Mini amplifiers have been around for quite some time now and for the majority of that time they have never been considered as “real” or “usable” amplifiers.
They’ve been more like novelty items or fun little toys. Times have changed though, and mini amplifiers are becoming more and more powerful.
Cutting edge technology is being introduced to give you more tonal control and a more realistic guitar amplifier experience with an amp that can fit in the palm of your hand.
The Blackstar FLY 3 is advertised for having BIG tones in a small package. From a quick glance at the tonal controls and onboard effects, it looks like it could be true.
Is it possible that a small mini amp like this could become your new favorite amp?
I was fortunate enough to get to try one out in person.
Here’s my thoughts on the Blackstar FLY 3 Mini Amplifier.
Blackstar FLY 3 Spec Summary
- 3-Watt solid state amplifier
- 2 channels – Clean and Overdrive
- Controls: Gain, Level, EQ (ISF), Delay Level, Delay Time
- Patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature)
- Digital ‘tape’ delay effect
- MP3/Line In for playing music
- Emulated Line Out for ‘silent’ practice or recording
- 3” speaker
- Battery or DC powered
“Your new ‘practice buddy’ mini amplifier”– Davis Wilton Bader
Let’s get the bad news out of the way, because this amp has a lot of great stuff to offer, but I think it has one big flaw that is universally shared by most mini amps: the small speaker. No matter what kind of tonal shaping you do to this amp, your tone is going to sound small if you play it through the built-in speaker.
If you want to hear any of the low end this amp can offer, you are better off connecting it to a bigger speaker. I plugged mine via the Helix to a Line 6 Power 112 Plus (Flat) and was able to get much better tone from this little beast. Not everyone has that capability, but even using a decent pair of over-ear headphones delivers better frequency ranges than the speaker does.
Because of this, all the tones I describe in this review are going to be based on how I hear them through a set of Senheiser HD 201S over-ear headphones.
Controls and Effects
ISF (Infinite Shape Feature)
The EQ on the Blackstar FLY 3 is controlled by Blackstar’s patented Infinite Shape Feature (ISF). The knob set up the middle gives you a neutral EQ. To the left is a British voiced amp EQ and to the right is an American voiced amp EQ.
Since nearly every amp out on the market falls into one of these two categories it would seem that this amp lets you get a taste of whatever kind of amp you could possibly want. The name alone suggests this gives you an infinite array of tonal choices, but I have to say I prefer a classic 3-band EQ for the control. While the tonal variety is pretty cool, you have to sit with the pre-made EQ’s made for you.
Digital ‘Tape’ Delay
The amp has two controls dedicated to controlling the delay effect, one for delay level and one for delay time. The delay level knob is small compared to the other controls but manages to work well.
The sound of the built-in delay is impressive. Just like a real tape delay the delayed signal cascades off with a slight modulation effect. The delay level at max is as loud as your dry signal, which makes this a pretty tame effect, but the quality of sound matters more to me. My favorite setting is for a good “slap-back” effect, with the level set at about halfway and the delay time set between 1 and 2. This will serve all your chicken pickin’ needs!
The clean channel can take you anywhere from totally clean to edge of breakup. I started off by plugging in my Suhr Classic Antique (SSS) for classic clean tones. For this channel I prefer to set the IRF to the far-right side for a more American voiced amp sound with a present low-mid range. The low end is still wanting, but with the gain set to 4 and the volume dimed, I was able to get some pretty satisfying clean tones.
As you raise the gain up and back the volume down you can get some cranked small amp sounds. To achieve this, I would set the gain and volume to 7, with the IRF at about 6 to bring some high-end clarity. This tone gave me serious Rolling Stones vibes.
The dirty channel picks up where the clean channel left off. Press the “OD” button and you are in high-gain territory. This was a little ice-picky with my single coils, so I swapped over to my Grosh Setneck with a pair of humbuckers in it. The warmth of humbuckers lent well to the overall bright quality of the amp.
My favorite setting on this amp to dime the gain with the volume at around 6 and the IRF set straight up the middle. With my pickups, setting the IRF (EQ) right up the middle created a good balance of warmth and high-end sparkle that was good for heavy riffs and “chugging” on the low strings. Add in a low dose of the onboard tape delay and you are in lead territory!
As a Practice Amplifier
On the Road
The most common use for mini amps such as the Blackstar FLY 3 is as a practice amplifier. With the amp weighing just under 2 pounds and with dimensions that can fit in the palm of a hand, this amp could go anywhere. This is aided by the fact that it can be either DC powered or run on batteries, so if you wanted you could play this in the back of a car with some headphones in and your travel partners wouldn’t be bothered (assuming they are ok with the sound of un-amplified electric guitar strings). This would be helpful for touring musicians and novices alike.
I could also see this being a great option for students and beginners. Parents that want to give their kids an electric guitar to learn need not fear of loud amplifiers in the house anymore. Students can plug in headphones and have quiet practice time. The MP3/Line In jack also allows for connecting an MP3 player (if you still have one of those) or a phone to the amp to jam along to.
In the Studio
The Blackstar FLY is also a good introduction into recording if you have an interface. The way I’ve recorded all of my demo tones as part of this review is by connecting the Speaker Emulated Output into a blank preset on my Helix (used as an interface) and straight into my digital audio workstation (Logic) for recording. Though a little too simple for advanced recorders/engineers, I truly commend Blackstar for having a built-in speaker emulation in place for ease of use. This makes the amp very user friendly for beginners.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Sounds good through headphones
✔️ Usable with phone/MP3
✔️ Good practice amp
✔️ Wide array of tone options
✔️ Convincing tape delay
❌ Low end lacking when using speaker
❌ Quality of Sound reflects price point
❌ Not practical for live use
Final Thoughts on the Blackstar FLY 3 Mini Amplifier
Overall, I think this is a fun little amplifier with more appealing qualities than drawbacks. It has its appropriate uses. I would be extremely surprised to see it in any kind of proper live situation. It is simply too small and even if someone were to plug it into a bigger cabinet, the sound quality is just sub-par of professional.
So, while it won’t replace your favorite tube amplifier, the Blackstar FLY 3 is a great option for someone who is looking for an on-the-go practice amp. It’s also great for throwing on your desk for when you are in the mood to play, without taking up too much space. It is a solid solution for parents that want to keep practice time quiet and beginners will have enough tonal variety to not get bored with it. Combine this with jamming alongside a plugged-in phone and you can get lost in your own little guitar world with this little thing.
Whether you are a beginner or a touring musician, the Blackstar FLY 3 is a great mini amplifier that you can practically put into your back pocket.
- Refer the user manual below for troubleshooting
- Digital 'tape' delay effect; Patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature)
- MP3/Line In for jamming along or listening to music
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.