By Eric Kirkland

esa/Boogie amps are famous for their endless array of tone-switching options and complex, feature-laden panels. Points in case are the unmatched Mark IV and Road King amplifiers. And while Mesa amps have always focused on delivering great tone, the superhero design team of Randall Smith and Doug West is now beginning to simplify the amps’ controls and offer a more traditional taper to the EQ sections, allowing users to access the amplifiers’ full sonic potential in mere seconds. Following the highly successful Studio and Dual Caliber series amps of the Eighties and Nineties, the new F-100 head delivers exceedingly rich tone and easy control, at a price that can’t be beat.

When I opened the tightly packed box containing my review F-100, I was greeted by the familiar “new car” smell that seems to accompany every Mesa I’ve encountered, assuring me of reliable performance and stellar tones. The amp’s classic “witch’s cauldron” styling includes black Taurus faux cowhide vinyl, a heavy black grille cloth and a midnight-black faceplate. The thick, stitched black leather handle looks tough and effortlessly manages the amp’s weight. Four rigorously tested 6L6s generate 100 watts of chest-caving power, while four 12AX7s endow the preamp with analog warmth.

The F-100’s layout may be the simplest configuration that Mesa has featured on a channel-switching amp: each of its two channels has independent old-style radio knobs for gain, treble, mid, bass, reverb and master. Although not marked on the control panel, the clean channel’s gain knob is mounted on a push/pull pot; Pulling out the pot imbues the channel with brighter tone and faster response time.

The F-100’s front-side mini-switch allows you to choose between the clean tones of channel 1 and the two high-gain distortion modes of channel 2, while a heavy toggle switch lets you select the amp’s headroom: either 60 or 100 watts. Bright, faceted indicator LEDs leave no question as to the amp’s channel status from any stage angle. Also featured on the front panel are industrial-strength power/standby switches, a large red pilot jewel, the recessed Mesa Engineering badge and a single instrument jack.

The simplicity continues on the back panel with three speaker jacks, a parallel effects loop with a mix control and a balanced 1/4-inch recording/headphone output jack. The supplied three-button foot controller lets you switch between channels, activate channel 2’s contour mode and toggle the reverb on/off. The partially open-back 2x12 enclosure included with the head was loaded with the exclusive Mesa/Boogie 90-watt Black Shadow speakers, combining tight handling with the airy quality of a tuned and ported cabinet.

Loud and Clear
I tested the F-100 with a Fender American Standard Tele, a stock Fender ’65 Relic Strat and a Terry McInturff 25th Anniversary guitar, loaded with VooDoo PAF humbuckers. I connected the head to the cab with MIT Hardwire speaker cable and used a Cardas 2X24M instrument cable to provide the clearest and most complex tones.

In the rhythm channel, a medium-gain setting with 60 watts of power created definitive blackface-style fat clean, with a resilient feel that was involving and quick enough for every style. Crank the gain here and the F-100 starts to break up with the sweet power crunch that made Keith Richards a legend. This is the closest Mesa has come to the elusive hand-wired Sixties tone.

Pull the bright switch and the clean channel takes on a silverface-style presencethat is sure to raise the roof off any honky-tonk. Fed by my Tele’s bridge-position Barden pickup, the clean channel’s plunky bottom remained warm and controlled, with more snap and bite than has been produced by any previous Mesa/Boogie clean channel. The semi–open-back cabinet is probably the best choice with this channel, as it allows the amp to fill the room with sound without taking anyone’s head off.

To create the layered tone that’s featured on almost every great jazz album, I activated the clean channel’s bright feature and reduced the tone on the McInturff guitar, using only the neck pickup. With this setup, I achieved a dark ethereal vibe that retained excellent transients. The long tank spring reverb was the best I’ve heard from a Mesa; the wet effect never overwhelmed the attack, but developed on the back half of the note envelope.


The F-100's valve-loaded backside

Switching to channel 2 yielded immediate high-gain satisfaction, offering long sustain, creamy overtones and impressive definition. And although the F-100 utilizes 6L6 tubes, its preamp injects enough upper-mid presence for stadium-size rock tones with a sugary Marshall-essence icing. With the gain and EQ controls dimed, the master on 5 and the power section set for 100 watts of tube thrust, the F-100 produced flawless neo-vintage tones with unbelievable gain à la Beck, Clapton and Santana.

Channel 2’s alternate setting is the contour mode,which adds a righteous Rectifier sizzle to the mix, automatically scoops the mids and increases the drive. Those of you who have used a Mesa equipped with a five-bank EQ will recognize this modes tonal shift and extra muscle. Screaming highs and a vicious high-gain assault define this voicing and complete the F-100’s journey through four decades of classic guitar tone.

The Bottom Line
Representing years of refinement and masterful design, the Mesa/Boogie F-100 is another absolute success from a company that never seems to run out of ideas. Its three modes offer exactly what most players need and nothing more: real blackface magic, a perfectly voiced rock channel and an ultimate high-gain setting that lets all the Mesa’s horses run wild. With intuitive controls, cinderblock-tough build quality and some of Mesa/Boogie’s most responsive tones, the F-100 demonstrates that Boogie amps really do embody the spirit of art in technology.

by Eric Kirkland
Guitar World


The F-100's three-button footswitch


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