Blackstar co-founder and guitar amp innovator Bruce Keir dies, aged 60

Bruce Keir
(Image credit: Blackstar)

Blackstar co-founder Bruce Keir has died, aged 60. Keir leaves behind him a legacy of innovative designs, having founded Blackstar Amplification in 2007 with fellow Marshall alumni Ian Robinson, Paul Hayhoe and Richard Frost.

Keir applied his comprehensive knowledge of electronic engineering on many of Blackstar's earliest and most successful products – some of which were put together in Robinson's garden shed in Northampton. 

Guitar amp series such as the Artisan and Series One, and Blackstar's hugely successful HT series of overdrive and distortion pedals, helped establish the company as a brand. Keir's expertise in solid-state, valve and digital technologies played a key role in establishing the Blackstar sound, and creating products with a number of cutting-edge features – such as the digital algorithms that underpinned the ID:Series.

Over the years, Bruce has been an inspiration to many, many people and those who met him will remember the warmth, humour and gravitas of a truly unique individual

Blackstar Amplification

In a statement, Blackstar described him as the foundation of the company's success with digital guitar technologies, and a driving force for its R&D.

“Under Bruce’s guidance Blackstar has established a world leading guitar technology R&D facility which invests constantly in researching guitar technology and driving forward innovation,“ said Blackstar. “As well as business partner and mentor, Bruce was also a very close friend and played bass in a band with the founding Blackstar team (including Marketing Director Joel Richardson) for years.“

Blackstar ID:Core V3 Stereo 40

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Keir was born in Singapore in 1961. His father, Jock, was a BBC radio engineer, and it was growing up on the BBC World News relay station in Malaya that gave Keir a taste for electronics. 

He got his start with guitar amps by fixing up his older brother Bill's Marshall amps, before studying at Salford University, supplementing his income with repair jobs and designing electronics for British bass guitar specialists Overwater.

After graduating, Keir took a design engineer job at Marshall, later progressing to chief engineer before being appointed design director, working under the late Jim Marshall. There he developed some of Marshall's flagship products during the 80s and 90s. 

“Over the years, Bruce has been an inspiration to many, many people,“ said Blackstar. “Those who met him will remember the warmth, humour and gravitas of a truly unique individual. Blackstar will make sure his legacy is remembered, protected and strengthened.“  

Keir had been suffering from a form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. His family and Blackstar have set up a Just Giving page in his memory, with donations going to the Alzheimer’s Society. Anyone wishing to pay their respects can donate here.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.