Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Vintage Vault: Late-’70s Mesa/Boogie Mark I and Mark II Combos


These four Mesa/Boogie combos were made around 1978. The pair on the left are Mark I models,

while those on the right are early Mark IIs.

Travel back in time to celebrate the birth of high-gain guitar amplification.

Randall Smith became fascinated with electronics at an early age. Then as a teenager, he was captivated by cars and would repair them for his friends. By 1966 he was playing drums in a rock 'n' roll band, putting his technical skills to use by repairing band members' amps. This led to his opening Prune Music in Berkeley, California, with his bandmate David Kessner.

While Smith did repairs in the back, Kessner manned the counter. Eventually many popular West Coast bands, including the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, had their amps serviced at Prune Music.

While most companies gave the Stones amps for free, Smith charged the band for his handmade Boogies.

Around 1969 the roadies for Country Joe & The Fish decided to play a prank on lead guitarist Barry "The Fish" Melton. They had Smith modify Melton's 12-watt Fender Princeton to "do something really wild." Smith installed the classic Fender Bassman circuit and squeezed in a 12" JBL speaker, and the result was a 60-watt amp shoehorned into the small Princeton box. After trying Smith's creation, Carlos Santana declared, "This little amp really boogies." Thus the amp's name became "Boogie."

By the early '70s, Smith had started his own company, Mesa Engineering. Using more gain stages and a master volume control, he came up with a "cascading preamp" concept that could generate sustaining overdrive at any volume level. Santana received one of these amps (eventually known as a Mark I) and used it both onstage and on the epic Abraxas album.

Right at home: A 1995 PRS Santana Prototype rests against the vintage Boogies.

Hearing Santana's sound, other top guitarists wanted Boogies too. Because Smith personally assembled and inspected every amp, the wait time in the late '70s could be up to seven months. Keith Richards contacted Smith in 1977 and eventually purchased several Boogies over the years. (While most companies gave the Stones amps for free, Smith charged the band for his handmade Boogies due to the small size of his company at the time.) Boogies can be first heard with the Stones on side three of Love You Live taped at Toronto's storied El Mocambo Tavern. Boogies remained the Stones' go-to amps through 1993.

The four Mesa/Boogie amps pictured this month date to about 1978. The two on the left are Mark I models, while the two on the right are early Mark IIs. Featuring a hardwood cabinet and wicker grille, each amp has Mesa's classic '70s look. The price for each of these amps was about $1,200. Their current value is $1,500.

Early Boogies sported funky-cool Dymo labels. Now that's boutique!

Because Santana played such a pivotal role in early Mesa/Boogie history, we posed a 1995 PRS Santana Prototype (from the first Limited Run) next to the amps. The current value for this guitar is $7,500.

Sources for this article include Amps! The Other Half of Rock 'n' Roll by Ritchie Fliegler, Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones' Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost, and an interview with Randall Smith by Trent Salter archived on Mesa/Boogie's website.

[Updated 10/12/21]

On her new record with her trio, Molly Miller executes a live-feeling work of structural harmony that mirrors her busy life.

Photo by Anna Azarov

The accomplished guitarist and teacher’s new record, like her lifestyle, is taut and exciting—no more, and certainly no less, than is needed.

Molly Miller, a self-described “high-energy person,” is fully charged by the crack of dawn. When Ischeduled our interview, she opted for the very first slot available—8:30 a.m.—just before her 10 a.m. tennis match!

Read MoreShow less

George Benson’s Dreams Do Come True: When George Benson Meets Robert Farnonwas recorded in 1989. The collaboration came about after Quincy Jones told the guitarist that Farnon was “the greatest arranger in all the world.”

Photo by Matt Furman

The jazz-guitar master and pop superstar opens up the archive to release 1989’s Dreams Do Come True: When George Benson Meets Robert Farnon, and he promises more fresh collab tracks are on the way.

“Like everything in life, there’s always more to be discovered,”George Benson writes in the liner notes to his new archival release, Dreams Do Come True: When George Benson Meets Robert Farnon. He’s talking about meeting Farnon—the arranger, conductor, and composer with credits alongside Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Vera Lynn, among many others, plus a host of soundtracks—after Quincy Jones told the guitarist he was “the greatest arranger in all the world.”

Read MoreShow less

The new Jimi Hendrix documentary chronicles the conceptualization and construction of the legendary musician’s recording studio in Manhattan that opened less than a month before his untimely death in 1970. Watch the trailer now.

Read MoreShow less
Rivolta Guitars' Sferata | PG Plays
Rivolta Guitars' Sferata | PG Plays

PG contributor Tom Butwin dives into the Rivolta Sferata, part of the exciting new Forma series. Designed by Dennis Fano and crafted in Korea, the Sferata stands out with its lightweight simaruba wood construction and set-neck design for incredible playability.

Read MoreShow less