Three surprisingly loud watts of pure practise amp bliss, with a couple of tricks up its sleeve.
- 3 Watts; Clean and Overdrive channels; 3″ speaker
- Digital ‘tape’ delay effect; Patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature)
- MP3/Line In for jamming along or listening to music
- Emulated Line Out for ‘silent’ practice or recording
|Output Wattage||3 Watts|
|Product Dimensions||5.59″D x 7.59″W x 4.29″H|
While Blackstar is arguably best known for their HT tube amps and Silverline modelling amps, there’s another string to the Blackstar bow that’s sometimes neglected – and given how little this guitar amp is, we can understand why. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in sound.
Simply explained, the Blackstar Fly 3 is a little practise amplifier. It has three watts of power, clean and overdrive channels, digital delay, and Blackstar’s unique Infinite Shape Feature (I.S.F), which provides both British and American amp tones.
While most amp manufacturers are figuring out how to make their larger, more powerful products a little more practice-friendly by introducing attenuators and the like, Blackstar appears to have focused a larger proportion of its attention on making some seriously killer low-output amps that sound fantastic, are reasonably priced, and dedicated to practise. The Fly 3 isn’t technically a new product, having been on the market since 2014, but it nevertheless holds its own against many competitors as one of the only battery-powered amps that doesn’t sound like a toy from a Christmas cracker.
The Blackstar Fly 3 doesn’t appear to be a dazzling beacon of durability just by looking at it. It’s incredibly light and composed completely of (although very sturdy) plastic, which didn’t inspire much trust in us. We’re used to amps being built of wood and feeling sturdy and a little weighty – but when we realized the Blackstar Fly 3 is also a battery-powered portable amp, our opinions and expectations immediately shifted.
Blackstar has gone a very long time without producing a poor product, and once out of the box and internal packaging, it’s clear that the Blackstar Fly 3 is maintaining Blackstar’s winning streak.
When comparing the Fly to other small battery-powered amps on the market, it’s clear that they all generally follow the same principle – but the Blackstar Fly 3 builds on this a bit further, and it’s these small expansions that we appreciate the most. Take, for example, the control panel. Whereas most competitors have multi-purpose knobs that switch your amp on and off while simultaneously giving channel selection, the Blackstar Fly 3 features five discrete single-purpose dials that are clearly labelled, responsive, and offer a gratifying degree of resistance.
Those controls are Gain, Volume, EQ, Delay and Delay level. Starting with the Gain control, our first impression is that it’s highly responsive in both clean and overdriven settings. With it being an input gain control, you can greatly impact the tone of the amp depending on where you set this dial – but we found, at least with a clean tone, that it was best set at around 11 o’clock. This provided a really enjoyable blend of clarity and warmth which suited the single-coils of our Fender Lead II to a tee.
While the Blackstar Fly 3‘s absence of tubes prevents you from playing the gain and volume controls against each other, there is a noticeable jump in the high-end frequencies when both the gain and volume are turned all the way up. It was a touch too strident for our tastes, but if you want to brighten up something like a Les Paul neck pickup or a floating electric guitar pickup on a jazz guitar, this brightness isn’t always a negative thing. The EQ dial controls Blackstar’s distinctive I.S.F feature, which is said to shift your tone from US to UK as you spin the dial, similar to a mid-sweep – with the ‘US’ having more low-mids.
This is a highly effective and beneficial feature on larger Blackstar amps, mostly their all-tube offerings, but the Fly 3’s small speaker size means that the effect of I.S.F is mostly lost here.
On the Blackstar Fly 3 , the Delay and Delay Level dials work in tandem. The delay dial is a time control that ranges from short, slapback-style delays to lengthy, ambient delays. While there isn’t quite enough delay time in the tank to match one of the best delay pedals or to channel your inner Gilmour, there is enough to have a lot of fun – which is often all we want our practise sessions to be. The delay level dial controls the volume of the delay effect, and when set to a low setting.
The Blackstar Fly 3 provides a simple, easy practise setup that is devoid of displays, effects menus, presets, and convoluted layouts, instead focusing on the basics in a tiny, great-sounding instrument. The additional extension cab, on the other hand, is the ace up the sleeve. It’ll cost you another $30/£30, but when something so basic produces something so epic, we think it’s worth it. The extended cab converts your Fly 3 into a fully audio vehicle. 6-watt practise setup with two 3″ speakers and stereo delay – and we’ve yet to see another portable practise amp with the same characteristics.
The Blackstar Fly 3 also has a 3.5mm AUX connection for plugging in your phone another music device, making it ideal for blasting tunes in the sun without the tie of needing to plug in. There’s also another 3.5mm output for headphones so you may practice in silence, and because it’s an emulated output, it can be hooked directly into your interface for recording.
Overall, we adore the Blackstar Fly 3. We can’t quite give it 5 stars because it’s not a perfect amplifier, but while its negative characteristics are aggravating, its wonderful features bring us genuine joy. We never expected to like a little practise amp powered by six AA batteries, but we were pleasantly pleased. The Blackstar Fly 3 has been with us for a long time now, eight years in fact, and while it still holds up admirably, we’re hoping for an update soon.
If you’re looking for a small, portable practise amp, the Blackstar Fly 3 is the way to go. For the price, this amp can do some genuinely spectacular things – and with the option of expanding with an extension cab, we’re expecting some killer practise tones. The AUX in and simulated output both add value to this unit, allowing it to function as both a speaker and a piece of recording electronics.