Meet Carmen Vandenberg: The First Woman to Design and Release Her Own Signature Amp
Vandenberg is the first woman to design and release her own signature amp—the Blackstar CV30. Read her story and enter to win the limited-edition signature combo amp.
Carmen Vandenberg grew up inhabiting numerous cities across the world—yet everywhere she went, then and now, the guitar has always been present.
Born in Spain and currently based in LA, Vandenberg is most known for her work with rock band Bones UK. Since 2016, the band has achieved multiple career-changing milestones, including co-writing and touring with Jeff Beck on his album Loud Hailer, releasing their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album and receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance in 2019, supporting Korn on their last arena tour, and performing their late night debut in 2020. Most recently, in response to the global pandemic, Bones UK has been experimenting with safe, creative solutions to touring with Earthwalkers.
And now, Vandenberg is the first woman to design and release her own signature amp—the Blackstar CV30. We’ve partnered with Blackstar to offer a giveaway of this limited-edition signature combo amp, so read on for more information about the CV30 and Vanderberg’s vision, and be sure to enter for a chance to win!
The Blackstar CV30 was created with 13-year-old Vandenberg in mind, offering a lightweight and option-based amp to grab and gig: “I wanted the CV30 to be accessible, for anybody to be able to lift it up,” Vandenberg says. “It sounds great and big, but is also manageable.” The retro-looking combo amp boasts two channel options for sparkling cleans and aggressive overdrives, a foundation from which the player can build upon, and the ability to achieve outstanding dynamics with simply a guitar and amp. From including Blackstar’s signature ISF to envisioning an ideal pedal platform design, Vandenberg worked with Blackstar to create an amp for both the minimalist guitarist and pedal enthusiast by offering the freedom and ability to shape their own sound.
While in Nashville working on pre-production for the next Bones UK album, Carmen Vandenberg spoke with She Shreds about her guitar beginnings, her tone journey, and the creation of the Blackstar CV30.
Tell me about your beginnings with music, and how that led to where you are now.
There’s a very clear moment in my life. I had moved to London, played the violin already, and must have been six or seven. My dad had a VHS cassette of the 1969 Woodstock festival, and I remember seeing Jimi Hendrix. I picked up my violin and pretended it was a guitar, looked at the TV and said, “Dad, that’s what I want to do.” He might have put a hand over his face a bit, like, “Oh lord, my kid wants to be a rockstar.” It just hit me: “This is magic.”
It was a combination of that and at school, my best friend Django, his dad was Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics. I went to his house for playdates and there were loads of guitars, and Dave just put one in my hands. Django would play the saxophone and we’d go down to the corner and Dave would stand above us as we busked on the street… There’s a few things that are kind of luck and fate, innit?
We moved to Brussels when I was eight and I kept teaching myself guitar. At that point, no matter where I moved, the guitar was something I always had with me. I had a few lessons here and there, but not much; at the time, I was teaching myself to read sheet music I had for violin. When we moved to Italy, I started going to Jam Academy for guitar, in a small town called Lucca where I spent my teenage years. I quit the violin because my little brain was getting a bit confused, and decided to dedicate myself to guitar. It was really sweet, because it’s such a small town, and all the teachers really take care of their students.
Can you talk about your tone journey? And how has that informed the sounds you chose to evoke through the Blackstar CV30?
Tone is something you develop over time, and a lot of it you develop with mainly your fingers. An amp and a guitar will facilitate that tone, but I remember watching Jeff Beck play and no matter what amp you put him through, he always sounded like himself. There’s a lot of it that’s within you, and there’s a lot of it which is finding your amp and your sound. And I really did find that with Blackstar.
The journey with this amp was kind of amazing. I’ve been playing the Blackstar Artist 30 for a few years now, and I love the tone I get out of that, and how good it is as a pedal platform. What we created together for the CV30 was a more enhanced version of what I was already playing, and we channeled more into my tone. And then when I went to the Blackstar headquarters, there were tweaks and changes and trying out different speakers and cabinets, things we modified on either channel, working on the balanced tonal mix, upping the gain, and all of that stuff. It was a process that happened little by little, but I think the foundations of my tone were there already.
I’ll tell you where my head was at when they offered me to do a signature amp: I wanted an amp that 13-year-old me could pick up and go to a blues jam with and be able to play a show without any additional pedals or gear. And so, for me, in order to be able to do that, I wanted two channels: one with a very beautiful clean and one with the gain upped quite a bit, so that if you only have your footswitch at a gig, you’ve got a clean tone and distorted tone, and you can just play.
What are the specific options the Blackstar CV30 offers in terms of tone?
I really wanted a reverb unit (I truly dislike amps that don’t have one) but also the ability to turn it off and on. That’s on the footswitch as well.
Then, if you want your effects to be clean and not tampered with, that’s what the send and return loop is in the back of the amp. It gives everything more space instead of it being direct-in and congested. But you know, sometimes I plug it in, sometimes I send it through the effects loop—it varies, depending on what you want.
The ISF is really cool, a feature that Blackstar created—it’s their thing—and when they asked me whether I wanted it with my amp, I said sure, it’s brilliant. It’s so good for the studio; it gives you that versatility to get so many different tones. It moves the whole tone stack, so bass and treble. It will give you the American tone or the UK tone. And then when I play it live, I keep it set at a position I like and don’t really touch it.
We spent some time deciding what speakers we wanted—1×12” Celestion V-Type, which are really cool—and it’s a combo, I love a combo. I don’t believe in stacking loads of amps and big cabs where you have to keep the volume really low otherwise the sound engineer will get mad at you.
What settings do you typically use with the Blackstar CV30 during live performances?
I don’t really use the clean channel live, so I use the second channel as the bass for my clean channel. If I’m using my Telecaster—and say, for example, I’m performing with Bones UK—my gain will be at four so it’s crunchy, clean with a bite, because I’ve got distortions and fuzzes and overdrives on my pedalboard. I like there to be a bit of grit before I add more grit. For example, if your clean channel has a bit of gain and you put an overdrive pedal like the Archer by J. Rockett Audio Designs on it, it will sound really cool.
What I do afterwards, if I’m playing with my Telecaster, is I keep the bass quite high at like a seven, the middle will be at a four or five, and the treble at a six. But I also change in between songs—you’ll see moments live when I go to the amp and know what I need to bring down or up for a certain tone. With the ISF, I have it three-quarters of the way toward the UK side. And my master volume is always quite high. I like to be loud.
What is your current favorite combination of gear to use with the CV30?
The CV30 sounds great with my Telecaster and what I need for Bones UK, but the amp itself, I always wanted it to sound good with a Stratocaster. For me, that’s really what defines an amp. The Strat is so versatile, and if every pickup sounds nice, then you know you’ve got a really nice amp.
So there’s a lot of different combinations, and each one of them is telling a different story.
It was in the early days of Bones UK, and a friend of mine, Manuela Grey, she’s actually my tattoo artist, has this event called Wildfire Tattoo Collective, and they asked us to play a show in an underground venue of a hotel in SOHO, New York. Roger Taylor from Queen was there, and he had some friends, and one of them was a Blackstar investor. And basically we just improvised a show there, they heard us play and invited us up for a drink and a conversation. Ever since then, Blackstar has been so supportive—our whole journey together has been amazing. When we had our first ever tour, Blackstar was like, “You girls need amps? Here, come try them out.” And they just gave us two amps.
It really feels like a family. They’ve always taken care of us, always been there for us, always shipping amps out last minute for shows and festivals. Everybody at Blackstar—it’s just such a beautiful team, and they’re all very dedicated to making the best sounding amp. They’re very honest, and true to what they believe in.
When I rack my brain and try to think of other women who have released signature amps, no one comes to mind…
Blackstar mentioned that I was the first woman [to have a signature amp]. I want to be able to give other girls out there the possibility that these dreams are not so unachievable, that things like this are possible for everyone, anyone. I had the support of Blackstar, my management, my girlfriend—so I have a really supportive team. I couldn’t believe that this happened, and if I hadn’t had that team around me telling me that I did deserve this and I could do this, I would have just freaked out and left.
What can we expect next from you and Bones UK?
We’ve been doing this Earthwalkers tour, which is basically in the face of adversity during these COVID-ridden times, of how we can find ways to perform in front of people and navigate it. We just did a show to one fan in a big football field, and then radio competition winners who are going to win the chance for us to drive up to their house and perform for them, and we performed in front of parrots the other day… we’re doing a bunch of stuff. Earthwalkers is how we manage to cope with the lack of shows, and how to make our own kind of shows possible.
But now, we’re really focusing on this record—we’ve got a lot of ideas, but with these times, a lot has been happening… It was really hard to concentrate on creating music when there were a lot of things happening in the world that were bringing you down, like the cruel reality of our social structures that need to be fixed. We weren’t very motivated at first, and I think there’s a little bit of hope back in the air to push forward and create again as of recent times.
To enter the giveaway for a chance to win a Blackstar CV30 amp signed by Carmen, follow these three steps:
- Follow She Shreds, Korg USA, and Blackstar Amps on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter
- Tag a friend you’d share this with if you won
- Fill out the form below to enter to win!
On March 12th at 12pm PT She Shreds will host a live Q and A with Carmen on She Shreds Instagram Stories where we will announce the winner. Tune in for a chance to hear your question answered!