||Download Example 1
Straight to the DI: Recorded with a ’78 Fender Jazz, with Master Volume at 9 o’clock, Gain at 1 o’clock, and the other controls “flat”
||Download Example 2
Pushing the limits of tube distortion on the Mesa/Boogie: Recorded with a ’78 Fender Jazz, with Master Volume at 8 o’clock, Gain at 3 o’clock, Bass at 10 o’clock, Mid at noon, and Treble at 4 o’clock (almost all the way on).
Fans of Mesa/Boogie’s guitar
amps might be surprised
to learn that the first amp the
Petaluma, California, manufacturer
built—way back in 1969—was
made for bass. In the years since
then, Mesa products such as the
highly desirable (but discontinued)
400+ have embodied the company’s
quest for bass-tone perfection.
And their current offerings, which
range in size from the WalkAbout
to the Big Block Titan V12, have
attracted a long list of players such
as John Myung of Dream Theater,
Ozzy Osbourne bassist Blasko, and
The 300-watt/4-ohm, solid-state/
tube hybrid M3 is the latest
addition to the company’s Carbine
series, which includes the 600-
watt M6 and the 900-watt M9.
Besides being less powerful than
its older brothers, the M3 has
far fewer controls, but simplicity
is part of its charm. And with
paired with the Mesa Boogie
Powerhouse 4x10 cabinet—a beast
that can handle 600 watts at 8 or
4 ohms and comes with its own
tone-shaping options—the M3 is
a formidable and affordable head-and-cabinet package.
Simple Head, Hefty Cab
Our test M3 arrived unracked,
and my first impression is that this
unit is built to last. Plugging it in
and flipping on the sturdy power
switch illuminates an LED that’s
bright enough to see under stage
lights. Control knobs are big and
easy to read, and the simplicity
of the front panel is a plus, too.
There are only five knobs: Gain,
Bass, Mid, Treble, DI Level, and
Master Volume. Everything else—
the fuse, two 1/4" speaker output
jacks, an effects send/return section
with a bypass switch, the line
out, a tuner output, a mute pedal
input, and a ground lift—lives on
the back panel.
Three of the front panel’s knobs
do double duty. When I wanted
less-focused tube bass tone, pulling
the Bass knob (“Pull Deep,” Mesa
calls it) delivered a more sprawling
bottom end, and as I turned the
knob clockwise, the sound inched
into über-fat, synth-bass territory.
Pulling the DI Level knob sends
a flat DI signal that is unaffected
by front-panel EQ tweaks. When I
switched basses, I could mute the
amp by popping out the Volume
knob (“Pull Mute”). Very handy.
When I realized I wouldn’t have
any gigs that required a 4x10 cab
before deadline (my regular amp is
a powered 1x12), I asked my friend
Zach to use the M3 rig for a show
he and his five-piece band were
playing at a 450-seat rock club. He
happily obliged, and after the gig, I
took notes as we tweaked knobs and
played a closetful of basses through
the M3 and the Powerhouse.
Looking back, Zach acknowledged
that the 96-pound
Powerhouse had been tough to
carry (his regular 4x10 is 23
pounds lighter), though the
removable wheels and recessed
metal handles did help. He used
an active Manson John Paul
Jones 4-string at the show, and he
described the sound as stronger
and more detailed than his usual
active 4-string and 4x10 setup.
In fact, Zach’s drummer felt that
the rig came on a bit too strong
for the band’s indie-rock sound.
Offstage, however, the Mesa
stack was a hit: The soundman
remarked that the M3’s DI tone
was better than most, and fans
raved about Zach’s upfront, distinctive
tone that night.
In Your Face
As I plugged in other basses, it
became clear that unlike many
tube-equipped amps that specialize
in sounding wide and warm,
the M3—with help from the
Powerhouse—kicks out a more
focused tone, even with the controls
set flat. Fast lines and Victor
Wooten-style thumb acrobatics
came through nice and clear on
an active ’78 Fender Jazz with
Bartolini pickups, but the M3’s
tube preamp helped keep things
round. A fretless Ampeg AMUB-1 with old groundwounds was
instantly capable of dub-worthy
and electric upright tones.
The M3’s EQ controls made it
easy to take advantage of the many
sonic facets of stock ’61 Precision
and ’62 Jazz Basses. Even when
dimed, the M3’s passive, boost-only
Mid control never got nasal
or pointed. Cranking the active
Treble knob while playing upper-register
chords and double-stops
did result in some harsh highs.
But overall, it was easy to get
detailed tones without sacrificing
warmth—whether working with
a tight rock sound on the flatwound-strung P-Bass to a variety
of slap tones on the ’78 Jazz Bass.
An active Wal 4-string tuned
B–E–A–D sounded rich and
massive. This Mesa setup had no
problem with B strings, and a 34"-
scale Sound Trade 5-string with a
vintage Jazz vibe sounded full and
authoritative all the way down to
the open B—even when I soloed
the back pickup.
One of the advantages of
playing through a tube preamp,
of course, is having the ability
to achieve musical-sounding
overdrive. At first, I was slightly
alarmed at how often the “input
clip” LED lit up, but the manual
assured us that this didn’t necessarily
mean I was driving the amp too
hard. Soon, I was turning down
the Master Volume and turning
up the Gain to overdrive the M3’s
single 12AX7 tube for some excellent
organic tube distortion.
Finally, I set the M3’s controls
flat and explored the options
on the back of the Powerhouse
4x10. Tweaking the “L-Pad”
tweeter attenuator and 3-position
crossover frequency switch—which included
settings for 3 kHz (“Bright”), 4 kHz (“Sheen”),
and 5 kHz (“Normal”)—was surprisingly effective.
The 5 kHz setting was indeed “normal,”
but 4 kHz with the L-Pad at noon and 3 kHz
with no tweeter presented two intriguing variations.
The M3 is also available as part of a
1x12 combo, but for louder gigs, it’s hard to
beat a Powerhouse.
The $899 M3 Carbine is a straightforward,
tube/solid-state hybrid with old-school warmth,
modern punch, and plenty of power. It’d be great
if the $1099 Powerhouse 4x10 was a tad lighter,
but the tandem sounds wonderful and the M3 is
easy to dial in for almost any performance situation.
Together, they’re a match made in modern
you don’t want to choose between
tube goodness and aggressive clarity.
you need more power or surgical