In the picture a more modern variant, Mark Five, but with the characteristic Mesa Boogie look.
Mesa Boogie’s development from a small-scale repair shop to designing and building its own amplifiers is a parallel to today’s boutique market with instruments, amplifiers and effect pedals. At our latitudes, Boogie’s gadgets have always had an aura of magic around them, but as with many others, this also applies here: to taste it, it costs money.
Today, master volume and several channels with a crystal clear clean sound to an über-heavy metal guitar sound is a matter of course. Before, it was not as easy. The only way to get a warm, singing distsound was to push your amplifier to max. Many times with a boost, dist or fuzz pedal (or all three) between your guitar and amplifier with a deafening volume pressure as a result.
Mesa Boogie Mk I
When Mesa Boogie launched its firstborn in the early 70’s, it became a sensation. The preamp section had three 12AX7 tubes while the final stage had two 6L6 tubes. On the front panel were two inputs with different sensitivities: a hi gain and one that was more like a Fender Bassman. Two volume controls, a master volume followed by tone controls (treble, bass and middle) and on the back a presence control. The speaker was a 12-inch JBL or an Altec Lansing in a wooden cabinet.
On the first models, reverb and eq were an option and today these models are collectibles. Mesa Boogie was the first to come out with a cabinet of exotic woods instead of vinyl and tolex.
A few years earlier, Mesa Boogie’s founder Randall Smith had rebuilt and modified the Fender Princeton amplifier – over 200 according to himself – with more gain, new electronics, an electric transformer and a twelve-inch speaker in his “doghouse”. The first to get back an “amplifier wolf in sheep’s clothing” was guitarist Barry Melton in the band Country Joe and the Fish.
When Carlos Santana heard it, he said: “Man, that little amp really boogies” and the company got its name.
The secret behind Boogie Mk. In was that Smith built an amplifier with four gain stages (then one or two were the usual) where the signal is amplified in something that can be called cascade gain – a feature that is found on most guitar amplifiers today.
In an interview a few years ago, Randall Smith described his first years as an amplifier builder: “I wanted to build something hip to avoid starvation. My goal was to build the best, not just a lot of amplifiers ”.
The first amplifiers in Mesa Boogie’s Mark I series were built in the 70’s and early users were guitarists such as Carlos Santana, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Jerry Garcia.
The first Boogie Amplifier I saw – apart from ads in every issue of American Guitar Player – came to Västerås when Björn Werngren, by the way one of Sweden’s absolute best blues-rock guitarists in the Monaco Blues Band, among others, ordered one directly from the USA. As far as I know, Björn usually still plays on a Boogie top.
Today, Mesa Boogie has a large assortment of amplifier tops and combos. The Mark series was their flagship for a long time, but with grunge and metal, it was the Rectifier series that took over. Today, Mesa Boogie has lots of amplifier models and made an MK I reissue a few years ago. The undersigned has never owned a Boogie, but you should never say never.
This is an updated and revised article, previously published in Studio no. 5-2013