A Book and Its Cover
A quick shout out to my rep Clint Bransteter. Thanks for always checking in. Disclaimer: constructive criticism for guitar players first, amp review second.
To potential buyer of this amp: a word . . .
Oftentimes us guitar players like to think that after playing through an amp or two for a few years and watching a multitude of YouTube videos where guys such as Rob Chapman, Ola Englund, or Ryan "Fluff" Bruce, etc. demo a product, we are then privy to a certain amount of knowledge about how amps work and do not work, which wattages are best (typically thinking the higher the better), and worst of all, which companies are inherently and perfectly synonymous with "the best tone" whether clean, dirty, or saturated; thereby creating a fallacious sense of brand loyalty that more often than not exists even when we have yet to invest in whatever brand we are "loyal" to. This type of thinking gets us in the position where our creativity starts become stifled. We no longer trust ourselves to branch out artistically or simply trust our own ears and past experience. We forget that sound is such a relative stimulus that can and will change with slightest variable.
For example, to famous guitar player A, the marshall JCM 800 2203 100 watt valve head is the best (don't worry, I'm not about to attack Marshall, nor any other brand for that matter). Fans of famous guitar player A (with varying degrees of skill and experience) buy themselves a Marshall JCM 800 2203 100 watt valve head. Some will be in tonal heaven; believing the following is applicable for all guitar tone: 100 watts or more equals best guitar tone, Marshall equals best guitar tone, one must spend at least the cost of a high-end Marshall to get best guitar tone, and if the first three aforementioned steps are not followed, then one will not have best guitar tone. Other players will enjoy the amp, but may wish for something a little different at times in either areas of features or tonal options; perhaps realizing that their playing style is better suited for something a bit different. Or, other players might really like the amp, but wish for less wattage to allow for comfortable playing at home that doesn't incite complaints from others (i.e., significant others, spouses, neighbors, children). And lastly, some players may not like the amp hardly at all. They may insist that the amp doesn't give them the tone they thought it would ("You know, like [insert famous guitar player A's name] who's been playing them for years and swears by them").
These players will be the first ones to most likely "rinse and repeat" the previously mentioned steps to "best guitar tone", but with either a different famous guitar player, or a different brand altogether (or both). We desire the solution to our idea for "best guitar tone" from a place different than where we know it can only come from. And where is that place you ask? It comes from the moment you know nothing at all or choose to ignore any information regarding the given or lack of given tubes, wattage(s), features, brand name, or even aesthetics, and, when either listening to or playing through whatever the product may be, you keep your eyes closed. Doing this, as it has for me on numerous occasions being a player who has been ensnared by the same traps I here speak ill of, has presented me with a tremendous amount of welcomed surprise. What I thought I knew was not quite as real as it always seemed or as I hope it would.
Now, on to the amp review . . .
I had the privilege one day, while walking into a local guitar store with a friend, to sit down and play two amps. One was an Orange OR15H (the one I was sure I would buy, it being the established and more expensive brand), and the Blackstar HT20H (the less established, not as expensive brand that I held doubts for). I had my friend, without me knowing which amp I was going to be playing through, hook both amps up to a 212 speaker cab loaded with a pair of celestion standard 70/80 speakers (not a bad set by no means/ good solid tone across the spectrum). After spending about an hour going through both heads while trying clean tones, dirty tones, and saturated tones, it was revealed that the amp I was going to invest in would be the Blackstar HT20H. The Orange OR15H was an exceptional amp. I had no hard feelings toward its array of tones at all. The Blackstar simply fit what my hands wanted to play and what my ears wanted to here. With regards to how I EQ'ed the amp, the amp itself had and still has good chimey clean tones (could be better, ergo the 4.5/5.0 star rating), punchy overdriven tones that were very dynamic and response to my guitar's volume, and incredible saturated tones that were both saturated as well as percussive, tight, and clear (the onboard ISF feature, in my opinion, is the sweet spot).
The ability for me to achieve the tones I wish to have (at a plenty loud 20 watts for $500) as well as the features necessary to explore other types of tones with either just the amp, or the amp with pedals front-ended and/or looped gave me the faith that I needed to buy this amp. It's been a joy to own for the past year. I've recorded with it, gigged with it, practiced and played at home with it, and my personal favorite, been given the best-on-stage-mix-of-the-night affirmation from a sound man who, as he put it, "fought tooth and nail" with the "ignorant" players of this particular evening who loyally flew their JCM, 5150, Dual Rectifier, and Rockerverb flags without so much as considering all those variables that they overlooked when making such a purchase. Their guitar hero sounded good playin' and so would they?
This is a great amp. Don't fool yourself into thinking that 20 watts isn't enough, or that Blackstar isn't as an established brand as Marshall, Orange, Peavey, or Mesa Boogie, and therefore not as good or trustworthy. Also, don't fool yourself into thinking that because this amp has four tubes in it, it will sound better (to you) than that tubeless Orange CR120 or that tubeless Randall 1503 you're looking at. And, DO NOT be fooled by the price tag. I stand by this amp's tonal and build quality and would encourage players to invest. But, before that happens, close the eyes, ignore the details, and listen with the ears and not the eyes. It's a good book that just happens to have a good cover.