Blackstar has unveiled a new signature guitar amp for Toby Lee, the blues guitar star who started on ukulele aged four, got his first electric guitar aged eight, and by the time he was 14 he was jamming with Joe Bonamassa at the Royal Albert Hall. Quite remarkable.
And as tube amps go, so too is the Toby Lee St. James TL50 6L6. It gives the future-forward Blackstar 50-watt head and matching 2x12” vertical speaker cabinet a bold new look, with red vinyl covering, cream piping, a basket weave grille cloth and cream chicken head control knobs. Lee’s John Hancock is on the front panel, as is his official logo. Lee, a longstanding Blackstar endorsee, says it is the pinnacle of their collaboration, and it’s fair to say he’s tickled pink to put his name to the amp.
“This remarkable creation holds a special place in my heart, bearing my name as a symbol of our shared musical journey,” he said. “Its design encapsulates my love for the ‘60s, reminiscent of classic cars and vintage guitars that hold a piece of history within them.”
Well, they do say that if you can remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there. Toby Lee was definitely not there in the ‘60s. But for sure that’s the decade his blues rock sound is rooted in – hence the vintage vibe.
The St James, however, is unlike any amp to come out of that era. It’s super lightweight. It has a digital reverb.
There is an effects loop with and effects level switch, and some features unique to the 21st-century such as a USB audio output and Blackstar’s onboard CabRig technology giving you the option to send your signal straight to the desk via the XLR output when playing live, or through your guitar audio interface when recording.
As the name suggests, the TL50 6L6 is a 50-watt amp, with a pair of 6L6 power tubes. Blackstar offers the St James head with the choice of EL34s or 6L6s, but as Lee explains in the video above the sweet cleans of the EL34 were great but he wanted the extra gain of the 6L6. His amp, like the others in the series, houses a pair of ECC83 valves in the preamp.
You can run it at the full 50-watts, which is more than enough to pin the audience back in their seats, or at two-watts, for when you need it to break-up into overdrive without waking the neighbours or crushing a sensitive ribbon mic when recording. An ingenious Sag mode adds a vintage-style compression that changes the feel of the amplifier.
The channels are footswitchable. There’s a three-band EQ, independent volume and gain controls, master volume, and a Voice switch for toggling between sparkly, spanky US cleans and modern high-gain crunch.
The cabinet is fitted with a pair of Celestion Zephyr speakers, and can has an open/close-back design.
You can read MusicRadar’s interview with Alex Gee, senior product developer at Blackstar, for the skinny on how the series was designed. For more information on the Toby Lee St James (price TBC but the 6L6 head is typically £999, the cab £399, and this should be similar), head over to Blackstar.