Price paid: $ 1800
Purchased from: Guitar Center MD
Sound — 9
I'm using a '69 Gibson v with a stock 500T bridge pickup, and a 4x12 Marshall 1969 cab. I'll give you the limits of this amp: On the highest gain channel (3) on 'modern' mode with the gain to about 8, I can get a very heavy, chunky, terrifying, but also a colorful high distortion for rhythm. It gives good note clarity, and remarkably has little feedback at high volumes. For lead playing, this sounds great too-- creamy with lots of sustain. You don't need a noise gate at all unless you're using a boost pedal and trying to get some obscene level of gain. Again for highest gain, think 80's Metallica/Tool/Avenged 7fold. However I need to have the master volume for the channel at about a 4-5 to get a rich sound. At lower volumes it sounds thin. Also, you'll probably need a hotter pickup than what I have, such as a Seymore or an active EMG, to get good pinch harmonics out of this thing. Oddly, there are days when I can get this amp to squeal like a pig, but other days it gives me a hard time.
Overall Impression — 8
I bought this amp since I play hard rock and metal. It suits me pretty well. If you want to play something heavier than what I listed above, such as general death metal, you might need to get a boost pedal or go with another amp altogether such as a Krankenstein or Deisel. This is a super high gain amp, mind you, but the sound it more rounded and creamy and not as precise as these other amps. Again, this amp is incredibly versatile. You can anything between a transparent tone to the distortion described above. I've been playing for 7 years, and I'm in a band. If this head got stolen, I'd actually try another head just to experiment.
Reliability & Durability — 7
It's a durable head. However the preamp tubes are susceptible to sketchy electronics you may have in the loop. For example, I had a pedal board that was acting kind of buggy-it had lamp on it that would constantly flicker. That flickering someone fed back to my amp and killed 3 preamp tubes over the period of a month. So yea.. No sketchy electronics. Also, don't put a tuning pedal in the effects loop (that's what Mesa told me).
Features — 9
I bought this amp brand new so I could avoid dealing with old tubes. I'll be brief as you can read up on features on mesa's site. This amp has 3 independent channels, and basically you can get any sound from a transparent clean to a thrash-metal distortion. It's a versatile amp--a tweaker's amp really. The only amp more versatile than this one is the Mesa Mark III to IV. By the way, this head does not have reverb, but I'm glad, since that only adds to the weight and complexity and size of the amp. It's already pretty heavy, and a digital reverb pedal will get you a much better and varied reverb than any amp head anyway.