|January 27, 2011 | Gear
This month, I turned my attention to overhauling one of my old Mesa Triple Rectifiers. Although I don’t myself use the thing that often, it’s a good amp, and quite sturdy – this is one of the heads that I recorded and toured on Astro-Creep: 2000 with, so, daily use in the 1990s, multiple poundings on the loading docks of the world, and semi-regular service since then, all without a tune-up. The thing about a Mesa Boogie is that it sounds like a Mesa Boogie, pretty much no matter what you do. Love it or hate it, it’s the sound of modern rock – which you want, sometimes ( do you? Periodically, in the studio, we do ). On the other hand, the excellent rectifier cabinet makes almost any amp you put through it sound like itself, but better – and, although it’s loaded with relatively low-wattage speakers, it can take a massive, day-in-day-out high-volume beating.
I took the head apart, got all the grime off of it ( it cleaned up pretty nicely, although the transformers are a little rusty ), checked all the solder points, tightened everything up. The tubes ( 3x 5U4, 6x 6L6 – or you can use EL34’s, but I got the notion somewhere, at some point, that 6L6s are ‘better’ for hi-gain sounds – and 5x 12AX7 ) were pretty cooked, so I set about getting new ones – which turned out to require some thought.
Christ, that’s a lot of tubes. They’re pretty, though.
As I remember it, the idea behind these amps was that there you wouldn’t have to bias them – in fact, there is no internal bias adjustment .. you would just buy sets of Mesa Boogie-brand tubes that were the pre-selected correct values to fit your amp and install them yourself. Good enough – back in the day, ‘bias’ was a voodoo word I didn’t know the meaning of, and taking your amp in for service was expensive and somewhat akin to having a child in the hospital. Thing is, Mesa apparently doesn’t offer these sets anymore, and there’s hardly any places selling matched sextets of power tubes of any brand — which seems odd, since every other band I see has a Double or Triple Rec. I even, God help me, went to Guitar Center. Everybody hates GC, but the one in New Orleans is like some new circle of hell, staffed by dead-eyed suburban emo boys who have no idea what you’re talking about, ever. Me : ” So, this sad little assortment of dog-eared-box Mesa tubes is all you’ve got? Do you sell matched 6L6’s? ” — emo boy : ( blank expression … trying to think of a lie … failing ).
This probably wouldn’t be a problem if I was in Hollywood or NYC, but I live in the ass-end underside of America and, clearly, I would have to turn to the internet. I asked 2 different techs about it and they both said the same thing : buy decent tubes, turn the amp on, and watch it in the dark for a while. If it looks like it’s not going to catch fire, go ahead and play through it. Okaaayyyyyy, I thought — I got Russian-made EH 5U4’s, EH ‘yellow logo’ 12AX7’s, and I found a matched set of Winged C 6L6’s ( also Russian ) on eBay. Given the popularity of these amps ( this is the old 2-channel version, but the 3-channel model uses the same complement of tubes ), I’m surprised you can’t just get the whole set at Guitar Center or one of those mail-order places .. but, anyway, a little under 300 bucks ( ≥ gasp ≤ ) later, the amp sounds great. I love the smell of ink burning off of new tubes.
Something else : kindly, guitar players are tinkerers. Unkindly, they’re tweakers .. I admit to being both. I tested the Mesa with a speaker cabinet I built from garbage.
A couple of years ago, a guy I was recording came by with an old ( early-mid 1950s ) Philco Phonorama speaker cabinet ( for a radio or a console phonograph or a TV, I have no idea ) – he was like, ” Here, I found this in the trash, you should have it “, and he was right — I took one look at it and decided that I had to make it live again ( dig that metal handle! ).
I threw out the water-damaged paper tweeter that was inside, replaced the rotting grillcloth with nicer fabric from an old radio, and installed a Jensen vintage reissue 10″ speaker. There was a volume control on top of the enclosure, and I replaced that with an input jack I made from a Les Paul jack-plate. I haven’t gotten around to making a back for the thing yet, so when I record with it I just put it on the floor, facing up at the ceiling. It’s got a very, very weird, nasal sound that isn’t very useful except maybe as a special effect, but it can add something cool to a ‘normal’ signal when mixed in correctly.