For the last six weeks or so, I’ve been sucked in by the convenience of amp modelling. Being able to plug and play on headphones at any time of day is very appealing when you can’t always find the time to set up a rig, or aren’t able to do so at a neighbourhood-friendly hour!
Anyway, earlier this week I decided to set up a ‘weekend rig’ (a ‘Sunday sports car’-type arrangement), and I’ve spent a very pleasant, very lazy afternoon doing some recording. Nothing particularly inspiring music-wise, unfortunately, but I was for the umpteenth time blown away by my Mark I Boogie. This thing records so effortlessly. Seriously, all you have to do is stick a mic in front of it, and that classic, super-thick tone is just there straight away.
This afternoon I plugged the xotic BB Preamp pedal into my 1977 15″ MESA/Boogie Mark I amplifier for the first time.
Although the audio quality isn’t perfect, having an iPhone handy makes it way easy to take snapshots like this (no surprise that there isn’t anyone buying point-and-shoots, camcorders, Flip cams etc… any more), so here’s a minute with the Mark I.
You can hear the Mark I on its own before I click on the BB, which has its EQ set totally flat, a small boost in volume, and drive at about 10:30.
With so much gain in the tone already, I liked using the BB to just push it into saturation, and it seems to naturally raise the upper-mid range a little, too. In the room, it starts to get into Mark II territory — maybe with a slightly British twist? — although the effect is not as pronounced on video.
I’d love to try out the xotic AC Booster with this rig: the BB’s lower drive cousin is even more transparent, although in my A/B test the BB was quite a bit more versatile.
Could well be. I’d love to build this out with a couple of 1×15 extension cabinets, a power conditioner and remote switching.
I think this just might be the best rig I’ve ever built. The distortion of the Mark I is so thick and full, and the 15″ speaker handles the bottom end beautifully. At the other end of the spectrum, the OTS has so much high-order harmonic content and clarity. The Electrovoice EVM12L in my late-80s MESA/Boogie 1×12 cabinet is one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard, with all the usual punch you’d expect from an EV but with the top end wonderfully rounded off through years of gigging. Running the OTS through that cabinet is a perfect match – the speaker takes care of the harsher top end and leaves a tone that’s round and full all the way up the frequency spectrum.
You don’t need to worry about the bottom end when the Mark I is in town, so I paired these amps with my favourite Telecaster. This guitar seems to emphasise just the right frequencies to make this rig come alive; it’s the ballsiest Tele tone I’ve ever heard. Recordings, video etc… to come.
Fender Telecaster –> Startouch A/B/Y –>
A: 1977 MESA/Boogie Mark I, 15″ combo
B: Ceriatone OTS-50 (Dumble Overdrive Special clone) –> MESA/Boogie EVM12L 1×12 cab
A wonderful bit of footage, apparently from a couple of years back, surfaced a couple of days ago on the MESA/Boogie ‘Amplitudes’ blog. The clip documents a trip taken by a couple of Boogie stalwarts and Our Fearless Leader, Randall Smith, to the ‘Doghouse’ – the original MESA/Boogie workshop. According to MESA in their blog post accompanying the clip, the Doghouse was the workshop in which the ‘majority of the legendary Mark I amplifiers’ were assembled (somewhere in the region of 3000 amps) before the company moved to their current factory in Petaluma, CA.
Aside from the fact that I am a huge fan of his amplifiers, Randall Smith is also one of my favourite businessmen. It’s very rare that an inventive and brilliant engineer (in the vein of everyone in tech’s number one guy, Woz) also possesses the business nous to build his product into a multimillion dollar industry-leading company, but that’s exactly what Randy has done. The classic tech-industry startup cliché is a few guys working on a great product in a basement or garage, and it seems from this film that this pattern extends to the world of hotrod guitar amps, too.
For me, this clip holds extra significance, though. In 1977, my 15″ Mark I amplifier was hand built in the Doghouse workshop, the underside of the chassis bearing the date of completion and the letters ‘RCS’ – Randall C. Smith. More than three decades later, the amp that Randy built up in the California hills is still killing it. Thanks, man!
More video of my favourite amplifier – the MESA/Boogie Mark I
Even though Carlos Santana is one of my favourite players (and we both play D-type and Mark I Boogie amps), I’ve strangely never put too much effort into mimicking his tone before – likely because I play a Telecaster 90% of the time. This weekend, I decided to give it a go, and while nobody plays quite like Carlos does, I think the tone is pretty close to the mark.
Two key changes from my usual setup – I used my Squier Esprit instead of a Tele, and switched off the graphic EQ on the amplifier.
For more videos of my various amplifiers, guitars & pedals, please visit my YouTube channel.
Recently, I’ve been playing the Mark I with a few pedals up front and getting some totally classic sounds – having the all time most classic Boogie overdrive and a Big Muff in the same rig? Purest, most heavenly luxury.
Anyway, these are a few tones that I’ve been playing around with recently in one four minute package for the world to digest. It’s so much fun making videos about stuff you absolutely love, so I’ll try and get on a roll and stay on it….more to come? Hopefully.
YouTube recently improved their ‘Insight’ stat features (or maybe I only just noticed!) to include a timeline of ‘firsts’ – first mobile view, first referral from Google.com, first result from search term x/y/z – for video discovery. I find the stats pretty interesting, and like checking them once in a while.
And today I noticed one rather curious first on one of my videos:
– Oct 29, 2009: First embedded on – www.gibson.com
I just had a quick search around Gibson’s website and, sure enough, dated 10.29.2009 is an entry entitled ‘Classic Amps: the 1970s Mesa/Boogie Mark I’ – an article headed up by a YouTube clip of a slimline, Tele-toting git-tar picker demonstrating his favourite Public Enemy t-shirt and his 1977 15″ Mesa/Boogie Mark I combo.
I only just discovered, a whole year later, mind you, that my video has been embedded on the website of one of the most famous marques in all of guitar-dom. Heavy! I’m incredibly proud and happy about this, and my thanks to Gibson for not only featuring my clip, but for paying tribute to one of my favourite amps of all time.