Features: The Mesa Boogie Road King II amplifier head (also available in a 2x12 combo) is rich with features to adjust and shape your tone, and could be considered an all-in-one amp, as you could get by with very few pedals, with so much already built into the head.
To start, there are four footswitchable channels (footswitch included), with each channel essentially serving as its own independent preamp section. The most important control under each channel is the option to select one of three modes. The simplest way to describe the modes is to imagine them increasing the gain structure as you move from the lowest-to-highest mode within each channel, but that is oversimplifying this feature. The mode selection allows you to select your desired voicing, to move from a very Tweed-style, low-grit tone to a Plexi-crunch all within Channel 2 alone, for example. Similarly, Channel 3's modes allow you to move from a fairly high-gain crunch not far removed from early Mesa Mark-series amps, to the ever-popular Dual Rectifier grind, up to an even higher-gain Modern tone. All-in-all, there are 12 different base preamp sounds to be had, and that's without taking into consideration the considerable effect you can have on each tone based on the 3-band EQ, Gain, Presence and Reverb (on the back of the amp) that can be set independently, per-channel.
While the above discusses the preamp, EQ and Reverb controls, that's only the beginning. Step 2 is the power amp section. On the back of the amp you will see a control knob to select the power amp tubes you want to bring to bear for each channel. You can select 2 6L6's, 4 6L6's, 2 EL34's, or combinations. So you can move from an EL34 Plexi-sound to a 6L6 Dual Recto-sound with a click of the footswitch, on the fly, and move from a lower-wattage Tweed-voicing with limited headroom to a big modern rock sound at the push of a button. 50, 100 and 120 watts can be achieved, per-channel, based on the power amp setting.
Further, you can continue to shape the rest of the tone circuit. You can select Tube or Silicon Rectifier settings, per-channel, and there are spongy/bold Variac sounds, should you be looking for an EVH-esque tone. In addition, there is a very rare feature of having two independent FX loops, so one loop can be used for some channels while another loop is used for other channels. An example of where this may be used is having chorus always enabled for a clean tone, but a delay always engaged for a rock rhythm tone.
Finally, two sets of speakers can be connected, allowing each channel to be set for either Speakers A, B or A+B, completing the concept of total end-to-end control over the tone, from the moment it hits the amp. Other useful features are a footswitchable solo boost, tuner/mute dedicated output (footswitchable), fixed bias to make tube swaps a snap, and external switching jacks to allow configuration to a remote switching system with additional hardware. Direct MIDI control would have been nice, as well, but this can be worked around with after-market controllers that interact with the external switching jacks.
Each channel sports an independent Master volume setting, as well as an overall Output setting, so the channels can be balanced against one another to maintain accurate volumes across the channels. As with other Mesa Boogie amps, the Master is basically a Channel volume, with the Output setting taking the place of a traditional Master volume. // 9
Sound: While having such a variety of potential tones is great, there has to be some really good tones in there to make any amp worth your hard-earned money. The Road King II delivers in spades. Let's look at each successive channel.
Channel 1 offers Clean, Fat and Tweed modes. Clean is the cleanest option possible on this amp, and it delivers a transparent tone, doing little to color the signal path between the guitar strings, pickups and pick, and the speakers on the other end. Dialing in reverb adds some character, but this channel is probably best employed when songs require heavy effects on a clean base. Fat moves into classic Fender territory, and is a great starting place for most guitarists wanting a mostly clean tone. Tweed is one of the best tones on the amp, providing a dead-on replica of Fender Tweed tones, basically making that classic Fender in your closet obsolete, now that you can combine the tone with so many other useful options in one amp.
Channel 2 offers Clean, Fat and Brit. Clean and Fat are essentially identical to the modes on Channel 1, although a slight bit more gain could be heard doing an A/B comparison. Having these available on both allows for Tweed on Channel 1 and Clean on Channel 2, for example. Brit, on the other hand, starts pushing into Vintage Marshall territory, adding more grit and crunch, and adding some delay in the FX loop allows you to easily cop an AC/DC tone on this channel. Again, listening to this setting for a few minutes makes you start thinking about unloading the classic Marshall sitting in your amp collection, it sounds so good and so accurate.
Channel 3 is the stuff that made Mesa Boogie famous in the 90's and beyond. The first mode, Raw, pushes you up to a saturated tone very reminiscent of early Mesa Mark-series amplifiers. This is easily a tone Santana could live with forever, and many players will find joy in this mode. Moving up to Vintage, however, is a modern rocker's delight. Mesa says that Channel 3 on Vintage, set to use 4 6L6 power tubes, provides the exact signal path of a Dual Rectifier, and it's true. Chugging power chords and singing solos sound phenomenal through this mode, and all types of rock and metal sound great through this mode. Finally, the Modern mode ups the gain slightly, while providing a slightly darker voicing. This sounds like it was meant for de-tuned metal, and it sounds mean and fantastic at the same time.
If that's not enough gain and attitude for you, Channel 4 duplicates the modes from Channel 3, but increases the gain across the board. Channel 4 set to Modern has more gain that most players would know what to do with, and even in Vintage sounds louder and more aggressive than similar settings on Channel 3. A good use for this might be to set both channels identically, and use Channel 4 sparingly when you need a part to pop for a bit, more so than just a simple volume boost.
All-in-all, it was impossible to find a bad sound in the Road King II, and the combination of tones make what seems like an expensive amp actually a great value, compared to the cost of owning and maintaining a collection of specialized amps. // 10
Reliability & Durability: Mesa Boogie's are known for their reliability, and the Road King II is no exception to that. Like other Mesa amplifiers, it's very heavy for its size, and you can see thick wood and steel in use everywhere (no particle board visible anywhere). A fan runs as long as the power is on, to keep the amp running as cool as possible, and the fixed bias means you can continue swapping in other Mesa tubes indefinitely without ever requiring a bias adjustment. The amp is clearly built for handling road wear, and for minimal visits to an amp tech. // 10
Overall Impression: Most people would agree that the amplifier is one of the key components to an electric guitar player's tone, and that proper amp selection for recording or for live performance is absolutely critical. The beauty of the Mesa Boogie Road King II is that it can fit within so many different styles of music, with so much tonal variety offered within every knob and switch. Twisting knobs to their extremes, and picking unusual, odd settings within each channel still resulted in fun, useful tones, and nowhere on the amp was there a throwaway feature or setting.
Lush, reverb-filled cleans, crunchy Plexi tones and hard grinding Dual Rectifier tones all live within this box, along with much more. The infinite variety of tones makes this a perfect recording or home use amp, and the inclusions of two switchable FX loops, a solo boost, selectable speaker outputs, combined with Mesa durability, makes this amp a must-have for gigging and touring.
It's hard to call any musical instrument perfect', since music, sound and tone are subjective. But, when it's hard to find a single flaw or drawback with the Mesa Boogie Road King II, it's hard to call it anything other than well, perfect. // 10