Blackstar is no longer the new kid on the block in the amp world, and while they’ve done a great job of quickly establishing themselves as a name to be reckoned with, their amp offerings can sometimes feel a little ‘samey’ – there’s a lot of crossover between different amp model lines in terms of what they can do, and at a certain point it becomes “How many channels do you want to work with? How many speakers? How loud?” That’s great but there’s also room for Blackstar to innovate. And innovate they have, with their ID:Series amps and now the ID:Core line

The thing that’s so revolutionary about the ID:Core line of amps (stereo combos in 10 watt, 20 watt and 40 watt) is that on the surface they’re as easily tweaked as any other Blackstar, with the handy ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) control giving you a range of tones from UK to US and any point in between, and a thoughtfully-voiced Gain control which gives you a wealth of clean-to-dirty-to-filthy settings. But with the free Insider software you can really unlock the potential of the amp. Because while on the surface you’re only given controls for Gain, Volume and ISF, the software lets you tap into all sorts of extra parameters like Bass, Middle and Treble, different power valve models (EL84, 6V6, EL34, KT66, 6L6 and KT88), and greater flexibility over control of your effects beyond the simple Modulation, Delay and Reverb type and level controls. The software also lets you share patches with other ID:Core owners or download artist-created sounds.

But back to the amp itself: there are six different voices accessible via a selector knob: Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD 1 (aggressive and mean) and OD 2 (fat and screaming). You get for modes each of studio-quality delay, reverb and modulation effects, and there’s a USB Audio jack so you can use the amp for recording, along with a Stereo MP3/Line In for playing along with tunes, and a speaker-emulated line out/headphone jack. There are two 10 watt speakers pumping out the rather theatrically-named Super Wide Stereo, designed to give you an immersive playing experience when rocking out along with your tracks or when messing about with the stereo ambient effects.

I plugged in with my Gibson Les Paul Traditional with Seymour Duncan Seth Lover humbuckers for testing, starting with the Clean Warm mode and working my way up. It immediately became apparent that Blackstar had put a lot of work into nailing the stock factory settings of each channel to be musically useful. This is refreshing because a lot of the time you’ll find that stock settings on digital gear are pretty extreme. Here there’s plenty of subtlety and detail. The two clean channels sound nice and three-dimensional (even before you engage the excellent reverb), and the crunch channels have just enough grit and growl. I was able to coax some positively Jimmy Page-esque tones out of the Crunch mode with the gain at about halfway and some subtle reverb. Super Crunch is great for heavier hard rock, while OD 1 excels at modern metal rhythm tones, and OD 2 is great for Satriani-like leads, especially with clever use of the delay and ISF controls and a little editing in the Insider editing program.

More than ever before, Blackstar has really nailed the idea of putting the power at your fingertips. This amp can be as complicated as you make it or as simple as you want it to be. Some players will be perfectly content with the incredibly usable stock sounds. Others will want to get in there and tweak each model just a little bit, while others will want to go nuts with custom-created amp/effect combinations. Whatever you want this amp to be, that’s what it is, from practice buddy to studio tool to live tonal mothership.

Wanna hear it? Take it away, Tone King!