Friday, November 28, 2014

Mesa Boogie Stiletto Deuce Review

Around 2005 I bought a Mesa Boogie Stiletto Deuce. While I had owned a couple of different tube amps in the past this amp was different. It was loaded with features I had never used before, built better than anything I'd ever owned. Also it didn't immediately sound like I thought it would. Had I made a mistake? Were those videos of Andy Timmons sounding so amazing a lie? Sure there were mixed reviews on the internet but Mesa builds fantastic stuff... right? The truth was I had no idea what I was getting into.

The Mesa Boogie Stiletto is a two channel amp based around the EL34 platform. Each channel features three voice settings, and independent 100w/50w swiches. You can choose between tube rectified, for a spongier more dynamic feel or solid state rectified for tighter tracking. On the back there is a built in variac switch that knocks about 20 percent off the power. There is also master volume and boost switch for solos. Like all Mesa Boogie gear it was built like a tank, and almost as heavy. 

A lot of people thought that the Stiletto was an EL34 based Dual Rectifier. It's not. There are a lot of reviews on the internet that state that it is bright and fizzy, and admittedly it can be. You can spend an hours with this amp and never find a good sound out of this amp. The knobs don't change the sound as much as changing guitars. It's bright in your face sound can sound thin and if you rely on the preamp gain for your distortion it can sound fizzy. But I called up an older friend of mine who had been in the game a long time, and was a huge Mesa Boogie fan. He laughed and told me Mesa's are hard to dial in sometimes because they are so versatile and to bring it by his place. 

When I got there he set it on top of his 4x12 cab and played a few licks, then he handed me the guitar told me to play some chords. He cranked the amp up and it immediately it opened up and sounded full. Then he spent a few minutes fiddling with the knobs. After about five minutes he told me to play some leads, there was no fizzy sounds as most of the distrtion was coming from the EL34's and then we added a little with the preamp gain. While it didn't have the roar of a Dual Rectifier or JCM800 it sounded great. One of the things I learned very quickly is that it responded to my playing more than any other amp I'd ever owned. If I used a different guitar pick it sounded like I was using a different guitar. If I used a different guitar it almost sounded like a different amp. I also learned I was sloppy! I'd never noticed that before but it quickly forced me to clean up my playing because it had amplified my mistakes like no other amp.
A close up of Andy Timmons settings

Next I added it to band practice, no more getting lost on stage the amp cut through the mix. Everyone had to adjust, but everyone liked it. It reminded me of an old plexi I had once played and, as I found out, with good reason. Channel 1 is a clone of Andy Timmons 68 superlead! Channel 2 is one of Mr. Timmons early 70 JMP amps! Then the guys at Mesa Boogie added the extra switches and options to tweak the sound. These switches don't do much until you crank the amp up even then they can be subtle. But in a band setting or in a recording studio this amp excels. At loud volumes it opens up and sounds full and with the rest of the band it just seems to find a nice home. 

But this is not an amp to play at home, you have to crank it up. Even on the 50w settings and with the variac on and running though a 2x12 this amp is insanely loud, and if you turn it down... it starts sounding thin. But it takes pedals extremely well for such an in your face sound and so at home I would often use a marshally sounding pedal for practice. 

Andy's Stiletto's and Lonestars in the studio
So who is this amp for and who shouldn't use it. If your looking for lush fendery clean tones this isn't it, it's bright and takes pedals well but more like a Hiwatt. If your looking to primarily play at home this isn't it, there are a lot of great amps out there that can sound good at lower volumes, a lot of the new lunchbox amps like the Egnator Tweaker and also gig ready amps like the new EVH 5150 III sound just fine at low volumes. There is a difference between preamp gain and power amp gain. It's hard to describe, but the preamp gain on this amp is fine for adding a little extra gain but not great at being the main distortion sound, the power amp gain however is fantastic. In a band mix this amp excels at 70's and early 80's Marshall type tones for obvious reasons and recording with this amp is amazing. If you want to play better and use your guitars volume and tone knobs to find different sounds this is an excellent amp. To learn more about Andy Timmons Gear check out the Andy Timmons Gear Guide.

When my kids were born I stopped playing in bands for now and this amp found itself not being used. I started playing at home regularly and with friends on occasion, so I sold it to fund other gear. Sometimes I miss it, even though it's not practical for me at the moment. In the Mesa line it has been replaced by the Royal Atlantic which I have yet to try. The Stiletto is probably the most misunderstood amp that Mesa has ever put out, but if your considering finding a used one it really is fantastic at what it is.

This review was completely unsolicited and any opinion is my own.

1 comment:

  1. Get yourself another Stilleto and play it into a Torpedo unit