This is my review of the Blackstar St. James 50 EL34 Combo and the St. James 50 6L6 Head.
Blackstar’s St. James tube amps, in addition to having excellent sound, had to be easy to operate, have modern features, be easy to carry and therefore have not too much weight. Did Blackstar succeed in that? In this review, I look at the St. James 50 EL 34 Combo and the 6L6 Head.
My conclusion: the St. James 50 EL 34 Combo is the ideal St. James for those working with pedals, and the 6L6 Head offers the ideal combination of American clean with British overdrive, and more. Let’s dive in!
Overview: The Blackstar St James Series
As indicated above, weight was an issue in the design of these amps. In fact, Blackstar claims that these are the lightest 50-watt amps on the market. Some design choices that were decisive in this are the modern switched mode power supply, the use of lighter candlenut wood and the light G12Z-70 Zypher speakers developed in conjunction with Celestion (voiced after the Celestion V30).
Load attenuator and Cab Rig software
The Blackstar St James amplifiers feature a reactive load attenuator. In doing so, the circuit reacts like a speaker to the output signal and picks up power. When the standby switch is set to 0, the speaker is disconnected but the entire amp is still working with the attenuator. This mode is ideal for quiet practice with headphones through the stereo line-out, or making stl recordings through this line-out, the xlr mono output or the usb output.
The outputs all use the Blackstar Cab Rig software which provides the signal with a simulation of a speaker in a room. A three-position switch allows you to select the three different cab rigs. You can download the Cab Rig software from the Blackstar website and create your own favorite cab rigs and store them in the amp.
Blackstar St James 50 EL34 Combo
- Price indication: $ 1200
- Speaker: 1x 12″ Clestion Zephyr
- Power: 50 W
- Weight: 12.8 kg
- Channels: 2
- Controls: Boost switch, Controls for bass, middle, treble, reverb, Power reduction switch: 50 W / Sag / 2 W, Serial effects loop with level switch
- Connections: USB audio, XLR Cab Rig output, Includes 2-way foot switch
- Other: Dimensions: 535 x 462 x 259 mm, Built-in Reactive Load and Cab Rig DSP, Preamp tubes: 2x ECC83, Power amp tubes: 2x EL34, Light brown tolex and black basketweave covering material, 90 V to 264 V 50/60 Hz
Control Panel and Connections
The EL34 models have an attractive appearance. The cabinet is covered in beige blended vinyl and fitted with a black speaker cloth. The logo lights up when you turn on the amp. Behind a fancy leather handle is a control panel with large controls, sturdy toggle switches (power and standby) and three small switches for power, channel and boost.
At the rear, the cabinet is covered with a grille with the Celestion speaker behind it. The EL34 combo includes connections for the speaker, an external speaker cabinet, effects loop, footswitch, usb and line-out.
Controls allow you to control the volume for the first clean channel, the volume and gain for the second channel. There are also controls for a three-band EQ, reverb (digital) and master. The power switch offers the following options: the 50-watt mode, the 2-watt mode or “sag” for just under 50 watts of power with a little more compression. The 2watt mode works fine for home use. You feel the ‘sag’ setting mostly during the player, but the audience may not notice the subtle difference from the 50-watt setting.
The first channel has a blackface sound, the second channel is Vox-like. When switching from the first to the second channel, the feedback loop in the output stage disappears and the amp switches to a different EQ. The dual potentiometers in the controls for bass, middle and treble allow you to really switch to a different set of potentiometers, which control a different circuit.
As a result, this combo has two channels in it with very different characters. Channel 1 is tight and cannot be overdriven, channel 2 is good with the gain control, much looser and has a very different sound with more emphasis on the mids. In addition, the boost switch adds another 10 dB. The reverb is digital and sounds like a room reverb of a reasonably large room.
- Great Celestion Zephyr Speaker
- Onboard Inductive Load
- Power-Scaling Option
- Onboard Clean Boost
- Can’t think of any
Blackstar St James 50 EL34 Combo – Alternatives
Blackstar St James 2×12-inch 50 Watt Tube Combo Amp
The 50 Watt valve amps produced by Blackstar are the most cutting-edge, creative, and best-sounding in the world. The EL34 design is also available in a 2×12-inch 50 Watt version. It delivers the same variety of vintage guitar tones that are easy to use but incredibly adaptable.
Orange Super Crush 100
Many players who prioritize convenience will find the Super Crush 100’s low maintenance requirements, lightweight design of under 25 pounds, and outstanding price to be appealing. Both for usage in the studio and during live performances, it is a very adaptable amplifier.
Tone King Falcon Grande Guitar Combo Amplifier 20 Watts, 1×12″
The Falcon Grande 20-watt, 1×12″ combination has the voice of three old-school American tube amps. This amp has a surprising amount of flexibility hidden within it, despite having a simple tone stack with only one tone control and an interactive volume knob.
Blackstar St James 50 6L6 Head
- Price indication: $ 1200
- Speaker: 1x 12″ Celestion G12H-150
- Power: 100 W
- Weight: 21.5 kg
- Channels: 2, Clean channel and Dirty channel
- Controls: Clean channel: Volume, Bass and Treble, Dirty channel: Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble and Gain, Master: Volume and Reverb
- Connections: Input: 6.3 mm jack, FX send / return: 2x 6.3 mm jack, Connection for footswitch: 6.3 mm jack, CabSim: XLR
- Other: Dimensions (W x D x H): 520 x 365 x 620 mm, Effects: Reverb
Control Panel and Connections
The Blackstar St James 6L6 Head and accompanying 2×12 cabinet have a black trim with a white speaker cloth. The back of the cabinet is closed, but can be opened if you like a more spacious sound. The 2×12 Celestion Zyperspeakers are light, making the cabinet easy to lift. The back of the speaker cabinet has a 9-volt jack, with the logo lighting up when you plug in an adapter. The control panel of the top is similar to that of the EL34 Combo (see above), but the boost switch gives a different sound in addition to more gain, which is why it has been named “voice.
The clean channel has a beautiful sound in the highs. The second channel offers a classic Marshall-like sound or, via the voice switch, a more modern, brighter and open sound. Plug in a Les Paul, and you’re right in Guns N’ Roses-land with clean strums and warm singing lead parts. Choose voice 2 for midscoop metal rhythm parts, turning the middle control back a bit.
Both channels contain more than enough gain: in voice 1 there is substantial overdrive and compresse from halfway up, and in voice 2 from as little as a quarter. At the same time, the pleasant control range of the gain makes it easy to set a vintage crunch.
Due to the large knobs, the control panel is somewhat cramped. When converting the mini switches, you run the risk of hitting the large knobs and thus twisting something. With a footswitch, this problem is easily solved.
The stereo jack output is perfect for quiet practice with headphones. The three Cab Rig modes give very different, fine-sounding speaker simulations, with volume well adjusted via the master control. Making recordings via the USB output also works smoothly and easily (the PC immediately recognizes the St. James as audio input). The result is impressive with natural clean and overdriven sounds.
- Ability to switch from 50 Watts to 2 Watts for practicing
- Footswitch included
- Versatile: can be used with different genres of music.
- Two switches (Cab Ring and Effect Loop Level) are a bit small
Blackstar St James 50 6L6H Head – Alternatives
Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister Deluxe 40
The Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister Deluxe 40-watt all-tube head’s three channels can produce sounds ranging from crisp cleans to dynamic crunch and potent high-gain tones. The Tubemeister Deluxe 40 incorporates the iconic Red Box AE speaker simulation in addition to a power soak that can lower the power amp’s output to as little as one watt, making this amp perfect for recording in a studio.
Marshall Studio Vintage SV20H
In a small package that is quiet enough for bedroom use, the Studio Vintage 20H reproduces the famous appearance and sound of Marshall’s “59” Plexi amps. Players may experience classic Plexi tones even at low volumes thanks to the two EL34 tubes in this 20-watt head’s power stage, which can be turned down to five watts in low-power mode.
Orange Dual Terror Head
The Dual Terror head is the most potent amp in the Terror line, offering two channels of that signature Tiny Terror tone – with double the headroom. It uses four EL84s producing 30 Watts. This is a fantastic “grab and go” amp that would fit well on any stage thanks to its adaptable power switching choices and simple control panel.
The St James amps offer simple and clear controls, with all sorts of clever technology at play behind the scenes. The amps are very versatile in sound and offer many possibilities: from quiet practice, playing live with in-ears to direct recording or blowing over an audience in a pub or on a larger stage. The sounds are great and both versions work extremely well with pedals. They are also lightweight and look great. The choice is yours to go for: the classic sounds of Fender and Vox or the combination of a blackface clean with a solid lead channel.