The all-new Blackstar St. James Plugin is the company’s attempt to break into the software market. Designed from the ground up to emulate the original St. James valve amplifiers, with both the EL34 and 6L6 versions.
Blackstar has now added the St. James EL34 and St. James 6L6. These two new versions of the plugin are streamlined, slightly paired back and more affordable versions of the original St. James plugin that I reviewed below. They each come with predetermined fixed versions of the CabRig without the 9 cabs and 6 mics of the full version of the software.
EL34 0r 6L6
Essentially, buyers get either the EL34 or 6L6 tones, without as much control over the cabinet outputs, as Blackstar has made the selections already.
They are both available currently for a reduced price for the launch of the new versions during Black Friday/Cyber Monday.
Perfect, for anyone that just requires only one of the tube types and also very affordable.
MSRP – USD 69/GBP 69 each with an Introductory Price of only USD 29 / GBP 29 for a limited time.
Blackstar St. James Plugin
According to Blackstar, the new St James Plugin delivers the Tone and Feel of real valve amplifiers.
It has been designed from the ground up and offers an easy-to-use, low-latency solution for the studio and potentially live performance as well.
Rather than modelling, existing classic amplifiers, this software was designed by the team at Blackstar.
Thankfully, a lot of work has been done to make the user interface as simple to navigate and work with as possible. This for me, is a huge bonus, as I just want to get on and record, plus I really do not enjoy reading manuals.
It is clean, tidy and very easy to find what you are looking for.
For this review, all I needed to do was plug my guitar into an audio interface and fire up the software via my DAW as a plugin.
I’m using an M1 Pro MacBook Pro for this review and my DAW of choice was Logic Pro. The plugin will also run under Windows systems and so it caters for the two major platforms. There is also a standalone mode that can be used to run the software if you haven’t got access to a DAW, or if you want to use it just for performance/practice.
Essentially, all I had to do was set the input level by keeping it in the orange section (red is bad, turn down, etc) and set the noise gate to minimise any hum/hiss and off I went.
The software includes both EL34 and 6L6 versions of the St. James amplifiers.
Blackstar describes the EL34 model as offering ‘vintage clean to chimey mid-gain tones’ and the 6L6 model as ‘dynamic clean to classic crunch and aggressive modern sounds’.
I can certainly hear a difference between the tube types being modelled and to get a feel for them I would suggest new users check out some of the included presets to get an idea of what is possible. This is a good place to get started and from there you can tweak and make your own presets or mark your favourites.
The software includes all the usual amp controls, with Volume I and II for each channel, a Gain II control for the amount of gain on channel 2, a standard three-band EQ section and a Reverb control.
Plus, a Boost/Voice switch (this selects the two voices of Channel II) and a handy 50W and SAG power switch.
Boost adds a clean 10dB boost at the input stage when using the EL34 section and when using the 6L6 models it instead increases the gain into the valve/tube overdrive software section pushing the saturation available from the GAIN II control even further.
Sag makes everything feel more vintage and feels compressed as you dig in, so great for solos, etc
Pre-FX & Post-FX Pedals
It also comes with a set of Pre-FX Pedals included, with a Compressor, Drive, Chorus and Phaser. These are pretty basic and were designed to work well with the package in general.
They also include a set of Post-FX Pedals which includes a Flanger, Tremolo, Delay and Reverb.
Again, these are quite basic, but you have some nice options including a valve bias and harmonic tremolo, plus both Hall and Plate Reverbs. The flanger is based on an MXR M117R and I’ve owned a few vintage ones of those in my time, it was similar, but not quite what I remember from the old grey pedals I have owned in the past.
There is also a very useful Analogue EQ emulation based on a Trident A with 4 x semi-parametric EQ bands, Low Cut and High Cut and Individual band bypass.
With -15dB to +15dB per band and Low, Low Mid, Hi Mid and Hi bands to choose from
This was handy for quick sculpting of amp tones and I could see it being useful if you were to use this software live, rather than in a studio.
Possibly, my favourite part of tone tweaking was using the CabRig section as this is where users can play with various cabinets and microphones.
Again, it is super easy to navigate with drop-down menus when you hover over the various areas and a good selection of cabs and mics are on offer.
It includes 9 x Blackstar speaker cabinets and 6 x industry-standard microphones to play with. Plus, you can play with the virtual room environment (small, medium, large) and mix them as desired.
The software runs in mono or stereo and there is access to two cabinets at a time. It has all the basic controls that most people will want, though there is currently no option to load up your own or third-party IRs.
It is a breath of fresh air, not to be looking at another recreation of a classic vintage amp being modelled and recreated in software.
Instead, the St. James plugin was designed by the same team who created the Artisan, Series One, ID: Series and St James product ranges. What they have made is something unique and potentially very different.
I would say that, for me personally, the strength of this software package comes from the ease of use, and the sound quality is up there with some of the better software packages I have used in recent years.
Since I don’t have a real St. James amp to hand, I couldn’t A/B one with the software, so I’ll have to take Blackstar’s word on how close it is to the two original EL34 and 6L6 versions.
Negatives would be that it lacks MIDI control and so for performance that is going to be an issue for many guitarists. Plus, the lack of support for third-party and user Impulse Responses will be an issue for a lot of studios. \
Also, the fact that there are only two amp types could be a limiting factor for some musicians, considering the competition already has plenty of great amp and effect rigs in software.
Overall, I had no major complaints and it is simple to get great guitar tones using this bundle (I may have also whacked a few softsynths and drum machines through it as well), so a useful tool for both guitarists and studio engineers.
Blackstar also has a free trial version that can be downloaded so that potential new users can try it out. Users will need an iLok account to run the software.
MSRP – GBP 99 / USD 99
- St. James EL34 and St. James 6L6: Blackstar
- Pre-FX Pedals: Blackstar
- EQ Section: Blackstar
- CabRig: Blackstar