Purchased from: Long & McQuade
Sound — 9
This amplifier is voiced for cleans, classic rock and classic (80's-era) metal. If you are looking for "dual recto" tones for numetal or thrash, this amp will not do it on it's own (you would likely need an overdrive pedal). The cleans on the 5 Watt Class A setting have a wonderful Voxy chime to them, providing great Brit invasion rock sounds. The reverb is wonderful. The tone breaks up nicely as the volume goes up, and cleans up nicely when the guitar volume is turned down. With single coils, the clean will begin to break up pretty early on the 5W setting with some power amp distortion (1030 - 11 o'clock-ish). But this will be loud, even at 5W. The 5W setting is still loud enough to annoy neighbours, but this amp still sounds rich at apartment-friendly volumes. Like most tube amps, it does sound better at higher volumes. The crunch setting provides a variety of rock rhythm sounds. It can also be used for clean tones at low gain settings. AC/DC-ish and other '70s Marshall rock sounds are found here. The blues setting is fat and warm. At low gain settings it can be used as an alternate clean, and high gain settings can yield hard blues-rock tones. The burn channel is where the higher-gain lead sounds are found (think Santana). It can also be used for NWOBHM rhythm sounds (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc). Again, those Who want numetal tones will not be satisfied with what this amp can do on it's own. But for those of us Who don't play numetal, it is sweet! The 5 Watt Class A setting works best for classic rock and Brit invasion tones, whereas the 25 Watt Class A/B setting works best for 80s metal and hard rock tones, due to it's tighter bass. The amp does hum at higher gain settings, but you will not hear it when you play through it. The hum isn't enough to annoy me when I'm pausing between songs. The eq and contour controls are very powerful and interactive on this amp. The manual is extremely detailed and provides enough information and pre-sets for people to get instant gratification, as well as ideas for tweaking later. Sparing use of the contour control on the clean channel will yield a lovely sparkle, and noon to 2 o'clock on the burn or crunch settings will yield a wonderful hard-rockin' crunch. Above 2 o'clock works best on the burn setting, this is where the most "brutal" sounds are found. Personally, I can get Iron Maiden-ish tones with the gain & contour controls at ~2 o'clock. Like most Mesa amps, the bass needs to be dialed down as the gain gets turned up to keep the bass tight. I don't scoop the mids on the eq, as the contour control provides an opportunity to do this later in the signal chain (to my ear it sounds better this way). The 10" speaker pumps out a lot of volume for its smaller size.
Overall Impression — 9
This amp is my first tube amp after much practice on a Vox DA15 modelling amp. I haven't tried effects with it yet, since I just upgraded from a modeller with built-in effects. I wasn't initially shopping for a Mesa (I was looking at Traynors, Voxes, Peaveys & Marshalls), but I plugged in my guitar to give it a listen. I resisted purchasing this amp, because I thought another amp would be more value for the money. But I just couldn't get the sweet tones of this amp out of my head, so I made the leap. I'm an amateur. I consider this amp to be a lower-end, portable substitute for the Lone Star Special & the Stiletto series of amps. But this little amp holds its own, and suits my home practice + friendly jam needs perfectly. One day I hope to try it in a small venue. I love this amplifier's versatility. Although many complain about the lack of thrash/numetal gain, there is more than enough here for Brit-voiced 80's metal. I play mostly Beatles tunes and 80s metal on it. What do I dislike about this amp? The price! It was ~40% more than other comparable amplifiers, but to be fair, it did have more features (spring reverb, 5/25 watt switching, contour control) and, to my ear, sound better. It would have been nice if the settings within each channel were also foot-switchable, but this isn't a deal-breaker. There are overlaps between the different settings, so there are often several ways to dial in similar tones.
Reliability & Durability — 9
So far so good. Over one month in, often at loud volumes, with no problems at all. Mesa is known for its excellent customer service, so I am not concerned about it. It comes with a warranty on both the tubes and the rest of the equipment. I'm sure a professional musician would still consider bringing a backup to a gig.
Features — 9
The Express series of amps were released in 2007, replacing the "F" series. They have a large array of features in an extremely small, portable format. This review will focus on the 1x10 combo. I bought this amp over a month ago. The "honeymoon" is over, and I have spent a lot of time experimenting with different guitars and settings. The features include: EL84 power tubes, 5 Watts in Class A, running off of one power tube, 30 Watts (ish) in Class A/B. My understanding is that 2 EL84 tubes usually generate 15-20 Watts of power. The Express has "dyna-watt" circuitry that provides a burst of clean headroom on the attack, making it much louder than other amps of its class. My ear doesn't notice anything odd about this circuitry, except for the increased volume. The manual calls it a 25 Watt amp, but the Switch on the back says 5 Watts or 30 Watts. I use this amp for home practice and friendly jams. It has sufficient volume to be heard over (most) drummers. If extra volume was required, it would be easy to hook up to an extension cab. I believe the Express on it's own would be more than enough for small gigs, or as a stage monitor if you are hooked up to a PA. It is very portable and easy to move around, making it a great grab 'n go amplifier.