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Mesa/Boogie Mark V Amp Review

Other features that differentiate the Mark V from the Mark IV—and any other Boogie, for that matter—are the three Reverb knobs on the rear panel. Each channel features its own reverb, and by turning the knob (mix control) to the off position, the ’verb is bypassed. It is a very nice-sounding reverb. Also on the back is a useful 1/4" Tuner Output, which can be used silently by tapping Mute on the foot controller. You can also pull on the front Solo control to activate silent tuning. There’s a Bias Select switch on the back, as well, and it allows you to replace the stock 6L6s with EL34s. You can also choose to run 6V6 tubes—but only on the Variac Power setting.

The Mark V also has two incredibly useful master output controls. The Output controls the overall output of the Mark V, but only when the effects loop is engaged. For the purest tone, you can choose the Hard Bypass toggle switch on the rear panel, which removes all effects loop circuitry from the chain, leaving your channel Master in control. The Solo control is wired in series with the Output and can be set higher and activated with the footswitch to give you a volume boost—it’s not active when the footswitch is not attached. That’s one feature that was certainly designed by a real-world player.

Plugging In
Despite all the similarities and differences, it’s really all about the tone. To begin with, this amp has a totally killer clean sound. Playing through both the Marshall 4x12 and a Boogie 1x12 WideBody closed-back cab, it delivered on all three wattage settings. My main guitars are a Les Paul Custom and a Telecaster, and both were quite happy to be playing through this monster. It’s got a sense of clarity, crispness, and punch that even my Mark IV doesn’t have. Damn! The night after I got the amp, I brought it out to a jam and had the house guitarist, Joel Newton, check it out. Coincidentally, he brought his 30-plus-year-old Mark I that night, so we listened to each amp side by side. As Joel played his Gibson ES-335 through the Mark V, I stood back and listened to exactly what I’d heard at my studio: clean, clear, wide, fat tone. “I liked it and thought it was punchy, with a vintage, tubey sound,” he told me. “It seemed like a mix of vintage tube sound… big mids but with a more shimmery, clear high end than my Mark I—almost like a boutique amp.”

On a funky, groovy number, I plugged my Tele in and opened up Channel 2 in Mark I mode and Normal setting. With medium gain and running at 45 watts with a tube rectifier, it was sweet. I easily punched through the jam, and I felt like I had full control over my individual notes and chords, and with volume to spare. I was able to dig into the Tele and break the amp up more as I picked harder, which was exactly what I was looking for. It definitely takes some tweaking to find what you want on this amp (sometimes it was too thick for me, sometimes too crunchy) but you can’t love every sound when it has so many to offer.

Back home at my studio a week later, I had 17-year-old wunderkind Brandon Ellis come check it out. Ellis, who last year ventured to Sweden to study guitar, played my Les Paul and his Caparison Horus with EMG 85s. I had him sit down at the amp without explaining anything. It took him a bit to look it over and dial it in, as was to be expected from someone seeing this thing for the first time. He set the Gain on Channel 3 at 3 o’clock, with a 90-watt, Mark IIC+ mode and Pentode setting. Listening to the online audio examples, you can hear a crisp Les Paul playing a lick in E-flat tuning, as well as a heavier lick from his Caparison tuned to C#. He also dialed in an Extreme mode setting with Diode rectifier, which is a high-gain setting pulled from the Mark IV. “It was more dynamic than I expected,” he reported. “It was confusing to work with at first, but once I sat with it, it was okay. It’s a more organic, woody-sounding amp than I’m used to playing, versus the processed and compressed sound that I typically use. It’s great for single-note lead work.”

The Final Mojo
The Mark V is not for everyone—especially those who want a simple amp. It’s a somewhat complex, seething monster of sound that is a living history of what Mesa/Boogie has offered—with new capabilities thrown in. But with a little time and effort, you can go from very clean to very mean and pretty much everywhere in between. The flexible design also allows it to be as comfortable onstage as it is in the studio. It’s not cheap, hitting the streets at around $2K, but this is clearly a case where you can be fully confident you’re getting what you pay for. With the Mark V, Mesa/Boogie has released another winner, and I suspect it will be around for many years to come.
Buy if...
you want the ultimate in flexibility and everything the Mark series has offered at your fingertips.
Skip if...
any more than two knobs is too many, or if you just want a single-channel amp.

Street $1990 (head) $469 (WideBody closed-back 1x12) - Mesa/Boogie -
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