It's weird that so many manufacturers just gloss over this one piece of super-useful gear for those of us that like a quieter stage but loud mains.

Unlike the 2w Greta which is more of a 50s-vibe amp in tone-quality and features this is definitely more of a 60s-feeling amp. The verb sounds good and the EQ knob is set to mod the tone from "American" to "British" sounding amps... something it does quite well. It's really easy to dial in the sweet spot of whatever particular guitar/pickups you're using with this one knob.

The overdrive channel is totally useless for me but it does give a sort of stingy "Orange" driven sound. The one shocker for me is that this amp stays clean to a far louder volume (with the in-box speaker) than I ever expected. This is a good bonus for me as my twang-thang playing enjoys that even though I usually play pretty quiet anyhow.

Bottom line: if light traveling (8" speaker cab) is your thing and you like direct outs on your amp but tube sound... here ya go. I have a feeling my modded Greta unit will be hanging around at home for recording and jamming only since the direct out on this is just so much more functional.

After bringing it home, by the way, I yanked the logo off the front of the amp (I hate to advertise if I can help it) and replaced the original speaker with a decent Jensen of the same general specs. I just like the Jensen sound and it did Fenderize some of the tonal range on the EQ knob just a bit more. I also played with preamp tubes but ended up leaving the Sovtek 12AX7 equivalent in there as it was perfectly at home in the amp.


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