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Mesa/Boogie Electra-Dyne Head Review

September 18, 2009

Download Example 1
Clean
Download Example 2
Overdrive: Hi Mode
Clips recorded through a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto 4x12. Clean recorded with a 2008 Nash '63 Strat, Hi Mode recorded with a Gibson Les Paul Studio
For almost 40 years, Mesa/Boogie has been an icon in American amplifier design. That unique tone has been heard by and inspired countless imitators around the globe. While some have come close to replicating their sound, none have truly nailed the tone of the originals. Famed designs such as the Mark I, Mark IIc+ and the Dual Rectifier have laid the tonal foundation that entire genres of music are based on. No self-respecting metal guitarist can deny the feeling the first time they heard the Mark IIc+ rip open that thunderous, distorted riff on Metallica’s “Battery.” The same can be said for the incredible tones that John Petrucci and Carlos Santana have coaxed out of the Mesas in their rigs. While Mesa/Boogie amps have always had their own sound, they’ve given nods to the forefathers of American amp design, Fender, ever since the first Mark I schematics were drawn up. Now, with the release of the Electra-Dyne, Mesa turns their focus to paying homage to the other side of the pond, namely the British sound, and puts their own stylized spin on it.

In comparison with most of Boogie’s past offerings, the Electra-Dyne is astonishingly simple. A total of only six control knobs grace the front panel, which is strange to see from a company known for popularizing the use of extensive options in amp design. With a simple three-band EQ, Presence, Gain and Master Volume knobs, and a tall head shell tailored with piping, it’s hard not to make a visual comparison to the famed Marshall Super Lead. Rounding out the front panel are the standard Power and Standby switches and a three-way toggle to switch between Clean, Low, and Hi gain modes.

Plugging In
After connecting the head to a Boogie 4x12 cab, I plugged in a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom with Tom Anderson pickups. I originally dropped the Tom Andersons in my Gibson when I owned a Trem-O-Verb combo, a highly underrated Mesa amp from yesteryear, and I know just how well Mesa designs treat their sound (Mesa has used Anderson guitars and pickups to test their amps for years). The Electra-Dyne can be set for either 90 or 45 watts via a small switch on the rear panel of the amp. In this case, I went with the 90-watt option. With all of the controls at noon (which is usually how I like to set up Mesas at first) and the amp set to clean, the Electra-Dyne roared with authority, exhibiting a noticeably huge amount of headroom—Mesa’s amps deserve their reputation for being on the loud side. The Electra-Dyne might be one of the loudest I’ve ever heard. It could also be that my ears just perceived it as being so, because the amount of headroom on the Clean mode is astonishing.

Mesa attributes this to the Simul-Class power amp. This mode is the only one in the amp that leans towards the American-voicing side, and it sounds utterly fantastic, like there’sa Deluxe Reverb hidden inside that’s been juiced to high heaven. With a dash of reverb (controlled from the rear panel), it was perfect for light and heavy chording, only getting thicker and more powerful the harder I hit the strings. I realized that I’d finally found a Mesa clean tone that beat out my favorite, the aforementioned Trem-O-Verb I used to own. Being highly satisfied with the clean tone this amp is capable of producing with a Les Paul, I wondered what it would sound like with a guitar known for that tone. I reached for an American Fender Jazzmaster, and kept the amp in the 90-watt mode. The high end was more pronounced of course, so I flipped to the 45-watt setting and brought the presence down a little to compensate. With the Reverb almost dimed, I was able to get some huge Johnny Greenwood-esque soundscapes with a glistening crispness that was absolutely beautiful. That reverb is no slouch, either.




Put Some Gain on It

The gain modes on the Electra-Dyne are simply that: modes, though you can footswitch between all three (Clean, Low and Hi) quite effectively. Mesa wanted to keep the amp as close to its single-channel roots as possible, so the two gain options are British-voiced variations on the core tone. Starting with the low-gain option with the Les Paul, the amplifier took on a very unique tone for Mesa, one with more punch in the upper mids and a slight rolloff in the highs. This mode can get saturated to a point, about as much as some of the midgain settings on a vintage JCM800. The Hi gain mode definitely had that liquid gain that Mesa is known for, but with the same kick in the mids that the Low mode had. It was strange at first, because I wasn’t used to hearing this sound come from a Mesa amp. After a while, however, I really started to love it.

Since these two modes are Mesa’s homage to vintage Brit amp tones, I decided to compare them to an original legend in that vein. I set up a 1973 Marshall Super Bass head with a Bogner 4x12” next to the Mesa, and ran an A/B box between the two. I know full well that the Super Bass traditionally has fewer highs and more lows than a Super Lead, but this particular one seems to have the best of both worlds, and is one of the best representations of that era that I’ve come across. Switching between both amps driven, the similarities were highly evident: strong upper midrange, smooth lows and strong attack in the high end. What was particularly evident in the Mesa was just how strong and balanced the sound was over the vintage Marshall. Obviously, there is a major difference in the power amp structure, but this was why I set up both in the first place. Mesa took some of the best things about British preamp design and stuck their own engine init, effectively making a great British-voiced amp with a huge, clean power section.

On the Back
The rear panel houses three controls for the reverb circuit: a knob to adjust the amount of the effect, a switch that removes it from the circuit entirely with a hard bypass and—for even more versatility—a Mode Defeat switch allowing you to remove the reverb from Vintage Hi or Low mode while retaining it on the Clean, so you can have one gain mode wet and the other dry. My favorite setting was to remove the reverb from the high-gain mode and drench the Low with a liberal amount of the effect. While the Jazzmaster inherently has a lot of high end, I found it difficult even after much adjustment to dial out the superhigh frequencies without losing the body of the sound. With an American Fender Strat, it was easier to control. The Electra-Dyne revealed itself to be very sensitive to the type of guitar plugged into it, more than most amps I’ve come across.

The final two controls available are Clean Level Trim and Gain Trim, which address the issue of volume balancing. All too often, guitarists have had to deal with the difficulty of finding that perfect balance when switching between clean and overdriven tones that still sits in the mix and doesn’t overpower everything else. Using the Clean Level Trim, I was able to reduce the clean volume to match the gain modes. The Gain Trim either lowers the gain of the Clean (for players who use higher gain modes) or lowers the gain for the Low and Hi modes. I was able to get some fantastic tones using the Les Paul with the Gain Trim on the Hi mode, allowing me to crank the amp much louder to get that non-master-volume-esque cut without oversaturating the tone.

The Final Mojo
The Electra-Dyne is an appealing addition to the Mesa/Boogie catalog. For players longing for another Mesa amp with simple controls to make its debut, this is most certainly worth a look. It’s an excellent hybrid of a new, powerful amplifier design and a nod to the tones that made so much rock ‘n’ roll possible. Some guitarists, namely those who’ve played Mesa products for years and are used to their sound, might not like the direction this amp is going. It’s not a high-gain metal monster, and the high-end response from some guitars might send certain players in the other direction, but for those on the lookout for an utterly flooring clean tone and excellent boost options—that also comes in rackmount, 1x12 and 2x12 combo formats—the Electra-Dyne might be just the ticket. It’s a new sound for Mesa, and it’s an interesting one.
Buy if...
you want some of Mesa/ Boogie’s best clean tones, and simple and straightforward is the order of the day.
Skip if...
you’re looking for more of the traditional Mesa tone or a modern metal amp.
Rating...
4.5 

Street $1599 - Mesa/Boogie - mesaboogie.com