Mar 12, 2010 5:56 AM
I think it's no surprise here that I am seriously GAS afflicted. Been through more gear in the last couple of years than many people. Trying to find what works. Well, I found the Axe-Fx rig and just freakin love that thing because it does work. Use it in my band and also for recording. Simply the best. I will not part with it.
Now I wanted a backup rig just in case, the lord forbid, that something happened to the Axe. Because I don't like putting all my eggs in one basket. Or even if I just wanted to leave my main rig at our rehearsal spot (80+ miles away) and have something a little more "grab 'n go" for smaller gigs outside of the band. I posted earlier about the Marshall Haze 40 combo. NICE sounding little amp, and you get a lot for what is there. Unfortunately, quality isn't one of the things you get with it. I'd paired it with an M13 and it sounded great, but I've been through, count them, THREE amps and every single one of them had problems. The first had a popping noise when changing channels, the second and third both decided to randomly not power on all the time, or to cut out briefly during performance.
So I took my Haze back to the shop where I bought it and told them I wanted a refund. This particular local shop wasn't exactly keen on refunding money as they don't have an extended refund policy like GC, but they were willing to work with me on store credit and exchange for something else in their stock. Basically, I was looking for an all tube amp with a GREAT clean channel, and a usable OD channel if possible. Long story short, I walked out of there with one of these:
Mesa 5:50 Express. What a great sounding little amp! And it is definitely quality stuff. Clean channel is just gorgeous, going from pristine through warm through pushed. The Mesa branded 12" Celestion Black Shadow is very even toned without a hint of annoying top end, but still defined enough to give you great cut where you need it. The crunch option on channel one provides very nice, natural overdrive crunch that reminds me of good Marshall crunch. From a Mesa! Even with the 6L6's. I could play that channel exclusively with guitar volume knob and pickup selector switch to get everything from clean through heavy crunch rhythm. The blues and burn options on channel two take it even further with great saturation possible, but still providing a meaty and articulate tone. The 5 watt option actually sounds decent, just slightly quieter, which surprised me. Normally, 5 watts is still loud enough to shake the walls, but this was very manageable and sounded good even at bedroom levels, not thin or harsh.
This is definitely a player's amp, and one to keep. 4 12AX7 preamp tubes, phase inverter, and dual 6L6's round out the all-tube signal path. Tube driven spring reverb, serial effects loop, included footswitch with channel, reverb, and contour switches. The contour knobs on each channel mimic the 5 band EQ of the old Mark series in the classic V setting, with the knob varying the intensity of the effect. I find myself liking little to no contour engaged, at least on channel two, but that's just me. It can and does make the amp sound HUGE.
Paired with the M13 it is a killer little rig and you can get any tone you like. The amp takes drive pedals like nobody's business, with the M13 drive models really shining. I use the Tube Driver almost exclusively, but the screamer can really provide some great extra push to the amp's natural overdrive. Effects sound great in the amp's loop using the 4CM. The clean channel with a trichorus and digital delay is a thing of beauty.
The only thing I don't like is the configuration of the crunch option. First, you have to basically sacrifice a dedicated clean channel to use it. Not horrible if you're the kind of player that is adept at using the volume knob and pickup switch to get what you want. But I would have gladly opted for the crunch option to be separate on channel 2, or at least as a footswitchable option. But it isn't. However, that's why this is an entry level Mesa. The blues option on channel two does have some overlap with the crunch option, so it's not all bad.
All in all, this is a serious amp, and it just smacks of quality. Hand made in the USA. There is a pouch with velcro top closure affixed to the inside of the cab to hold your footswitch when traveling. It comes with a nice nylon cover with a cord pouch on the side. Cab is solidly constructed. No vibrations here. Rigid grill material. Input jack is metal and solid feeling. Pots and switches are panel mounted and wired to the amp's main board, not soldered directly to a PCB and floating there. The darn thing even looks attractive.
Never thought I'd own a Mesa, being such a fan of the Marshall sound, but I have to say that this little Mesa can do the Marshall thing pretty well, as well as having its own voice. So if you're looking for a great little amp to be a "platform" to build upon, I highly recommend this guy.