Roadster Head review by Mesa Boogie

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  • Sound: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 10
  • Features: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 9 (28 votes)
Mesa Boogie: Roadster Head

Price paid: C$ 2175

Purchased from: Mothers Music

Sound — 9
For the sake of this review, I stuck to an ESP Eclipse II w/EMG pickups and a G&L ASAT Classic, running the head through a Celestion Vintage 30 loaded Mesa Boogie Stiletto 4x12 slant cabinet. On initial start-up, the amp is quite quiet, certainly better than you would expect out of a 100watt, all-tube fire-breather. Starting with the "clean" mode (found in channels 1 and 2), it is possible to dial in anything from a truly sterile, completely clean tone, all the way to mild breakup. However, I found this mode was best with just a hint of breakup, resulting in a full and lively clean sound with just a touch of musical overdrive. This sound is not necessarily warm, but very full and still very nice for chords. Moving to the "fat" mode, there is immediately more bass, mids and gain. This sound can be wound up to the point of moderate breakup, with a little bit of saturation. This mode is a little bit thick for strummed chords, but jazz comping and single note lines ring out with near flawless clarity and harmonic complexity. I have purchased amps to make these 2 sounds alone (for which I now feel slightly stupid). Moving to the "tweed" setting, there is immediately more gain again. Even with the gain control just before noon, there is more gain on tap than most cranked Fender tweed amps. Adding more gain results in a more saturated solo tone. The best way to describe this mode is to say that it is a modernization of the classic cranked Fender sound. It is decidedly Fender-ish, but more controlled and ballsier. The "Brit" mode, though my least favorite (I don't like Marshall-like amps), is quite good at all things British-crunch inspired, though mostly Marshall-like. There is a lot of gain on tap here, easily more than most classic brit-voiced amps had in the day, but the channel is capable of everything from Vintage crunch to a full out roar. The channel is quite nice, having lots of presence and, I think, having one of the better steroid-enhanced Marshall sounds around. I just don't use it much because it isn't my cup of tea. Moving to channels 3 and 4, the "raw" setting is a vintage-tinged, highly saturated gain tone. This mode can be dialed in as anything from an alternate clean through to a Vintage high-gain sound. It is quite warm and sustains for days. It is pleasant and quite useful, though not heart-stoppingly good. The "vintage" mode, meanwhile is wonderful. This is classic Mesa Boogie high-gain; it is thick, saturated, powerful and menacing. Rhythm lines are tight and articulate while lead lines have a vocal singing quality that sustains incredibly well. It is possible, as with all Mesa Boogies, to dial in too much gain or bass on this channel, but it is easily apparent when you have done so and easy to correct. Finally, the "modern" mode adds more gain and more presence, resulting in a highly articulate and absolutely vicious high-gain tone. Though absolutely punishing while playing rhythm, this setting still manages to produce lovely singing lead tones, though not nearly as warm as those on the "vintage" mode. It is very important to note that channels 3 and 4 are not copies of one and other, though they do contain the same controls and modes. The tone controls in channel 4, especially the presence control, are designed to control a much broader range of their respective parameters, thus it is possible to dial in much more aggressive tones in channel 4 than channel 3. Moving on to other tone features, it is possible to select either tube rectification or solid-state. This makes a perceivable difference to the sound, with tube rectification being bouncier and more lively sounding. However, the true power of this choice is in the ability to tailor the feel of the amp. Selecting solid-state rectification results in immediate and highly aggressive response, while tube rectification is slower and blooms more. This will impact how you play, so it is a good tool to use. It is also possible to halve the power on each channel. Though this doesn't have an immediate effect on the sound, or a significant volume drop for that matter, it does affect the headroom available on the amp. Dropping down to 50 watts causes the amp to clip much earlier, which is useful for obtaining over-driven sounds. The bold/spongy feature simply adds to this by changing the over-all feel of the amp by altering the responsiveness of the power-amp. Beyond ALL that, the reverb is quite nice and adds a lovely degree of depth to the sound. Otherwise, the amp performs absolutely as expected, creating a great variety of highly usable sounds. However, one has to be careful because with so much tone-shaping control, it is quite easy to dial in a bad tone if you aren't careful.

Overall Impression — 10
I bought this amp so that I could shrink my rig down to one amp, as I had grown tired of lugging 2/3 amps to every single gig with my functions band. Being in a functions band, I'm required to play a variety of styles through a variety of instruments, and this amp is perfectly suited for such a task. I was initially wary of the amp, partially because of the alarming price tag, and also because of the stigma's associated with Dual Rectifiers (metal amps). This amp, however, has completely dispelled every myth and prejudice towards Mesa Boogie for me. Yes, the high-gain sounds are absolutely crushing and incredible, but this amp does cleans as well. The cleans are gorgeous, easily on par with other top flight amplifiers. And, the amp does the in-between tones, where we spend most of our time anyways, extremely well too. I believe that this amp is ideal for truly versatile guitarists who need not only a great variety of tones, but also excellent quality tones. The price simply rules the amp out for beginners and hobbyists, while the emphasis on non-high-gain tones pretty much rules it out for metal guys. And that's what's great. This amp allows high level players who dabble in a bit of everything to have top quality, all analog tones in one unit. I wish that I had bought this amp years ago. Even with the high price on the amp, I would have been money ahead simply getting this, the right too for almost any job, from the get-go.

Reliability & Durability — 10
I have only owned this amp for 2 months so far, so it is difficult to properly assess long term durability, however, Mesa Boogie's reputation speaks for itself; this thing should last plenty long. That being said, the amp appears to be very well constructed: everything is neat, everything fits well and safety covers are present where required. I have gigged the amp several times with no backup and it has been Stellar thus far. Even after 7 hours of solid run-time, the amp was running smoothly with absolutely no signs of any fatigue what'soever. It is an all-tube amp, so there are some longevity issues that are bound to come up at some point in time, but this is an amp that I'm not terribly concerned about.

Features — 10
The Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Roadster is Mesa Boogie's 4 channel powerhouse, only being out-gunned by the Roadking II. My particular amp was made in the U.S.A. In 2011. The amp is a true 4 channel amp, with each channel featuring 3 modes. Channels 1 and 2 both feature the same "clean" and "fat" settings, with "clean" being a true clean and "fat" having a little bit more grit and lower-mid emphasis. Channel 1 also features a "tweed" mode, which adds more gain and produces a, surprise, Fender-like tone. Channel 2 features a "Brit" mode, which produces a mid-heavy crunch, as is typical of British-style amps like Marshall's and Hiwatt's. Channels 3 and 4 both feature the same 3 modes each: "raw", "vintage" and modern, with each having more gain, presence and saturation than the last. Channel 4, however, is voiced differently than channel 3 and has different sweeps to its tone and presence controls. Each channel features an intimidating feature set: master volume, gain control, treble, mid, bass, presence, 3-way mode select, reverb level, 50/100 watt, tube or silicone diode rectification and effects loop on/off. This is a rather intimidating control set, but it is highly intuitive once you've read the manual and taken the time to understand how the controls interact. Additionally, the amp features a bold/spongy switch, which acts as an internal variac, dropping the internal voltage of the amp to create more sag, an overall output control and a footswitchable solo function. All this makes the amp highly versatile and easy to dial in for nearly any task. The guts of the amp are fairly standard Mesa Boogie territory. There are 4 6L6 power tubes, 6 12AX7 pre-amp tubes and 2 5U4 rectifier tubes. Along with this, there is a bias select Switch allowing you to instantly re-bias the amp to operate with EL-34's in the power-amp section (the amp otherwise has fixed bias). The amp features a long tank spring reverb, a hard-bypass for the FX loop, 4 speaker outputs, a send level control, a tuner out and external switching jacks which allow the head to be controlled by a separate unit. I think that about covers it all.

3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Uunster wrote: I have a question... maybe a dumb one, but oh well... If I get a solid state head with like 600 watts for like $500. Why would I want a 100 watt tube head for like $2000, if I could 600 watts for way cheaper?
    Nobody needs 600 watts. More watts doesn't mean better sound. They only mean loudness. 100 watt head is pretty loud, too. I would buy max 50 watt head or combo. It's enough. BTW Mesas are very expensive because they are made in USA and they are maybe the highest quality amps made. You will get a 50 watt tube head for under 1000 bucks (maybe not Mesa quality but still a good amp). 50 watts are more than enough for gigging and jamming (unless you're playing at a big stadium).