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Stringed Guitars

Created by a passionate guitarist, containing a bit of gear reviews and news

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Mesa Simul 295

Continuing with the Rack units… but… I’m not getting a rack… I’ll just use them as heads…

Man is this thing powerful or what?!? So… specs are: weighs around 22 kgs it has 2 output transformers capable of delivering 2x 95 watts each, you can push a lot of cabs! 4 in total if you use the outputs… however… with a cab switcher… you can push 4 16 ohm cabs per channel… a total of 8!! That’s a full Stadium rig!

6L6 and El34 tubes, so each channel has 2 modes.. Class A through the EL34 at 30 watts, or Class A/B at 95 watts using also the 6L6. What’s cool about this… well… apart from having different tones… you can run the channel at 30 or 95 Watts, which makes quite a bit of difference.

In total this unit has 12 tubes, which translates into £200 for a whole set of JJ tubes… it has 2 channels with independent stand by switches and volume knobs, it has 2 presence controls… one for each channel.

The volume knobs are just great, they behave like a hi-fi knob, you can just tame the volume to any level you want, but more importantly the volume sweeps in a beautiful way, there’s no sudden increases or drops like on Marshall amps.

I use a custom made amp switcher.

I’m running this power amp together with a Studio Preamp, this is pushing 4 cabs at a total of 4 ohms, and man…. this thing sounds huge! Also loud… but the sound has this 3D sort of thing about it, pretty much like a Matchless, I’m not entirely sure if this Power amp colours the tone or not… but I’ve read that some people are actually using it for hi-fi, so I’m guessing the unit just amplifies whatever the preamp is putting out.

If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that I’m after the AC/DC Donington 1991 sound, during the razor’s edge tour, this combination of the 295 abd Studio Preamp pretty much nails the tone, it’s almost addictive!

I’m yet to use this in a live environment (thanks Covid 19) but I’ve played relatively loud at my studio (100db) and it is just a gorgeous tone! Of course I’ve been testing it with my SGs.

I hear that rack units are out of fashion… and people are buying 15W combos or heads… I’ll tell you what people are not thinking about… headroom… 100W is loud… but… running a 100W amp at half volume sounds much nicer than a 20 W amp at full volume, the articulation that you get with the massive transformers of a 100W cannot be achieved with a 20W head/combo.

The Power amp plus the preamp weighs a total of 26kg. My Marshall 1987x weighs around 15 and an SLP 1959 weighs 20Kg… so… yeah.. these Mesa are heavier, but can you out a price on tone? Would you care carrying an extra 6kg if you know your tone will be much closer to what you want?

Of course not… 6kgs is nothing… just ditch some other crap from your rig. These units are outstanding and I’m pretty sure that they will come back into fashion soon.

Mesa Boogie Studio Preamp

Mesa is one of those brands that we look up to… but sometimes we don’t really know why, it’s high end… but it’s mainly used by shredders, so…. I don’t know I just never really considered them however they always had a very respectable position on my Amp brand ranking.

This image changed how I felt about them.

So… I was born on 1983, my first AC/DC memories are from razors edge album and the famous 1991 Donington concert, this for me… is the AC/DC sound, this is what I listened to a thousand times, this is what I played air guitar to, this what I sang to, this is the VHS that I watched so many times that tape was beginning to stretch.

Why is this concert one of the best ever live performances not only of AC/DC but… of every band that has ever rocked this earth. well… I don’t know, it is beautifully shot, the crowd size is overwhelming, that little acrylic floor was a groundbreaking idea, Angus and Malcolm’s playing is just incredible, Chris Slade sitting on the drum throne with those massive ground toms up in the air… such an iconic image. The stage is also incredible, Angus walking up and down those ramps… it looked like something from the future.

Fast forward a lot of years! (Like 25) and I find out that AC/DC used Mesa Boogies in their late 80s, thanks to this Japanese magazine I now knew part of the secret recipe of why Donington sounded so good.

What is this preamp? Is it a combo? Is it a head? No rubber feet?

Well… this is a rack unit and according to the internet, these are not in fashion anymore… but that might change :p

This bit of kit is outstanding. 4 ecc83 + 1 ecc81 for the reverb, this is built like a tank!! Remember the boss pedals that you could run over with a car and still work? Well… this feels the same, metal enclosure, metal panel, the wiring is a mix of point to point and hand-wiring.

So what does it do? Well… it creates happiness, some say these are difficult to dial in, but… with a little bit of research… I was riding the good tone wave within a few minutes, this thing is awesome, I tried not to get carried over with the amount of gain you can get out of this thing just because at the end of the day I’m after an AC/DC tone and not Megadeth, the unit has a lot of mids! But… there is a graphical 5 band EQ to tame anything you want.

The sound is great, it’s very articulate, even at high gains… notes don’t get lost, the tone cuts through nicely and the sustain is just the sweetest thing.

Within a few knob adjustments I was able to get the donington sound I’ve been after for a long time.

This unit requires a power amp, which I’ve ordered and it is still in customs… (thanks brexit) but for now I’m using my trusty 1987x FX return to skip the Marshall preamp and use the Power Amp section only.

Ahh Tubes! What a sweet sight!
Very sexy wiring right there.

One of the things I love about this unit is that it sounds big… it sounds like an arena… even at low volumes… although… I’m always playing at at least 95db in my studio.

I never thought I would buy a Mesa, they always intimidated me, a lot of knobs… and… can I only shred? Well… it seems like they are just awesome amps… and a bit infamous… I think you need to know how to dial them in. I’ve heard great things about the Lonestar and the Stiletto.

Do yourself a favour and go play one of these bad boys! You’ll be surprised!

Truly Matchless

Big year this one, I finally managed to acquire a Matchless amplifier, something I’ve been wanting for a looooong time.

Being totally honest… I loved the way the look, that was the main reason I wanted them, something that looks that good has to be good too.

There are not that many artists that use matchless, but the main one I care for is Ricardo Mollo, guitarist from Divididos and probably the Argentinean Hendrix, the guy is an animal and a tone freak, very colourful playing, interesting rhythms and sounds.

A few weeks back as usual I started watching videos about it… then reviews, then more videos, then pictures… and then I found one in Reverb at a very decent price, so I pulled the trigger.

The seller brought it to my house that very same day, I was super excited, a few hours later… the amp arrives. Oh my god, what a feeling… I think level of excitement matched the one I had when I got the 71SG and the Jaydee.

 

I first plugged in the telecaster… don’t ask me why… but I wanted to hear a single coil pickup

They look great together!

Man… as soon as I started playing I was in a sensory overload, the cleans… the depth of sound, it was like the first time you enter a house of mirrors… you just look everywhere and think “what the hell is going on”

Every chord just sounded perfect, every string had its own character, suddenly you can hear how the guitar was truly designed, I think this should be Matchless’ moto: “hear your guitar for the first time”

Let me dig deeper into this concept, I’m a Marshall Man, I have like 10 of them and I’ve always loved them way more than anything else, I’ve always thought that any other brand with a similar sound was just trying to imitate them, so… why bother trying them.. just get the real thing. But… you know when you are playing with the band.. or with just background music and your solos don’t cut through or you can’t really hear that high E string on the G chord? I know of course you can tweak your sound, etc. But I’m talking about a different level of “hearing everything”

Matchless provides cut through 360 degree sound, I don’t understand how they do it, my Matchless is a Lightning 15 Reverb, so it’s not top of their line but everything they do is top of the line…. everything is done to a level of detail that is out of this world.

 

Every single terminal is shielded

I’ve started testing tones and everything just sounded incredible, the Treble and Bass control (yes… no mids) interact with each other in a ver intuitive way… and they are extremely responsive, you can go from scooped mids, high bass, high mids, high treble, etc but just playing around with these two knobs.

I play in an AC/DC tribute band, and I tell you… this amp does better AC/DC tone than a Marshall, and my usual setup is either the JTM45 or the 1987x with a 1960AX cab… so.. also top end stuff, but again… Matchless is just incomparable.

They are crazy expensive, but I suggest you find a way of trying them out, it’s a before and after experience, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing another brand any time soon… at least until I get to buy their flagship model… DC 30.

So… to summarise… Matchless is just that… something that is impossible to Match, something that has been done with so much care and thought that it can’t be better… everything has a purpose nothing was left to chance or to economic reasons, everything is there for a reason.

Comparing these two, Matchless still wins even with Marshall using the Matchless speaker… which was really clear and sounded awesome.
Small-ish at 15 watts, but being Class A amp… sounds like a 30 Watt amp. It’s also very very heavy.

Emulated what?

This may be irrelevant to loads of people, but it is something I have recently “discovered” on one of my amps.

It’s called “Emulated Output”, I’ve seen this for ages in loads of amps, but it’s a little different on my Blackstar HT-1R, it’s got a 1/4″ standard guitar jack, and this means I am able to use it with my headphones, usually these outputs (at least in my experience) are XLR outputs and they are made so you can connect your amp to a console and get reproduce the sound through other speakers (not guitar cabinets), this is useful for live gigs, however I never liked the sound yo can get out of this. Anyway… going back to the Emulated Output on the Blackstar, I’ve connected my headphones… and I was blown away! you feel that the sound you hear is from a 100W amp at a stadium gig (if you use a little reverb :p).

To my understanding this output allows you to hear the sound that you would get if you could turn your amp to 10 without going deaf or to jail (pesky neighbors) and it is addictive you could just sit and play riffs for hours and still fall in love with the sound, and not only that… you can also plug in your phone to the input and hear the music through your headphones, so you can play along your songs without anyone hearing a thing but most importantly with an impressive quality.

If you don’t have a pair of decent headphones I’ve already recommended in previous posts the AKG K77, they are very decent and dirt cheap. I found that this output did not work well with my Marshall headphones, I think it’s got to do with the amount of power they can take, because it sounds all distorted, so you may need some studio headphones.

Blackstar

 

Marshall Class 5

The little beast.

I’ve always wanted one of these boutique looking Marshalls, I’ve had JCM 900, JTM30, etc. you name it. But this one just looks awesome.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s only a 5 watt amp, this thing can scream! I’ve used in on rehearsals and on pub gigs, and it held up pretty good without any PA assistance, I’m not sure why but it’s just too damn loud.

This is the first version they released which doesn’t have a master volume so it’s practically impossible to get a nice distortion without having your neighbours call the police, Marshall later released a 2nd version with an open back and a master volume which of course allows you to get a nice distortion at practice volume.

By the time I bought this beauty I was not aware of the existence of a 2nd version so I added a master volume my self to the back of the amp, it’s not the prettiest looking mod… but hey… it does the job.

This amp combined with any of my vintage Gibson SGs creates the classic AC/DC sound, great sustain loads of harmonics, the speaker is a “specially designed” Celestion G10-F, to my taste it sounds awesome, probably a Celestion Greenback will be the choice if I wish to swap the speakers, but for now I think this is one of my all time favourite amps.

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