This week on the blog, Exeter-based musician Phil Oberheinrich reviews the Blackstar LT-Dual distortion guitar pedal released at the end of 2015.
- Solid-state overdrive/distortion pedal
- Two channels
- Gain x2
- Level x2
- ISF (“Infinite Shape Feature”)
Following the success of their valve-powered HT range of distortion, overdrive and boost pedals, Blackstar last year released a series of solid-state pedals designed to offer the same tonal flexibility and quality for the more frugal guitarist. According to Blackstar, the LT-Dual, which features the same controls as its big brother, the HT-Dual, “will transform a single channel amp into a three channel tone machine.” This is quite a bold claim, that should fill most guitarists with a mix of excitement and scepticism, considering a quick Google search reveals that one of these pedals can be had for only £75, almost £100 less than the tube-powered HT-Dual.
The LT-Dual is a solid, reassuringly heavy item that was clearly designed for on-stage use. The tough metal casing is on this model finished in a very familiar looking shade of green that promises the sort of tonal goodness that few solid-state overdrives can deliver. The pedal features two foot-switches, which allow the user to switch between two overdrive channels and bypass. Each of the pedal’s two channels has its own gain and level, control and there is a shared tone control and another shared control labelled “ISF”. This “Infinite Shape Feature” is designed to manipulate the distortion characteristics to blend seamlessly from the USA to a UK tone and effectively provide the user with a Mesa and a Marshall in a green 4”x 5”x 2” box. The size and spacing of the controls and their smooth travel are perfect for those who like to perform bare-footed and adjust settings with their toes.
Plugging an Agile Interceptor Pro 727, a mahogany-bodied 7-string guitar with active EMG707 pickups into a Diezel Einstein 100W head running into a 1×12 with a Celestion V30, what is immediately noticeable is a drop in volume when the LT-Dual is activated with the level at 12 o’clock. It seems odd to have to turn the level up to 3 o’clock to match the level of the clean sound, but there is plenty of volume there and at maximum volume, the overdrive is too loud for most purposes. It should be noted that the EMG707 is a high output pickup and therefore produces a much louder clean sound than you would get from a PAF-style humbucker or most single-coils, but high-output pickups are becoming more common and one would think that Blackstar would take this into account when designing a modern distortion pedal.
Anyhow, what is far more important than this small niggle is the sound – and it certainly has plenty of that. Channel 1 is the “low-gain” channel in the sense that it can produce anything from a clean boost to a huge, heavy rock tone and channel 2 isn’t quite as suitable for cleaning and has more gain. Those attracted by the green colour and expecting a classic Tubescreamer-esque blend of clean and overdrive might be a tad disappointed because this pedal essentially does what Ibanez were trying to achieve when they made the Tubescreamer; it produces a convincing valve-like overdrive that flatters the player while preserving the tone of the guitar and the amplifier. It does work very well as a clean boost, but unlike a Tubescreamer it excels at producing its own overdrive tone independently from the guitar amp. At volumes the average neighbour will tolerate, it is difficult to distinguish between the LT-Dual’s channel 1 and the Diezel Einstein’s Mode 2 overdrive setting. Only at higher volumes does it become noticeable that the pedal isn’t quite as dynamic as a 100W valve amp worth £1,500.
The LT-Dual’s Channel 2 offers more gain and a bit more low end, but complements channel 1 perfectly as either a 2nd rhythm, sound or lead channel, allowing the user to produce tones that fill the room while still letting every pinch harmonic squeal like a stuck pig. This is an achievement that is not to be sniffed at; there are plenty of overdrives and distortions that can do one or the other, but the combination of tonal transparency, dynamics, depth, smoothness and beef the LT-Dual delivers make this a truly addictive piece of equipment. The ISF control does precisely what Blackstar claim and allows the user to tailor their very own blend of UK and USA tones with arguably German tones in between. Whereas some distortion pedals have a tone control that allows you to find a sweet spot between two opposing types of awful, the LT-Dual’s tone control can brighten up the sound of a cheap humbucker or tame a low-output single coil but doesn’t range from muddy to ear-splitting like that orange thing you probably have lying about somewhere.
Overall, the BlackStar LT Dual Pedal, despite the peculiarity of the illogically calibrated level controls, is probably the best thing you can buy for £75. Even if you are one of the many unfortunate people in this country working for minimum wage, you can get this pedal by asking your boss for ten hours of overtime, which will lead to many years of guitar playing pleasure. The improvement it makes to a cheap amplifiers’ tone and the flexibility it adds to single-channel amps means that this is not a pedal you’ll be replacing in a hurry.
Value for money *****
Overall rating: 4.9/5
Pros: Unbelievable value for money for a pedal that delivers authentic valve-like overdrive. Rock solid metal construction.
Cons: Level controls calibrated rather low for modern high-output pickups.