Price paid: C$ 899
Purchased from: Long and McQuade
Features: This amp was just released this year, and by the inspection tag attached, says it was constructed at the Petaluma factory in April of 2011. The reason for this purchase (somewhat overpaid, yes) was to replace two of my amps I currently sport, Blackstar HT5 and a Marshall practice MD15FX. Reason for upgrade was not enough versatility in my current setup without purchasing a boutique and thus expensive pedal setup.
This amp has 2 channels with a clean/pushed switch on the clean and a vintage/modern on the overdrive channel allowing for 4 distinctive tones with each channel sporting their own 10w and 25w switches to allow for optimal power settings and to allow for a more define sound. The mini also has an effects loop on the back and comes with a footswitch for the clean/overdrive. The only thing this amp does not have are effects. Personally, I prefer to accentuate sound through external means when it comes to modulation, however some might want that stuff stock.
This amp has plenty of push for my needs, I would assume that it would be loud enough for small gigs, with a potent cab (4x12). I am only a stay at home musician and this amp does not leave the living room. // 9
Sound: I have 2 main weapons in my stay at home arsenal of attack, 1> American Strat with N3 noiseless pickups setup in an SSS configuration, and 2> an Epiphone Les Paul ProFX/PlusTop with a Seymour SH-6 in the bridge and an SH-2N in the neck, accompanied by a floyd rose special. Seeing as these are very different setups, the mesa mini does not need an overly complicated setup in between switchings to achieve the goal of optimal sound. Again this is relatively speaking, as ones' goals may differ from another, and that of another and so on.
Cranking the gain on the clean with the strat, I can get very bluesy tones. Neck or Bridge settings, playing straight into the amp sounds for a great deal of pick accentuation and hearing attack when applied. This allows the user for more control via the tone and volume knobs on the guitar rather than the set it and forget it approach of effect pedals and boards.
Switching back to the clean clean, I get very glassy tones even through a single 1x10 Blackstar (not even an eminence or V30) speaker. I like to dial in a bit more treble than mids and bass and keep the presence around 4 or 5 for this sound, even with a lighter bodied Strat. My main point is that the 3 band EQ holds all the power of the tone one would seek in that even the smallest adjustment, in contrast with the gain and presence knobs will affect your sound greatly. Giving the player a lot of control. This to my knowledge is how the mark Vs are designed (not having owned one), and how the dual rectifiers get so much renown known versatility.
As far as the Crunch (or lead) channel is concerned, there is way too much gain. If there is not enough gain for you on this amp, you are infact tone deaf. I'm not a big fan of a huge amount of gain, so I keep it around 7 or 8 (3 o'clock'ish?) it is plenty of gain for any style of music from AC/DC to Nirvana to Korn to even Messhugah, so if your musical sub-genre is in there, you are set with this level of gain. There was no inherent effects to come with this amp, so maybe that is a bad thing for some users, but in terms of sound, I'm a minimalist at heart, so for a small amount of modulation, I will invest in a high quality nova pedal of some sort, or the Boss space echo (floydian cleans?).
I really enjoy the very simplistic approach to the sound control Mesa presents with this setup, it is a very diverse spectrum of sound that is controlled with a very simplistic engineering approach. I think all amplification manufacturers should take note of how well these are actually engineered. // 10
Reliability & Durability: I have never gigged with and never will gig with this amp as I have no aspirations to become a traveling musician or psuedo-rockstar. Bringing over to a buddy's house or studio for a good time with some accompanying brown pops however, might suffice. I can totally depend on this amp for whatever my needs (albeit minimal), are.
If the amp were to break down I would exercise my 5 year warranty provided by Mesa in Petaluma. Even though I live in Toronto we have vendors here where I can achieve some level of service for that period of time, in particular where I purchased the unit. As far as durability is concerned, I think the casing is extremely capable of withstanding any knocks, bumps, or close proximity drops without significant damage to the unit. The tone knobs and switches are quite sturdy and the tactility of the overall usefulness of the unit is stellar, however...
Even though I do not gig or travel with it (sits on my current 1x10), I would bring a backup if a gig would rely on such a small unit. Maybe its my insecurity, but the unit itself just doesn't seem reliable enough to have only 1 on "the road". I really hope one with more experience than myself can prove me wrong, but one wrong walk through a narrow door and maybe a tube gets knocked out of place, or even dropped on a corner, you never know really. There is a padded vinyl carry case it comes with however, so that is to take note of. // 8
Overall Impression: This is a great match for any style of play, in my case for example, I listen and try to play anything that is progressively interesting from Rush to Mastodon. Being in a high school band with angst and vengeance, to a maturity of sound and song structure and knowledge of riff construction, there are too many small things about a great number of bands and artists that attract a curious mind of what a true hobbyist would love about the guitar and its potential.
So even being out of practice and trained in blues at an early age, when is good enough really good enough? No one true musician ends up putting down an instrument with a strong arrogant statement of "Ok, learnt!" Before purchasing this unit, I did not go to my local music store for this particular amp. I went for a replacement of my Blackstar HT-5 being too light on the gain, and the clean sounding not clean enough. I tried a variety of setups after months of shopping around different pawn shops, boutique amps, music super stores and music store chain shops and so on.
I settled on the Mesa Mini for 1 reason, versatility. Of my price range, the Bugera 333XL 212 combo did not sound as nice on the clean channel, the Vox AC30CC had a great crunch sound, but not enough gain for my heavier needs. The Hughes And Kettner Tubemeister18 was a box of plastic made of lego tubes that sound like a cat in heat eating a still live semi-frozen fish... I can go on.
The only thing that came close to a respectable sound was the tiny terror, but again... For me, not enough gain. One thing I do not like about this amp is the fact that I feel I over payed for it, by about $100-$200. I'm fairly easy when it comes to a high quality product, but this amp's price is a little over the top, mainly attribute to it's classic rectifier appearance. But the minute I got it home and cranked it up for that first Pantera riff, it was like losing virginity all over again. That is what an amp should posses, a noticeable and effective tone that is embedded in one's ear, a true sign of sound engineering quality.
Another negative aspect in my opinion of this amp is the marketing. Yes it is reminiscent of a Dual Recto, and it is made to look like it too, but the approach of a backlit underneath (to accompany the tube glow) seems merely created for vanity and is a weak marketing tactic. Yes it looks cool, but it portraits a juvenile approach to selling an amp (ala Hughes And Kettner).
Like the Mark V, they should have let the sound speak for itself, but nevertheless it looks cool even though I can depict as to why they really put that led strip in there. I love the sound and look of this amp no matter what I payed and would absolutely buy another unless there was a brand new Mark V sitting next to it with the same price. Very highly recommended if you can 1> do without any resident effects on board and 2> get past the cheap marketing tactic of an inner-glow. // 9