Gus G requires a lot from his amps. He needs them to keep up with his power metal shredding in Firewind, but he also demands that they keep up with the various eras of rock and metal tone that he needs to convey during the course of a typical Ozzy Osbourne set. As Ozzy’s guitarist he has to dip into vintage 70s metal, 80s neoclassical and hard rock, the more gained-out approach of Zakk Wylde and his own, modern-voiced Ozzy material. The Blackstar Blackfire 200 is a 200 watt beast of an amp designed to pump out the required tones at the required volumes.
The Blackfire 200 features four channels with six footswitchable modes, including two that are fairly standard Blackstar fare: a Clean channel with Warm and Bright modes, and a Crunch channel with Crunch and Super Crunch modes. The other two are the Fire and Fury overdrive channels, designed in partnership with Gus G. There are two EQ sections – one for Clean and Crunch, and another for Fire and Fury. Each channel includes Gain and Level controls, while the EQ sections include Bass, Middle, Treble and ISF, Blackstar’s Infinite Shape Feature, which blends between US and UK voicings. There’s also DPR, or Dynamic Power Reduction, which reduces the power of the output stage from full power at 200 watts down to 20% at 20 watts or anywhere in between. Each model comes with exclusive Gus G accessories including a signed certificate, an ‘Evil G’ key ring, trading card, pick, dust cover and a Firewind CD ‘Few Against Many’.
I tested the Blackfire 200 with my basswood Ibanez RG320 with Seymour Duncan Gus G Fire signature humbuckers and my poplar Buddy Blaze Sevenator prototype with Seymour Duncan Full Shred and ’59 humbuckers and a coil split.
The Clean channel is fairly straightforward, with a nice range of clean and slightly pushed tones. It’s not quite characterful enough if you need a clean channel for most of your playing, but for the occasional clean passage or as the basis for a distortion pedal it does the job nicely. The Crunch channel is nice and open, with nice potential for AC/DC grit, especially with the passives in my seven-string. You can dial in some nice vintage metal and hard rock tones here. The Fire channel is where things really start to get interesting though. Depending on how you set the Gain, you can get a crunchy, chunky grind or a more aggressive, flat-out brutal modern metal sound. With the Gain around 4 or 5 and passive humbuckers the tone is slightly reminiscent of George Lynch’s rhythm tone. With the Gus G signature pickups (which are passive humbuckers paired with an active preamp) the sound is more solid and compressed. The Fury channel is very distinctively voiced, with powerful upper mids and a huge amount of gain. It tended to mask some of the distinctiveness of each pickup, replacing it with plenty of saturation and sustain, and with very impressive tracking for super-fast picking techniques.
The DPR control has a clear and obvious impact on the sound whether you’re cranked up to stage level or playing at bedroom volumes. At higher settings you’ll get more punch, attack and dynamics, while the attack is softer and more sponge-like at lower levels. I found my favourite settings somewhere around 50 watts.
The Blackfire 200 is definitely a metal amp, but it’s more versatile than most, since it gives you access to ultra-modern metal voicings as well as much more traditional ones. And with the exception of the very purposely-voiced Fury channel, the majority of settings emphasise the character of the guitar you’re plugging into it. Only 225 of these amps will be made, and the tone is not just for Gus G fans, so if it sounds like something you might like, check it out super-quick!