Thanks to Steve Mueller at Mesa Engineering, we've been working out with two great amps. We'll begin appropriately with the model that started it all, the Mark I.
Mesa Boogie Mark I Reissue
A lot of time has passed since Carlos Santana's original Boogie was heard on Abraxas. Mesa subsequently issued an entire series of 'Mark' amps, including the Mark IIA, IIB, IIC, IIC+, the S.O.B. (son of Boogie – the first 'reissue'), Mark III and Mark IV. The current reissue Mark I is indeed a true reissue of the original amps, and after all this time it still rocks with an inspiring range of harmonically heavy tones, clean power, distortion, sustain, dynamic attack and attitude. If you've ever rocked out during your love affair with the guitar and the Boogie Mark I doesn't send you straight into a two hour gonzo guitar freakout, consider taking up the mandolin, brother. This amp forces you to travel to new and interesting places, but if you have little patience for carefully dialing in and noting EQ and gain levels, you could very easily get it all wrong. Merely turning the Bass, Treble and Midrange tone controls less than a full number on the dial can dramatically change your sound, right down to the
subtle overtones lurking within those four big-ass 6L6 tubes. Switching between the 60Wand 100W settings also requires the tone and gain settings to be recalibrated, and with each new guitar we plugged into the Mark I, tone settings deserved to be explored and noted for future reference. It's time well spent, because true to its reputation, this is an amp that demands attention.
We alternately lit up just about every other amplifier in our music room while we played the Boogie, because doing so enabled us to better appreciate it for what it does, and comparisons are revealing... Compared to our vintage Fender Deluxe, Pro Reverb and '69 Marshall 50W, for example, the Boogie is much faster, more connected, forward, aggressive and and less forgiving. The 'clean' tones in Channel Two retain so much harmonic content that the term really must be re-defined for the Boogie, and if your taste leans toward 'old school,' The Mark I may require you to re-think the way you listen to and evaluate guitar tone. After all, this is the amp that originally propelled the electric guitar beyond the familiar, saturated tones of unaffected non-master Marshall amps and into relatively unexplored, high gain territory. Carlos Santana is still mining the brilliant overdriven tone and sustain originally launched by the Mark I, and he could play an entire show with this amp and a 1x12 in a 100-seat club or a 10,000 seat arena with a 4x12 cabinet. That's what the Boogie does, and all of our vintage amps sounded oddly slow, one dimensional and tame by comparison. We still love 'em, but the experience is not unlike driving a 40 year-old six-banger with 'three on the tree' and then sliding into a 2004 vehicle, which is all the more impressive given that the Mark I was created over 30 years ago... Perhaps the most significant observation we can offer regarding the Mark I is that it is such a liberating blast to play. The fun factor is off the charts, and its historical significance and impact on guitar amplification is undeniable. According to Mesa Boogie, the reissue Mark I has been changed from the original only in respect to the variable gain loop, which switches out of the circuit when FX are removed, and Tweed™ Power which "works like a built-in Variac, lowering overall voltages to produce a softer, brown vibe." The Tweed Mode really succeeds in calming this beast down as described, and while the Boogie is known for its soaring sustain and distortion, Channel Two also produces a very solid and lush clean tone. The Mark I is one of the most responsive amps we've played recently, and the frosting on the cake is that the Boogie is a very sharp dressed, compact amp..."Oooo, honey! Tell me how you make such a big noise outta that little bitty thing?" Uh, huh. You could run with that... The Mark I is available as a 1x12 combo or head with your choice of cabinet configuration, and true to form, the build quality and cosmetics are flawless.
In contrast to the Mark I, the 1x12 Lone Star succeeds in bridging classic Fender and modern Marshall tones with an array of features that have become the hallmark of Mesa Engineering. The Lone Star is more refined and restrained, warmer and more sophisticated than the Mark I, and there are plenty of tones, feels and moods to explore in both channels, but no where will you stumble into the white hot, midrange laden brain smack found in Mesa's Rectifier amps, and you won't see a Lone Star at OzzFest.
Lone Stars on Classic Cabinets
For starters, the Lone Star's Channel One really does a brilliant, classic clean tone with the amp set at 60W that Jeff Bakos described as sounding like a blackface Super Reverb. We agreed, and you can throw in a blackface Twin at the100W setting, too. But the Lone Star also takes these classic tones beyond their origins, with a richer, more complex sound that reveals the harmonic detail of every note in a style the old Fenders can't. The tones are seductively habit-forming, and this is an amp that will undoubtedly find it's way into many well-equipped studios.
The larger cabinet adds warmth, depth and dimensionality over the smaller Mark I cabinet, and both channels can be operated with your choice of a 5UR4 tube rectifier for a less responsive, slower vintage feel, or the tougher, faster sound of a silicon diode. They both have their place. A front mounted toggle switch also renders a very authentic, organic 'tweed' tone(identical to the tweed circuit on the Mark I) or an opened up, 'blackface' feel that is more immediate and hi-fi.
Channel Two can be accessed via a mini-toggle or the footswitch, and this is where the Lone Star struts its Mark I DNA. A separate Drive control is dedicated to Channel Two that can be mixed with the Master Volume and Gain controls to ratchet up distortion and sustain, but again, this is a smoother if no less colorful flavor of crunch than we found in the Mark I. Another mini-toggle dedicated to Channel Two delivers 'thick' or 'thicker' tone that sounded like a low-midrange boost with a subtle change in dynamic feel and gain, but it doesn't cause the bottom to fall apart in either setting. This is a very handy feature when moving from weaker single coils to humbucking pickups when you want to add variable heaviness and attitude. The proprietary Celestion 'C90' speaker found in both of our review amps delivered rock-solid low end, excellent midrange punch and very smooth, musical highs, and it handled full power without producing 'cone cry' or significant distortion.
Tone controls are straight up — treble, midrange, bass and presence, and you'll have to commit the function of all the control pots to memory because you won't be able to read them unless you're sitting on the floor in front of the amp. Yes, that's a minor complaint, but we dealt with it after some initial fumbling.
Rear controls include the tube rectifier/diode toggle, fan on/off, hard effects loop bypass, a bias switch for running6L6's or EL34's, separate reverb level pots for channel one and two, and a reverb bright/normal toggle. The Lone Star also has three speaker outs (4/4 & 8 ohms), effects send and return jacks and level out, a slave out with line out control and two external switching jacks for remote channel switching and solo control switching. for the Lead Channel.
The ultimate test of any new review amp for us is this: Will we miss it when it's gone? The Mark I and the Lone Star encouraged us to discover unique tones, textures and musical themes that we wouldn't have found otherwise, and yes, they certainly will be missed. The Mark I is what it is — bold, toneful, raucous, and capable of incredible volume in a small package. The Lone Star seems destined to become a flagship amplifier that will appeal to a very diverse group of players with sophisticated tastes who also place a high priority on versatility live and in the studio.