In a recent interview on Guitar Jar, guitarist Merylina Hamilton (Voodoo Vegas) mentioned her use of the Blackstar Artisan 30 amplifier and the HT Dual overdrive pedal. Guitar Jar catches up with Blackstar’s Artist Liaison Manager Joel Richardson to find out more about the Blackstar company and its range of products.
…the HT-5. It sounds great, looks cool and has all the usable features you would want from a big amp but on an amp you can use at home. It’s also a great price…
- Hi Joel, before get into the details of the Blackstar range of products, can you tell Guitar Jar readers if you play the guitar and if so, what/who influenced you to start learning?
I do play guitar although I have been a vocalist in most bands. At the moment I own a Fender Tele, an SG and a Yamaha acoustic. I started listening to the Stones and Beatles when I was about 12 years old, then the grunge scene came in, Nirvana, Pearl Jam etc. I loved it but it wasn’t until I went to see Blur at age 14 I was really motivated to get into a band. The day after the gig I bought a pair of Adidas sambas and I nicked my best mates classical guitar that was gathering dust and learnt my first 3 chords… sadly, I never got much better!
- The Blackstar marketing literature states the Blackstar directors are all musicians and have an extensive background in amplifier development. Can you fill us in on the birth of the Blackstar brand and has it been an easy ride getting established and pushing your products out into the market?
The founding members all worked together at Marshall. We are all musicians and the founder members have all been in a band together. Ian Robinson – Guitar, Bruce Keir – Bass, Richard Frost – Drums, Joel Richardson – vocals and Paul Hayhoe – effects. Keith Dudley our International sales manager was key to getting products into stores. He has a fantastic reputation in the industry and knows the UK dealer network like the back of his hand.The birth of Blackstar started (as most things do) in a pub. After 2 years of R&D and marketing research we were ready to launch the company with the HT-Pedals. The ride has had many ups and downs… but we are all very motivated and the products stand up as world leaders. The heritage of the company has helped us get established. It’s unusual for a new company to have so much history through its founding members. The music press knew what Bruce and Ian were capable of and couldn’t wait to hear the amps and pedals. The mags have been really very supportive.
- In your opinion, who’s the most versatile guitarist in the Blackstar management team? Do they spend hours drilling modes in their office when they really should be working 😉 ?
Without doubt Ian Robinson. He can produce any style and any tone with his Strat and a Blackstar amp. Ian does all the speaker listening tests. This can take many hours, so it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds… 90% of the time there is someone riffing in our tone lounge whether that be a member of staff or an artist we have visiting.
- The Blackstar product range has grown significantly over the last couple of years. Looking at your amplifiers, which model is the most popular and why?
In terms of sell through the HT-5. It sounds great, looks cool and has all the usable features you would want from a big amp but on an amp you can use at home. It’s also a great price which helps.In terms of artists it’s the Series One 200 for heavier Rock or Metal bands although not exclusively, and the Artisan 30 for your classic rock and indie guys, the purity of tone makes pro players weak at the knees… lol
- I really like the “ISF” feature on your products, where you can tweak the voice of the amp/pedal to have either a more British or American flavour. Where did the idea for this come from? Was it from the requests of the guitar playing public or something the Blackstar team wanted to include for a long time?
The idea came very early in the development stages. In layman’s terms, Bruce and Ian were looking at many different amps and picking out why top artists liked certain tones. Bruce developed a device that was fully interactive with the control network and you could go from British to American tones and anywhere in between. The idea was to show this to artists so they could choose their signature sound and we would develop an amp to that spec. It worked so well it had to be included on the products. The ISF was born.
- As a gigging guitarist on a budget, what Blackstar amplifier and pedal setup would you recommend that would suit me both in a live and recording situation?
All our prices are competitive, we don’t believe in setting our prices so they are unachievable. If you want a great sound within a small budget get a HT-DUAL pedal. It will make your transistor amp sound like a valve amp. I have a bunch of artists that carry a HT-DUAL with them to every gig so they are guaranteed a good sound.Amp wise, anything from the HT Venue line, great tone and every feature you need for a gigging musician. They are real workhorse amps… All the amps are versatile enough for recording and live situations… so… take your pick!
- How has the “credit crunch” affected Blackstar as a company?
I think it has affected everyone but we have actually managed to grow during this economic crisis. We launched the company with 6 people and 3 years later we employ 22 people, have over 100 dealers in the UK, distributed in 38 countries, have a full product line and have a host of high profile artists using our gear. It’s taken a lot of hard work, none of us have seen our homes much but it can be done!
- As a business, how do you stay motivated?
By loving what we do. We are all very passionate and are always trying to raise the benchmark in all aspects of the business, from our products to our marketing. We set our sights very high so it’s always a great buzz when we hit our goals.
- There’s a long list of guitarists endorsed by Blackstar. Do most of the guitarists come to you directly and do Blackstar have a strict endorsement criteria?
When the company was launched no one had heard of Blackstar so I spent 18 months travelling around the country meeting up with my contacts, approaching artists and generally spreading the word. 3 years on that hard work is paying off, we are now in the privileged position of having artists contact us. We still actively seek artists though as this is a key part of our business. There are still many players on our wishlist! As still a relatively small company we do have to be quite strict on our endorsement policy. We offer support to bands signed to a major or who are up and coming, doing a lot of gigs and attracting a lot of press. It’s all about getting the Blackstar name seen in the right places and used by the right guitarists.
- You must have dealt with a large number of guitarists over the years. Do you find your people management skills are “stretched” from time to time? Do some guitarists expect high demands from Blackstar?
Very, I took on an assistant on 10 months ago and that has helped a great deal, it’s almost been like being able to be in 2 places at 1 time. All the guitarists we endorse are fantastic. Some of the guitarists have high demands and that’s good, that’s what we are here for. Sometimes you get swallowed up in the day to day running of the business. When that happens I make sure I go to a gig, there is no better feeling than seeing your amps being used live, it puts everything back in perspective and you realize what you are doing this all for and it really is worth it.
- What was the last gig you went to and did the guitarist(s) use any of your products?
I went to the Ozzy shows last week and Gus G was using 4 Series One 200 heads and 8 cabs! What a sound and it looked amazing!
- What albums are you currently listening to?
The new Ozzy album, my ipod is on all the time and has pretty much everything on there from James Taylor to Dimmu Borgir!
- If you could only sell one Blackstar product what would that be and why?
It’s too hard to say as all the products are great. They are a family and need to be together… lol!
- Do Blackstar have any products up their sleeves due for release soon?
Yes lots! You can expect to see some before the end of the year. I can’t give anything away…. Sorry.
- A DeLorean Time Machine has just pulled up outside the Blackstar office. Where would you like to go on the Blackstar timeline? Would you go back to rectify any mistakes, stay where you are or take a sneak peek in the future?
Mmmm…. I’ll take a look in the future please. Would love to see where we are in 5 years time.
- Can we purchase products directly from you or do we have to go through dealers and do you sell your products worldwide?
We only sell through dealers and distribution. Full listings can be found at www.blackstaramps.com.
- What Blackstar product are you most proud of and why?
Personally I love the Artisan 30, amazing tone and boutique looks with top players using it. I’m very proud of the Series One 100 and 200. Some of the cosmetics finishes were my idea and they look like beasts!
- Lager or Cider?
As anyone that has seen me at an aftershow party will vouch for… Lager – but Cider if it’s the only thing going… or snakebite! 😉
For more information about Blackstar products, please visit the Blackstar website: www.blackstaramps.co.uk