It's worth re-capping on where the Rectifier range sits in the Mesa/Boogie family. For years, the company was revered for those little monsters, the Mark series, which began as modified Fenders and culminated in the awe-inspiring Boogie Mark IV. But there came a time when these seemed a little too 'wood and wicker' and a bit too friendly for some.
So in 1989 Mesa/Boogie decided to provide something bigger and beefier, for the 'goatee beard' brigade. Enter the Dual and Triple Rectifier stacks, marketed under the Mesa Engineering brand and so beloved of Metallica, Korn and Slipknot. So successful were these products that they took the company to a new level among the world's amp manufacturers.
Today we see some radical upgrades to the Recto line. Not radical as in outlandish, since Randall Smith and his cohorts were committed to retaining the inherent ethos, tone and respect attached to the precocious 12-year-old. In fact, Boogie told us it laboured long and hard over the decision.
"Players love the Rectifier series but the commonest request we had was for a third, dedicated clean channel," explained a spokesman. "But we were terrified of unintentionally altering any aspect of the amp's tone, so we conducted blindfold tests with player who knew their sounds inside out, to the point where we were confusing them about whether they were hearing the old or the new model." So having played and gigged a range of these ball-crunching beasts, what did the Guitarist team think?
It's in the build
We've taken Rectifier models apart in previous reviews, to point out Mesa's commitment to class-leading design and workmanship; building up to a quality as opposed to down to a price. This time, we've devoted time to explaining the new model's features, so if you want to check out a Recto's innards, visit www.mesaboogie.com.
Suffice to say we're faced with a thing of solidity, put together with excruciating attention to detail with no visible flaws inside or out. You get the feeling that even airline baggage handlers couldn't destroy it – and that's no mean feat of engineering.
Impeccably covered in black leatherette with black protective corners, amp and cab both look smart and purposeful. The cab also has a tough, black basket-weave grille. If your image is a tad tougher, or you're worried about potential damage, both straight and angled cabs are available with diamond-pattern, armour-plated steel sides and look totally bomb-proof. Mind you, they cost an extra £425.
There's a leather top handle for the amp, while recessed group handles are located at either side of the cab. It's a two-person job to lift this brute, even though hefty castors have been provided to shift the thing from van to venue. That same steel 'truck ramp' adorns the amp head's front, along with chunky metal logo badges and 20 Tele-style metal knobs to operate the Dual Rectifier's many functions. Overall, it's flawless.
Although the controls, modes and channels on the new Recto are nothing if not comprehensive, the whole thing is laid out so logically that getting to grips with the amp takes just minutes. What you see is what you get, with no multi-function push-pull controls or other potentially confusing paraphernalia; getting started is an easy, organic experience.
The raison d'etre of the new Dual Rec is, of course, that extra channel. So we now have three: one for medium-gain lead, another with a more high-gain range, plus there's that dedicated clean channel. Each channel also has switchable modes. The lead channels have three each: the first is vintage, the second modern and the third raw. The rhythm channel has just two: clean or pushed.
Although vintage and modern require little explanation other than that modern is fatter and with considerably higher gain, raw and pushed are perhaps not so obvious. Pushed means simply that there's a touch more front-end grunt applied to the channel, like a non-master-volume Marshall or Fender with the wick cranked up. The Mesa brochure describes raw was having "a supersensitive personality that roams effortlessly from almost clean to a fast tracking crunch."
So here we have potential world domination from a single amp – and then there's more. A great feature found on some other Mesas is the solo control. A beautifully simple idea, this control allows you to set a volume level above that of your rhythm tones, then jump on the footswitch for an instantaneous leap in level while maintaining the sound. And this is on any channel, so that's an extraordinary level of flexibility.
Each channel has its own set of six controls, in two banks of three. The top row consists of presence, master and gain, while below deck it's bass middle and treble. This means that no only are all the previous modes, channels and levels available, but you can dial in your personal character, too. You might like clean tones with lots of treble and bass but little middle, while your solo sound is more middle and less treble and bass; now when you change channels that's exactly what you get.
The final control is output, which is the amp's overall master volume. Once you've set your independent channel levels, this will turn them up or down while retaining their comparative volumes. There's an 'on' light for each channel and mini-switches for the mode functions, plus of course power and standby toggles and the Recto's single input socket.
At the back
Some amplifiers' features are all accessed from the front, with little on the back apart from a trailing lead and a socket or two. When the amp in question is a monster such as this, many of its most exciting facets are hidden from everyday view, on the back panel. They're the things you wouldn't want to alter that often, but which could prove useful at different-sized venues, in a recording studios or for a particular change of tone. There's just so much here that we'll give the more important aspects precedence over facilities, which we've reviewed before.
A slave socket provides connection to a variety of power amps, preamps and effects setups, while a host of speaker jacks allow almost every cabinet permutation possible. Also, each channel, plus the solo function and effects loop, have individual outputs so they can be connected to sophisticated MIDI switching setups like Rocktron's Octopus.
The amp's own effects loop is a very sophisticated circuit. Essentially, you can match the levels of the amp and processor using the send level, mix the effected and dry signal using the mix pot and adjust the overall effect level with the amp's own output control. An 'assign' rotary lets you select the loop's on or off status, route it to all channels, to clean or lead, or bypass it completely, This latter option defeats the amp's output control and the useful solo function, so it's perhaps best to leave it on at all times.
The Dual Rectifier comes equipped with 6L6 output valves and Mesa explains its preference for these over British-style EL34s. It's partly to do with reliability (current EL34s are notoriously patchy in quality) but also about tone. "We feel the 6L6 is a more balanced-sounding tube that produces plenty of harmonic lushness, while at the same time delivering the rich lows that are crucial to both a warm clean sound and huge, tight, high-gain crunch sound." Says the well-written manual.
However, this is Mesa Engineering and you wouldn't expect this company to leave it there. So there's the facility to switch to EL34s if that's really your sound (or for a specific gig or recording session). Of course you'll need to re-bias the amp and in this case it's done with the simple flip of a switch. It's a neat and practical solution to a potential purchasing dilemma.
Two final sources for sonic selection are the power and rectifier mode switches. The first enables you to select spongy or bold modes. Bold is the amp's normal working condition, with full 100W power output. Spongy reduces the internal voltages for an inherently vintage tone, while also lessening the output – so you can drive power stage harder for more brownness.
The switchable rectifier is when the amp derives its name. In certain respects similar in effect to the power switch, the selection between solid-state and valve rectification offers the difference between upfront, tight and powerful sounds (solid-state) and softer, less powerful but definitely sweeter tones (valve).
As you can see, there's an awful lot to contend with here. But remember these functions are there for you primarily to set the amp the way you intend to use it. You can alter things from gig to gig or even between sets, but you're more likely to find a set-up that works for you that you can stick with. We can't fault Randall Smith and his team on their thinking and the application of features here. It's an astounding piece of amplifier engineering and, guess what? After all that we're going to plug it in.
When we get a product like this in for evaluation, every available player gets a listen and a play, just to remind ourselves of what a benchmark really is. As previously mentioned, despite the comprehensive nature of this amp's features, it's not a complex beast to get to grips with. Literally five minutes and we had all three channels producing great tones.
The big mistake that inexperienced players make with amps like these is whacking the controls right up. Nooo! The Dual Recto delivers its best results with most set within their middle bands. There's enough range here to deliver what each channel does best and then tweak those using the rectifier and power switches, plus each channel's mode switches to taste. The boogie literature is quick to point out, too, that oscillations and potential preamp valve microphony can occur without restraint.
It's impossible to describe every sound from every channel in every mode. So we've decided to highlight three basic tones and describe how the various functions affect them. They are: clean rhythm; a strong classic rock rhythm/riff tone; and soaring lead. Plus we'll look at those all-important thrash and nu-metal tones.
Channel 1's basic tonality is sweet but strident, the controls giving plenty of scope for almost any tone you could require. In some ways it's like a huge Fender Twin, except that the four Celestion Vintage 30s give a more focused, in-your-face feel. Flick to pushed mode and you're in Thin Lizzy riff territory. It's fat and gutsy, but back off the volume and it cleans up nicely, even giving mild blues leads and chunky chords.
Channel 2 is the classic lead channel. Everything from Hendrix to Cream, Free to the Allman Brothers and the whole of seventies glam, be it Slade or Kiss, is in there. And a whole bunch more, of course – but it would be a crime to pigeonhole the amp when its offerings are so diverse. Lots of variation can be had using the three-band EQ, while the presence control is a good way to add sparkle and immediacy, without colouring the sound too much.
Channel 3 is the pokiest of all, with a hugeness that's hard to imagine. But you don't have to make it the land of gain: vintage tones work brilliantly too and yet just seem bigger than ever. That said, this is the gain fan's fix channel and it's piled on with spades. With plenty of middle dialled in and a Les Paul around the neck, the notes linger forever. But it's not flabby; it's tight and utterly responsive. Watch that gain though, because almost every tone is better when the power amp has space to breathe.
On the latter two channels the modes can be described simply thus: modern is fattest and loudest; vintage is quieter and more sophisticated and raw is a bit like that, but more scooped. Modern is huge and flattering to the player, but after a while most of us were convinced of vintage mode's inherent class – and anyway you can push the volume and EQ to get close to modern mode's punch, yet retain that vintage subtlety.
Nu-metal is sort of thrash with less of a middle scoop. We found it easiest on Channel 3, in modern mode and with a fair bit more gain. Any potential bottom end flab can easily be eradicated with judicious backing off of which ever control interacts with your guitar to cause it – with the Les Paul we found treble and gain to be the main culprits. This sound section could go on forever and still insult Mesa Engineering with its incompleteness. Let's just say that if the look of this amp excites you, book a couple of hours at your Boogie dealer and audition one for yourself.
Not all of us have £2,800 to spend on a new amp/cab set-up and even fewer would genuinely need something with this level of power and sophistication. But to the small tribe of players who can and do, the Dual Rectifier Solo head and matching 4 x 12 cabinet provides gargantuan power, awesome looks and truly inspiring features.
This side of the company's range may well have its associations firmly planted at the feet of old as well as nu-metal, but the latest innovations mean it could sit as happily on the end of Knopfler's, Clapton's, Slash's or Moore's guitar leads as those of Munky or Wes Borland. We say it's worth every penny (Compare it to the Matchless DC30 at £2700!) and advise any doubters of its range of fabulous tones to check one out urgently.
(First published in Guitarist magazine, Spring 2001)