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Thinking about making the jump to a "modern" tube amp (Mesa content)

prototype

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,580
so in the 15 years or so that i've been playing tube amps they've all been of the classic variety.... basically nothing but voxes and fenders and one gretsch/victoria amp, most of them without master volumes, etc. my current amp is a silverface bandmaster reverb that has been re-outfitted into a vibroverb cabinet with a 15" JBL speaker. I love it, but i've had it almost 10 years and in addition to being kind of bored with it, its a little limited tonally and not really ideal for my current living and playing situation. when i bought it it was my gigging amp in NYC and now i live back on the west coast and primarily record and play at home (though I may get back to gigs when things normalize covid-wise). I have space constraints so i'm really looking for one "do it all" type amp with fendery cleans and a usable drive channel.

i'm for the first time thinking about picking up something that has the following features:
- channel switching
- master volume
- effects loop
- power scaling, switchable power, or i may add an aftermarket attenuator. would like to also try a load box/silent recording with IRs instead of mic'ing.

in addition to those newer features, my needs are pretty basic:
- 20 to 50 watts, hopefully switchable to 5 watts or less
- i prefer the sound of 6l6s but i am open to other tubes
- must have built in spring reverb
- would like something with modern capabilities, but its also got to be able to do vintage sounds. surf rock, country twang, early zep, jimi, etc. up to santana and eric johnson levels of gain.
- even with channel switching, i'd like to ride the guitar volume and pick dynamics to help control the gain/cleanness
- head or combo is fine. i am also open to swapping around speakers. love the JBL sound. must be at least a 1x12"
- budget $750-1500 used or new, but most comfortable in the $1000 range

amps i am looking at:

- mesa lonestar - right now this is the front runner for me. I have played it in the store many years ago but really liked the cleans a lot. did not get to turn it up and put it through its paces but the drive channel was also something i thought i could work with. has switchable power and lots of tweaking options which could make it a nice nerve center for a more modern rig. i have only played the el84 model but i know there is a 6l6 version that I would also be interested in. i think the mesa maverick was the precursor to the lonestar so i would also like to check that out - the clips sound nice.

- fender supersonic - i liked this amp but it definitely did have some harshness. i think maybe thats something that can be addressed with a speaker and tube swap, but it is in the right neighborhood for me tonally. i have heard that these are noisy which would be a problem.

- bogner shiva - i have never played one of these but i have heard lots and lots of great things over the years, especially about the cleans. not sure what these are going for these days.

- mesa mark 1 or mark 5 - the mark 1 is probably in the neighborhood of what i want tonally but not all of them have reverb and i think the channel switching kind of isn't real channel switching? (i.e. have to use an a/b box and levels might not be usable). The Mark V and all its variations i guess cover the same ground but i've never heard one up close. does it do lonestar-like cleans as well as mark 1 type gain? definitely has all the other features anyone could want. i think it would be interesting to pair one of these with a JBL style speaker

- hughes & kettner statesman and tubemeister amps. looks like theyve got nice features on paper (the tubemeister more than the statesman) but to me the statesman actually sounds a little better in terms of cleans. I like that thomas blug demoes these because my playing style is similar to his.

what else should I be looking at? I have been out of the game on new amps for a long time!
 

mabinogeon

A really hoopy frood.
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,610
The only one of those I've owned was a Fender Supersonic 22. No power scaling.

I thought it sounded great (had a replacement speaker, WGS something or other, sorry I can't remember which), and it was a lot of fun to play. But the footswitch had an incurable LOUD popping problem, so I got rid of it. I understand they fixed that in more recent models, but I can't speak to that.
 

prototype

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,580
The only one of those I've owned was a Fender Supersonic 22. No power scaling.

I thought it sounded great (had a replacement speaker, WGS something or other, sorry I can't remember which), and it was a lot of fun to play. But the footswitch had an incurable LOUD popping problem, so I got rid of it. I understand they fixed that in more recent models, but I can't speak to that.

yeah it seems like the consensus on the supersonic was that it was a great idea but the execution left some things to be desired in a lot of ways. it doesn't have power scaling, but i'm not sure that is going to be a huge problem for me. i've been reading up a lot on load boxes etc and i'm thinking I would like to attach any amp i get to a load box like the two notes captor and then feed into my DAW with impulse responses for when I need to control volume. the two notes captor has a -20db attenuation too and its only around $250 so i guess i probably shouldn't make power scaling a "make or break" since it is easy to add after the fact.

Pete Thorn's video on this really opened my eyes:
 

jujube

Member
Messages
1,934
so in the 15 years or so that i've been playing tube amps they've all been of the classic variety.... basically nothing but voxes and fenders and one gretsch/victoria amp, most of them without master volumes, etc. my current amp is a silverface bandmaster reverb that has been re-outfitted into a vibroverb cabinet with a 15" JBL speaker. I love it, but i've had it almost 10 years and in addition to being kind of bored with it, its a little limited tonally and not really ideal for my current living and playing situation. when i bought it it was my gigging amp in NYC and now i live back on the west coast and primarily record and play at home (though I may get back to gigs when things normalize covid-wise). I have space constraints so i'm really looking for one "do it all" type amp with fendery cleans and a usable drive channel.

i'm for the first time thinking about picking up something that has the following features:
- channel switching
- master volume
- effects loop
- power scaling, switchable power, or i may add an aftermarket attenuator. would like to also try a load box/silent recording with IRs instead of mic'ing.

in addition to those newer features, my needs are pretty basic:
- 20 to 50 watts, hopefully switchable to 5 watts or less
- i prefer the sound of 6l6s but i am open to other tubes
- must have built in spring reverb
- would like something with modern capabilities, but its also got to be able to do vintage sounds. surf rock, country twang, early zep, jimi, etc. up to santana and eric johnson levels of gain.
- even with channel switching, i'd like to ride the guitar volume and pick dynamics to help control the gain/cleanness
- head or combo is fine. i am also open to swapping around speakers. love the JBL sound. must be at least a 1x12"
- budget $750-1500 used or new, but most comfortable in the $1000 range

amps i am looking at:

- mesa lonestar - right now this is the front runner for me. I have played it in the store many years ago but really liked the cleans a lot. did not get to turn it up and put it through its paces but the drive channel was also something i thought i could work with. has switchable power and lots of tweaking options which could make it a nice nerve center for a more modern rig. i have only played the el84 model but i know there is a 6l6 version that I would also be interested in. i think the mesa maverick was the precursor to the lonestar so i would also like to check that out - the clips sound nice.

- fender supersonic - i liked this amp but it definitely did have some harshness. i think maybe thats something that can be addressed with a speaker and tube swap, but it is in the right neighborhood for me tonally. i have heard that these are noisy which would be a problem.

- bogner shiva - i have never played one of these but i have heard lots and lots of great things over the years, especially about the cleans. not sure what these are going for these days.

- mesa mark 1 or mark 5 - the mark 1 is probably in the neighborhood of what i want tonally but not all of them have reverb and i think the channel switching kind of isn't real channel switching? (i.e. have to use an a/b box and levels might not be usable). The Mark V and all its variations i guess cover the same ground but i've never heard one up close. does it do lonestar-like cleans as well as mark 1 type gain? definitely has all the other features anyone could want. i think it would be interesting to pair one of these with a JBL style speaker

- hughes & kettner statesman and tubemeister amps. looks like theyve got nice features on paper (the tubemeister more than the statesman) but to me the statesman actually sounds a little better in terms of cleans. I like that thomas blug demoes these because my playing style is similar to his.

what else should I be looking at? I have been out of the game on new amps for a long time!
Yes. The Mark I is not a channel switching amp but a two input amp. Low and Cascaded. If you want to use it optimally, you decide in advance which input you want to use. A Mark V sounds and feels nothing like a Mark I which is my favourite amp. A Mark V has a very good master volume. Mark I less so if you want the higher gain settings.
 
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prototype

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,580
I would also consider the Fillmore and Triple Crown series amps.
Fillmore is definitely on my radar as well. On paper though I don't necessarily see what the advantage of a Fillmore would be over a Lonestar - they seem to have a lot of the same vibe where the Fillmore is just a little more stripped down on modes, etc. Still would love to try them both side by side even if the overall vibe is similar.
 

Babow2

Live gigs killed here
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
373
I’ve played Mesas For 40 years; had them all. If you can find a Mesa Heartbreaker, that might be it. Great cleans, great Mark 1 vibe, but all the tone sculpting features give you plenty of ways to get your gain. An early Mark III ( black stripe or purple stripe) likewise could also be great. It has great cleans, the lead channel is more like a Mk1 or 2, less gain-y than later versions, and channel 2 gives you more classic rock crunch. The Royal Atlantic RA-100 likewise could be a great choice- it has these same qualities with separate power scaling for each channel. All 3 of these should be in the $1000 neighborhood and would suit your described needs. Otherwise, the Lonestar is hard to beat.

I had a Shiva. Loved the amp. Brilliant cleans and huge sounding Marshall tones. But it has no attenuation or power scaling and is loud, loud, loud. Also, the lead channel is very Marshall, IMHO
 

starbelly

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,543
Fillmore is definitely on my radar as well. On paper though I don't necessarily see what the advantage of a Fillmore would be over a Lonestar - they seem to have a lot of the same vibe where the Fillmore is just a little more stripped down on modes, etc. Still would love to try them both side by side even if the overall vibe is similar.
I think a huge advantage of the Fillmore is the fact that the channels are identical, and you can play either channel with either of the 3 modes (clean, drive, or high).
 

TinFingers

Member
Messages
43
I play '70s Ampegs when I play live (also NYC, also originally a West Coaster). I love them, but I wanted to try another sound.

Out of boredom I picked up a Heartbreaker combo this summer for a whopping $650.

It takes some knob tweaking, but that amp has tweed, Marshall, blackface and classic Santana type sounds--and is switchable between 2 separate channels. Master volume is very good. It has an effects loop but I haven't tried it yet. Spring reverb also on board, though it can take some tweaking to bring it out.

Lots of power tube configurations possible between quads or pairs of 6L6, EL34 or 6V6, down to 20 watts if you really go wild. I still use the 6L6 quad that was in it when I bought it--apartment volumes don't allow for power tube distortion without an attenuator.

What I'm saying is, this is one hell of a lot of amp for $650. I hear the Lonestar is considerably easier to dial in, but its higher used price (~$1,000) reflects that reputation.

If you stumble upon a used Heartbreaker somewhere, it's definitely worth a look.


I’ve played Mesas For 40 years; had them all. If you can find a Mesa Heartbreaker, that might be it. Great cleans, great Mark 1 vibe, but all the tone sculpting features give you plenty of ways to get your gain. An early Mark III ( black stripe or purple stripe) likewise could also be great. It has great cleans, the lead channel is more like a Mk1 or 2, less gain-y than later versions, and channel 2 gives you more classic rock crunch. The Royal Atlantic RA-100 likewise could be a great choice- it has these same qualities with separate power scaling for each channel. All 3 of these should be in the $1000 neighborhood and would suit your described needs. Otherwise, the Lonestar is hard to beat.

I had a Shiva. Loved the amp. Brilliant cleans and huge sounding Marshall tones. But it has no attenuation or power scaling and is loud, loud, loud. Also, the lead channel is very Marshall, IMHO
 

guitarman3001

Member
Messages
10,782
so in the 15 years or so that i've been playing tube amps they've all been of the classic variety.... basically nothing but voxes and fenders and one gretsch/victoria amp, most of them without master volumes, etc. my current amp is a silverface bandmaster reverb that has been re-outfitted into a vibroverb cabinet with a 15" JBL speaker. I love it, but i've had it almost 10 years and in addition to being kind of bored with it, its a little limited tonally and not really ideal for my current living and playing situation. when i bought it it was my gigging amp in NYC and now i live back on the west coast and primarily record and play at home (though I may get back to gigs when things normalize covid-wise). I have space constraints so i'm really looking for one "do it all" type amp with fendery cleans and a usable drive channel.

i'm for the first time thinking about picking up something that has the following features:
- channel switching
- master volume
- effects loop
- power scaling, switchable power, or i may add an aftermarket attenuator. would like to also try a load box/silent recording with IRs instead of mic'ing.

in addition to those newer features, my needs are pretty basic:
- 20 to 50 watts, hopefully switchable to 5 watts or less
- i prefer the sound of 6l6s but i am open to other tubes
- must have built in spring reverb
- would like something with modern capabilities, but its also got to be able to do vintage sounds. surf rock, country twang, early zep, jimi, etc. up to santana and eric johnson levels of gain.
- even with channel switching, i'd like to ride the guitar volume and pick dynamics to help control the gain/cleanness
- head or combo is fine. i am also open to swapping around speakers. love the JBL sound. must be at least a 1x12"
- budget $750-1500 used or new, but most comfortable in the $1000 range

amps i am looking at:

- mesa lonestar - right now this is the front runner for me. I have played it in the store many years ago but really liked the cleans a lot. did not get to turn it up and put it through its paces but the drive channel was also something i thought i could work with. has switchable power and lots of tweaking options which could make it a nice nerve center for a more modern rig. i have only played the el84 model but i know there is a 6l6 version that I would also be interested in. i think the mesa maverick was the precursor to the lonestar so i would also like to check that out - the clips sound nice.

- fender supersonic - i liked this amp but it definitely did have some harshness. i think maybe thats something that can be addressed with a speaker and tube swap, but it is in the right neighborhood for me tonally. i have heard that these are noisy which would be a problem.

- bogner shiva - i have never played one of these but i have heard lots and lots of great things over the years, especially about the cleans. not sure what these are going for these days.

- mesa mark 1 or mark 5 - the mark 1 is probably in the neighborhood of what i want tonally but not all of them have reverb and i think the channel switching kind of isn't real channel switching? (i.e. have to use an a/b box and levels might not be usable). The Mark V and all its variations i guess cover the same ground but i've never heard one up close. does it do lonestar-like cleans as well as mark 1 type gain? definitely has all the other features anyone could want. i think it would be interesting to pair one of these with a JBL style speaker

- hughes & kettner statesman and tubemeister amps. looks like theyve got nice features on paper (the tubemeister more than the statesman) but to me the statesman actually sounds a little better in terms of cleans. I like that thomas blug demoes these because my playing style is similar to his.

what else should I be looking at? I have been out of the game on new amps for a long time!
Drop the Supersonic and Tubemeister from your list and add the Mesa TC-50. The Supersonics sound decent but they are about as reliable as as a rusted out Yugo. The Tubemeisters just sound bad.
 

Ejay

Member
Messages
4,843
If recording is your main use.... modeler is your best option, especially on that budget.
Even the cheap ones are hard to beat micing an amp. Maybe with excellent mics and preamps AND a fixed setup you get to the same lvl.

I recorded this with a 180,- modeler.... no way I could have done that on a 1k budget using traditional gear. If you can afford it, more high end modelers pay of.


For live use...plug that modeler into the return of a tube amp and you will have bypassed all the negatives associated with modeling (feel, harmonics, blabla)..and you will make giant steps in possibilities and simplicity.
If you currently own an amp you like with enough headroom, but no effects loop....adding a loop should be a job under 100 for a decent tech.
 
Messages
796
The Mark V is amazing, and definitely fits all your needs to a T. The full size is the best way to go imo, but used would be at the upper end of your budget if not more. I will second the Mark III suggestions as well, I had a red stripe as well as a V. It's a lot more stripped down, but can be found cheaper. They sound amazing, although lowest wattage would be finding one with a half power switch that would take you down to 60 watts. The Mark series have very fender gorgeous cleans

Another suggestion I'll float out... I just got a rectoverb 50 combo, you can find those for as low as $600 used. It's my favorite sounding amp I've had in a long time. its 50 watts no powerscaling, but it sounds great at low volumes. The reverb is functional and usable, but not as good as say my twin reverb. All the modes are awesome sounding and make for a very versatile amp. I've been gushing over this thing. The series II which I have offers the option of switching between 6l6 and el34 as well. I will note the combo is quite heavy, I believe around 80lbs. Not a problem for me but ymmv
 

prototype

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,580
If recording is your main use.... modeler is your best option, especially on that budget.
Even the cheap ones are hard to beat micing an amp. Maybe with excellent mics and preamps AND a fixed setup you get to the same lvl.

I recorded this with a 180,- modeler.... no way I could have done that on a 1k budget using traditional gear. If you can afford it, more high end modelers pay of.

For live use...plug that modeler into the return of a tube amp and you will have bypassed all the negatives associated with modeling (feel, harmonics, blabla)..and you will make giant steps in possibilities and simplicity.
If you currently own an amp you like with enough headroom, but no effects loop....adding a loop should be a job under 100 for a decent tech.
I am somewhat knee deep in the modelling train, but i think of that as something i use in addition to traditional amps. i've had tech 21, pods, vox tonelab, guitar rig, and most recently have been using Revalver with IRs. They are good but for my needs they just don't give me what i want to replace everything entirely. I still play my bandmaster more than I use revalver, though for recordings where guitar isn't the centerpiece instrument, revalver is definitely a lot more convenient and about as good. nowadays with load boxes and IRs though, tube amps can arguably be just as convenient for recording.
 

Ejay

Member
Messages
4,843
I am somewhat knee deep in the modelling train, but i think of that as something i use in addition to traditional amps. i've had tech 21, pods, vox tonelab, guitar rig, and most recently have been using Revalver with IRs. They are good but for my needs they just don't give me what i want to replace everything entirely. I still play my bandmaster more than I use revalver, though for recordings where guitar isn't the centerpiece instrument, revalver is definitely a lot more convenient and about as good. nowadays with load boxes and IRs though, tube amps can arguably be just as convenient for recording.
I have hands on experience with pods, tonelab and guitar rig...those are products that don’t even come close to modern modeling. All of those I wouldn’t even think of using tbh ;)
If those are your reference I can imagine sticking to analog ;)

Mind you, I’m no digihead...I still rely on tube powersections and traditional cabs for my live rog for good reason...but for recording its hard to beat modeling these days imho.
Amps, loadboxes and IR obviously also work as good...but their pricetag, flexibility, movability and footprint are very different.
 

DirtLover

Member
Messages
2,235
I have the Supersonic 22 and think it's a great amp, good clean and drive channel, no master. It's also been reliable, the pop on the footswitch can be cured by a few taps and it diminshes and goes away. The 22, however, has been replaced by the Mesa TA-30 combo. Worth checking out, lots of versatility in that amp including power scaling and a good master.
 

scelerat

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
3,027
I have a Mark I and I think it's more a of a transitional amp between older '60s designs and amps designed in the '80s and later. They were still figuring out the "right" way to do channels, switching, eq, and gain placement. If you're looking for broad versatility, I'd lean towards something newer. If you fundamentally like any Mark-flavored boogie, I would think the Mark V is a better bet (or even your initial instinct, the Lonestar).

Don't get me wrong -- the Mark I is *glorious* -- but there have been improvements in amp design on many fronts since then. No fx loop... and with mine at least, it doesn't *really* sing until you're well beyond polite volume levels. I don't even bother with trying to switch between the two "channels" -- really it's just choosing whether you want one gain stage or two -- and treat it like a single channel amp. Much easier to use a pedal in front of it than trying to make the channels cooperate.
 
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