The Mark of Mesa Boogie


Mesa Boogie was founded by Randall Smith during the nascent days of the late 60’s-early 70’s in northern California. Around this time, there was a plethora of guitar players who were looking for something more than what was available. Something more than what Fender, Vox or Marshall was making.

Randy came up with the idea of a ‘cascading’ pre-amp, that allowed the sound of the guitar to go beyond a relatively ‘clean’ sound. Something beyond an amp only overdriving at really high volume levels. The first ‘high-gain/singing sustain’ amp to do this was the Mesa Boogie Mark 1. I’m really dating myself when I say this; I remember that if you wanted to buy a Boogie(more on that name later), you sent away for a typewritten(really dating myself!!) brochure that detailed the cost and options. You then sent in 25% of the cost, and 6-8 weeks later, paid the remainder and they shipped it out to you. The first Boogie I played was a Mark 1 1×12. It was a truly unforgettable experience. You could just feel the quality that permeated Randall’s design. It wasn’t any bigger than a fender Princeton; it was, however, 10x louder!! ;and 10x heavier. It really boggled the mind that such a small amp felt like it was literally bolted to the floor. But the sound!!!! A 1×12 combo that out- Fendered any Fender on the market and that classic singing sustain, like a saxophone. I was hooked. Nothing else came close to that sound. The first time I heard one live was with a group called the Mark-Allmond Band; they opened up for Jean- Luc Ponty. The guitarist was Carlos Rios. He was playing a Gibson ES 335 hooked up to a Mark1 1×12, on a chair. With no mic on the amp, it played volume-wise, above a PA system. I couldn’t believe my ears. And this was back in the day when there were no in ear monitors, or sophisticated PA systems.

Steve Lukather, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Robben Ford were all rabid Boogie fans. But the man who put the name Boogie on the map was none other than Carlos Santana. He was another up and coming Bay area guitarist, fronting a group called the Santana Blues Band. He walked into Prune Music one day to try out the Mark 1. After a virtual sidewalk of people heard him play, he said, ‘man that thing really boogies!!’ Hence, Mesa-Boogie. The rest is history. Carlos went onto international fame with his signature Boogie sound, thru an SG, then a Yamaha SBG, then to a PRS. He is still using his original Mark 1. Recently, Randy and Carlos came out with a new Santana amp called the Kingsnake, in very limited quantities. It has the original snakeskin covering; however, with some mods that Randy has perfected over the years to make it more versatile, yet still have that thunderous punch, volume and singing sustain from a 1×12 combo. The original Mark 1’s had an EV speaker that was rated at 200 watts.  The new speaker is an Eminence Fillmore KS 100. The ‘snake’ is an exact replica of the Boogie that Carlos toured with in 1972—3.

The late 70’s-early 80’s was a great time for guitarists and music, in general. Los Angeles was the center for sessions and live gigs. And lots of great guitarists besides the aforementioned, were using Boogies. The subsequent Mark 2, the first channel-switching amp; the  Mark 3 and Mark 4, and now the Mark 5 are all part of a lineage that traces back to the seminal genius of Randy’s Mark 1.

Music changed a lot at the end of the 80’s. and Mesa changed with it, stepping out in front of the curve to make the Rectifier series of amps. Hard rock, grunge and metal bands came to the forefront and the ‘Rec’ as it was known, was front and center with them. One could say that the Rec series defined the sound of 90’s hard rock/metal/grunge. A darker sound, with a lot more gain on tap. Sort of like the best modded Marshall around, but bigger, louder and brasher. Built like a tank, like all of Mesa’s amps, they became the standard by which a lot of other companies imitated, but in reality, just could not come close to. The same with the Mark series. Often imitated, never copied.

As the century came to a close, another wave of players were gaining momentum. Players who were looking for the punch and thickness that Mesa is known for, but with a smaller overall wattage. Hence, the Maverick series. I played one of these(on loan from a friend) for about a year and a half, and was really attracted to its sonic character. More of a classic British Vox sound, but with the inimitable Boogie signature sound.

As the new century progressed, Randy went on to produce the Lone Star and Lone Star Special series.

Next came the Trans-Atlantic series. Amps that seamlessly cross the threshold of British and American classic sounds.  I’ve used a 1×12 TA30 exclusively for the past year or so, and cannot say enough about this EL84- driven powerhouse.

Mesa is one of the last family-owned businesses left in America. N Stuff Music has been an authorized Mesa Boogie dealer for 20 plus years and we are proud to represent this company.

For more info, just log onto www.nstuffmusic.com or call 412.828.1003

-Mark Lucas

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