Mesa Boogie Mark Five: 25 Review
Mesa/Boogie hit a home-run with the Mark Five: 25!
by Maury Rutch
Our Mesa/Boogie rep visited us today and he brought along his sales sample Mark 5:25. After an hour of repeatedly asking him to sell it to me, he reminded me he needed to show it to other dealers. I still don't agree, but that's in the past now .
News of the release of the new Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 25 created high expectations, and I can honestly say that this amp has exceeded those expectations. I've played Mesa/Boogie amps exclusively since the early 1990's and maybe its just that I've loaded these amps into so many cars and clubs over the years that I've unconsciously associated tone with weight. When I saw pictures of the Five: 25 I told myself "even if it just sounds OK, I'll love it for its portability." When I saw the amp in person it looks even smaller - and my brain said "No way. There's no way Randall Smith got full Mark V tone in there - its too little." W R O N G.
The details and features of the Five:25 can be found here. I won't bore you with regurgitating the catalog copy here. How does it SOUND? Channel 1 genuinely gives you a broad range of usable tone, gain and volume. Choosing "clean" mode and riding the master high and the gain lower than 12:00 gives plenty of bark without breakup. I play a Mesa/Boogie LoneStar classic and enjoy the giant clean headroom of its 100-watt 6L6 power section. I'm pleased to report that the Mark Five: 25 does not come up short when you want glassy, bouncy cleans that jump out of the speaker clean and tight. However, if you want some break-up, I feel that this amp has more useable range in that department than my LSC. What I mean is, as you turn up the gain & lower the master, this amp is very sensitive to that middle ground and you don't have to hunt a long time to coax a gritty early-breakup out of CH1. In addition to the gain, CH1's mid control is a secret weapon of sorts. On the mid dial, 1-5 acts like a mid and 6-10 acts like a midrange gain boost. Be careful. This means 1 is 1, 5 is 10, and 6-10 = full mids plus more and more gain. I was able to dial in the clean rhythms of Steely Dan's Josie, some warm & scratchy Keef tones (in FAT mode) and by flipping the mode to crunch, searing Santana-ish single note sustain ... all on Channel 1 alone!
Channel 2 is built from the best gain circuits from the Mark IIC+, Mark IV and the Extreme mode is a hot-rodded Mark V circuit. Weeks ago when I was reading about this amp, I expected channel 2 to be dedicated to high gain only. This is not the case. Mark IIC+ houses a TON of musical warm rhythm tones, too, where its easy to cop authentic Stones, SRV, and any flavor of tweed amp pushed too far style tones. You just had to close your eyes and instead of looking at the most modern Mesa/Boogie, you would swear it was a ragged 1950's something or other. Running the gain higher on Mark IIC+ is Metallica to a T ... but how cool is it to have all those tones in a single mode! Show me another amp that can genuinely dish out Brown Sugar and Sad but True. Not digital modeling. These are those analog tones.
Climbing up to the Mark IV mode, I could dial the gain to all sorts of musical places. The Reverend Manta Ray I was playing made it easy to push the Mark IV mode towards jazzy rock fusion tones that you might hear from Larry Carlton or Dean Parks. My hands made those parts very difficult but my rep assured me that might not be Mesa/Boogie's fault. Raising Mark IV's gain up a little bit was Metallica territory - a musical style I cut my teeth on in my early days. Adding the graphic EQ curve into the circuit made those tones all the more real. Extreme was even more gainy and truth be told - I don't have the chops to put those chugga chugga styles to the test, so I won't pretend to lecture about that mode - but it was very musical and powerful.
When I get my Mark Five: 25 (yes I said that) here's how I'll expect to set it up for its first gig: Channel 1 will be set to clean for my Reverend Manta Ray, and I'll adjust the gain so that I'm almost hearing early breakup in the circuit. When playing my Strat, I'll flip the mode selector to FAT and get back some girth that would have been lost when switching to single coils. Channel 2 will likely be set to Mark IV mode as those creamy fusion tones are the ones I often go for when soloing. When my band plays Allman Brothers or Clapton, for example - my leads sound a little more liquid than snappy - and that's just a tone I like.
I'll set the graphic EQ to be footswitchable so that when I'm in either channel, engaging the EQ will give a slight solo boost - probably across the upper mids and highs - but that'll depend on the room.
One other feature that's pretty ground-breaking is the built-in CabClone. I just spent a couple weeks with the standalone version of the Mesa/Boogie Cabclone and find its an amazing luxury to have when playing both live and in the studio. My band has done quite a few small gigs recently and I've been connecting my Boogie direct to our Bose PA system with the Cabclone - and I've been muting my amp's speaker onstage. My tone is thrown evenly across the room at comfortable volumes and I'm reducing our stage volume immensely. Its one of those solutions I never knew I needed, but now can't remember how I got along without it. If you ever wished you could play 3 nights in a row and get the same exact mic'd amp tone to the PA - this is for you! And you can skip the part where you fuss with mic placement and amp volumes/EQ. In the Maury's Music studio, I've recorded a few demos of the CabClone, and its very likely that I'll record our complete line of Mesa/Boogie amp demos using the CabClone. Its that good. And it's built-in to every Mark Five: 25!
I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on this amp again, and if you're interested in hearing more about what it can do - from another player's point of view - please contact us and I'll gladly give you my real working musician's opinion.