Mesa Boogie

Mesa/Boogie (also known as Mesa Engineering) is an American company in Petaluma, California, that manufactures amplifiers for guitars and basses. It has been in operation since 1969.

Mesa/Boogie Ltd.
FoundedPetaluma, California, United States (1969; 51 years ago (1969))
FounderRandall Smith
United States
Key people
Randall Smith

MESA was started by Randall Smith as a small repair shop which modified Fender Amplifiers, particularly the diminutive Fender Princeton. Smith's modifications gave the small amps much more input gain, making them much louder as well as creating a high-gain, distorted guitar tone. Prominent early customers included Carlos Santana, and Ron Wood and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Exposure from these top players helped to establish Mesa/Boogie's position on the market, and it is frequently referred to as the first manufacturer of boutique amplifiers.[1]


Early LifeEdit

Randall Smith was born into a musical family in Berkeley, California in 1946. His mother and sister played piano and his father was the first-chair clarinet with the Oakland Symphony Orchestra, played tenor sax, had a radio show and led a hotel dance band. Smith believes all of his early musical experiences taught him how to hear tone.[2]

As a young Boy Scout, Smith was interested in earning a merit badge in woodcarving. Stan Stillson, the Boy Scout leader became a mentor. Smith and Stan's son, Dave, were close in age. They became great friends and built ham radios together. Smith's father had a good friend, Ernie, who built hi-fi turntables and gave him a couple to experiment on until he was 11 or 12.[3]

He attended Miramonte High in Orinda, CA and graduated in 1964. His freshman year he attended UC Santa Barbara, as his parents wanted him removed from the influences of Berkeley (20 minutes from Orinda). However, he would hop freight trains nearly every weekend from Santa Barbara to the Bay Area to see friends and return to the Beat coffee houses and bookstores of Berkeley. The next four years he attended UC Berkeley studying humanities, English Literature and "invitation only" creative writing courses where he mostly wrote accounts of riding the rails with various hobos, but never quite graduated. Most interesting is that he never once took an electronics course in high school or university. His first major electronics project was a scratch built Ham Radio transmitter using a 6146 power tube. At only around 60 watts, the signal reached Alaska and most of the US.

Prune Music StoreEdit

Smith wanted to participate in the burgeoning San Francisco music scene, having been taught clarinet and a little sax by his father, but he took up drums, as it was the easiest to learn quickly. He played with a local blues and jam band and co-founded the band Martha's Laundry, which later morphed into Prune Music store, with keyboardist Dave Kessner. They opened the store in 1967 inside a building that had been a Chinese grocery store. He worked as a repair tech in the back while Dave ran the front of the store. Offshoots of Prune Music continue in Berkeley to this day with Subway Guitars, Sam Cohen (aka Fat Dog) and Guitar Resurrection in Austin, TX with former Martha's Laundry guitarist, Jim Lehman (aka Lizard Slim)[4] They were partners until 1975. Their store never generated a huge profit, but it became best alternative music store in the hippie scene.

Mesa/Boogie EtymologyEdit

Boogie : "This Thing Boogies" (name by Carlos Santana)Edit


Mesa/Boogie began with a practical joke: he borrowed a Fender Princeton (a small 12-watt amplifier) from his friend, Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish, and hot-rodded it by replacing the amplifier section with that of a Fender Bassman and installing a 12-inch speaker instead of the original 10-inch. The resulting amplifier proved to be loud and successful, and Smith made more than 200 of these Princeton "Boogies"—a name allegedly provided by Carlos Santana,[1] who is to have exclaimed "This thing boogies!"[5]

Next is a long version of the story, as was told by Randall Smith in interview on YouTube, published Aug 27, 2019. [6]

(Notes: this transcription may need some proofreading)

Mitch Gallagher from Sweetwater asks:

".. take us back to the early days, the story that I've heard of course, centers around Carlos Santana on a Princeton amplifier; he came in for repair, is that true?"

Randall Smith answers:

"Oh, absolutely true. Well, here's how it started. I don't know if you ever heard of the band Country Joe and the Fish, the Bay Area band, and I recently learned that Led Zeppelin used to open for Country Joe and the Fish, that put him into a stature I had no idea because they were just a funky semi-country rock, Berkeley, you know, kind of a pre-hippie band.

Anyway, they were one of the first big customers to come, you know, to our store for repairs, and later when we moved from Berkeley to Mill Valley, which is just right across the bay, one of the guys said,

"Hey, can we play a trick on Barry Melton with this little Princeton, Fender Princeton, 12 watts into a 10 inch speaker, (you guys know about Princeton) can you do something to this that will just blow his mind?"

Now I had grown up with a little bug-eye Austin-Healey Sprite, which is a terrific little sports car except the engine is about that big [shows small size with his hands] and it should have been way big, I always had this fantasy of wow if you could put a little lightweight aluminum v8 into this car, what a sleeper it would be it would blow the doors off anything and everything. So I always had that fantasy; of course I was never able to realize that, but when they said: "Can you do something to this Princeton ?", I thought, yeah, man let me add it.

Now, in the history of Prune Music we saw a Bassman 4x10, tweed Bassman number 00004 come through our store, we were a blues rock band ourselves, all of our buds played blues and we already had recognized that is one of the iconic blues amps of all times.

I knew the circuit, so what I did stripped that Princeton, threw away all the transformers, punched out the chassis way bigger hole so I could put some big meaty transformers in the thing and built it up as a slightly hot rotted 4x10 tweed Bassman circuit. Obviously the 10 inch speaker wouldn't handle that power at all and I looked carefully and there's like wow I think if I did everything just right I could get a JBL D 120, 12 inch speaker, that was a hot ticket then, into this it will fit from the top to the bottom of the grill board and if I get the spokes just right, it'll clear the transformers and the bigger tubes, so I got it, did all of that ,fired it up, looked like it worked.

I took it out to the front of the store one of the guys was hanging around, his name was Carlos Santana.

I said "Hey Carlos would you plug into it?"

Carlos: "Nah man I don't want to plug that's a Princeton, a practice amp"

Eventually I talked him into it I had to convince him that it wasn't just a Princeton. Carlos as you know he's a is a player that really relies on inspiration to go off, and man did he go off on that little amp. It was a beautiful summer day, we had the doors wide open and literally a crowd started jamming on the sidewalk out in front of our store there, because the way he was playing and it was just fantastic.

And and when he finished he literally looked at the thing and went "Man, that thing really boogies"; that's where the name came from."

Mesa EngineeringEdit

The Mesa name came about through Smith's other job, rebuilding Mercedes engines. Smith decided to set up Mesa Engineering so he could purchase wholesale parts for amps and engines.[1] He needed an official sounding name through which to buy Mercedes parts and building supplies, and chose Mesa Engineering. As the demand for his amps grew, Randall decided it would be best to move his workshop out of the storefront to get away from the distractions. He relocated to what was formerly a plywood dog kennel, then, eventually, to his home.[7]

Development of the Mark IEdit

If hot-rodding Fenders was the first breakthrough, the second was developing an extra gain stage for the guitar input. Smith was building a preamplifier for Lee Michaels, who needed a pre-amp to drive his new Crown DC-300 power amplifiers. Smith added an extra tube gain stage to the preamp, with three variable gain controls at different points in the circuit (what is now called a "cascaded" design), creating the first high-gain amplifier. He set about designing a guitar amplifier around the new principle, and in 1972 the Mark I was released.[1]

He produced a number of custom variations on the Mark I through the late 1970s, with options including reverb, EQ, various speakers (most often Altec or Electro-Voice), koa wood jointed cabinets, and wicker grill. The Mark II was released in 1978.


As Mesa continued to grow, Smith moved the company to Petaluma in 1980. He ended up producing over 3000 amps out of his home workshop in the 1970s. [7] Throughout the 1980s, Mesa continued to produce combo and head amplifiers, and began production of rack power and pre-amps, developing power amplifiers such as the M180/190 and Strategy series, as well as pre-amps such as the Quad and Studio. Other models developed in the 1980s included the Mark III, the Son of Boogie, and the Studio .22. The Rectifier series was first produced in the early 1990s and quickly became a staple of modern rock guitar tone. Mesa has continued to introduce new models in the 2000s and 2010s, with models such as the Road King II, the Lone Star and Lone Star Special, the Stiletto and Express lines along with lower watt versions of its large amps, such as the mini Rectifier, and the Mark V:25 and Mark V:35.


Mark seriesEdit

Mesa Boogie Mark IV

The Mark series of amplifiers is Mesa's flagship. It was introduced in 1971 and is still being produced today. The most recent model is the JP-2C.[8] Introduced in the Mark II-B was the Simul-Class power amplifier stage, which combined tubes running in class A and class AB through the same output transformer. The Simul-Class system has been a staple in Mark Series amplifiers since then, as well as the 5-band graphic equalizer, both exclusive to the line until the introduction of the Dual Caliber series, and select power amplifiers. The Mark II-C+ is considered by many to be the best of the Mark series. The JP-2C is the first signature model released by Mesa and developed in collaboration with John Petrucci. It is the first amplifier to feature two of their famous 5-band equalizers and is largely based on the Mark II-C+.

Mesa Boogie Bass 400+

Caliber seriesEdit

The Caliber series was launched in November 1985 with the release of the studio caliber .22. As the "caliber .22" (a small caliber for rifles) name suggests, it was Boogie's first low-wattage, small practice amp. The relatively low price made the brand more affordable to a wider range of guitarists, beyond professionals. The .38 special used four el84 tubes and put out 38 watts. The .50 caliber had two 6l6 tubes and put out 50 watts. The four el84 model came out in January 1987 and was available until the end of 1988. It was repackaged as the .50 caliber and was revamped with 6l6 tubes and a "pull" channel switch from 1992 until 1993 and called the .50+ cal. In 1993, this range was replaced by Mesa's second budget-priced line, the Dual Caliber amps.

Nomad seriesEdit

In 1999 the Nomad series replaced the Dual-Caliber amps. 45, 55 and 100 W versions have been built.

Rectifier seriesEdit

Originally introduced in 1992.

The line-up began as the Dual Rectifier series of amps, which included the Solo, Heartbreaker, Maverick, and Blue Angel*. All amps in the series, except for the Blue Angel had two forms of electrical rectification (conversion of power from AC to DC): Silicon diodes and one or more vacuum tube(s) that the user could select via a switch located on the back panel of the amplifier (hence the name "Dual Rectifier").

While the Heartbreaker and Maverick used only one 5AR4 tube rectifier, the Solo employed two 5U4G tubes. This distinction engendered the misconception that the name Dual Rectifier was derived from this amp; the Solo's popularity only reinforced this misconception. Future designs would further contradict and confuse the line's namesake.

* The Blue Angel was designed with only a vacuum tube rectifier but retained the Dual Rectifier designation.

In short order, Randall Smith ceased production of the other Dual Rectifier amps and concentrated on producing different configurations of the Solo, which became the Dual Rectifier.[9]


The Express line of guitar amplifiers was released in 2007, and has essentially replaced the F-Series in the Mesa Boogie line up. Although not directly descended from the F-Series, these two lines do have some features in common, some of which have been expanded upon in the Express line. This amp uses solid-state rectification like the F series.

The Express line introduced Mesa's Duo-Class technology. This technology offers the ability to run the power section of the amplifier in either true class A (single-ended) mode, or true class AB (push-pull) mode. This allows the operator to choose between running the amplifier at a reduced power output of 5 watts (class A), or full power (class AB). When run in 5 watt (Class A) mode, the power section is operating on only one vacuum tube.

There are two different models offered in the Express line; the 5:25, which has a maximum power output of 25 watts; and the 5:50, which has a maximum power output of 50 watts.

The 5:25 operates on two EL84 tubes in the power section, and produces a maximum rated power output of 25 watts. It is available as either a Short Chassis Head (19 inches wide), or a 1x10 (Open Back) Combo unit containing one E50 Speaker, and comes with casters included. They also offer a 1x12 (Open Back) Combo unit with one V30 Speaker, which offers a bigger sound over the 10" speaker.

The 5:50 operates on two 6L6 tubes in the power section, and produces a maximum rated power output of 50 watts. It is available as a Medium Head (width 22-7/8in), a Long Head (width 26-1/4in), a 1x12 (Open Back) Combo unit containing one C90 Speaker, or a 2x12 (Open Back) Combo unit containing two C90 Speakers. Both Combo units come with casters included.[10]

Atlantic seriesEdit

The Atlantic series was launched officially at Winter NAMM 2010 with the release of the Transatlantic TA-15. At first, this was seen as Mesa's foray into the rapidly growing "Lunchbox Amplifier" market, but with the recent introduction of the Royal Atlantic RA-100, featuring a full-sized head form factor, the line has expanded outside of the aforementioned compact market segment. This series is now out of production.[11]

Electra DyneEdit

The Electra Dyne was introduced in 2009 alongside the Mark V at that year's Winter NAMM show. While the Mark V can appear complicated with many knobs, switches, lights, and sliders, the Electra Dyne was created to be the polar opposite. It features six knobs and one switch on the front panel (not including the Power and Standby switches), the first Mesa amplifier with this few controls since the Mark 1. The Electra Dyne is a single-channel amplifier with three foot-switchable modes. It employs a Simul-Class output section, which runs a Class A power amplifier and a Class AB power amplifier simultaneously through the same output transformer. The output can be switched between 90 watts and 45 watts.[12]


Triaxis Programmable PreampEdit

Digital recreation of several Mesa Boogie amplifier circuits plus control circuits.

Rectifier Recording PreampEdit

The Rectifier Recording Preamp provides pure analog “Recto® Direct™” recording circuitry that can be used for recording (or live and uses no digital modeling) as well as dedicated standard “live” outputs for routing to a power amp via six 12AX7 tubes. Two fully independent Channels with six Modes (Ch.1 = Clean, Fat or Brit; Ch. 2 = Raw, Vintage High Gain or Modern High Gain), featuring independent Gain, Treble, Mid, Bass, Presence & Master Controls. Channel 1 also features a Bright and Pad Switch, while Channel 2 provides a Live Bright/Warm Record Voice Switch. All of this preamp goodness then feeds to independent Record and Live Output Controls as well as a footswitchable Solo Level Control. A Smart Power™ function trigger is also provided, which controls the Smart Power Modes (Deep, Half Drive or Modern) on select MESA Power Amps.[13]

Bass ampsEdit

D-180 ampEdit

180W amp powered by 6 6L6 tubes in the power section. No graphic EQ.

400 ampEdit

400W amp powered by 6 KT88 tubes in the power section. 6-band graphic EQ.

400+ ampEdit

400W amp powered by 12 6L6 tubes in the power section. 6-band, later 7-band, graphic EQ.

Buster Bass 200 ampEdit

200W amp powered by 6 6L6tubes in the power section.


Hybrid amps as head or Combo. 300W@4 ohm released in April 2006

M series (Carbine)Edit

Transistor hybrid amps available in head, 19" rack or combo format. October 2009 – M6 Carbine, 600W/4Ohm, 320W/8Ohm, 2RU Also known models: M3 Carbine, M-Pulse 600, M9 Carbine (feat. compressor, 2RU), Big Block Titan V12 (2 channels, 1200 Watts @ 4 Ohms (840 Watts @ 2 Ohms, 650 Watts @ 8 Ohms), 3RU)

Prodigy 4:88 / Strategy 8:88Edit

In 2013 and 2014 two all-tube amps has been added to the MESA Bass amps family. With four (Prodigy 4:88) and eight (Strategy 8:88) KT88 power tubes respectively.

Subway D-800 / D-800+ / WD-800Edit

New era of Class D power section arrived in the MESA house as well. Class D power amp with only 2,5 kg weight. D-800 was released in December 2015 as the smallest MESA bass amp so far. Followed by 800+ in December 2016, adding more parametric EQ, some weight (2,85 kg) and slightly bigger dimensions. In December 2018, due to popular demand the Walkabout D was released. Their design objective was to create the ultimate lightweight hybrid by combining the warm sound of their former Walkabout tube preamp section with the Class D output power used in their Subway D-800™ and D-800+™ bass amplifiers.

Notable usersEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Gallagher, Mitch (2012). Guitar Tone: Pursuing the Ultimate Guitar Sound. Cengage. p. 251. ISBN 9781435456211.
  2. ^ "Builder Profile: Mesa/Boogie". Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  3. ^ "Randall's Story | MESA/Boogie®". Randall's Story | MESA/Boogie®. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  4. ^, Electric & Acoustic Guitar Gear, Lessons, News, Blogs, Video, Tabs & Chords -. "Randall Smith on Conjuring the Mesa/Boogie Tone". Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  5. ^ Chappell, Jon (2011). Blues Guitar For Dummies. John Wiley. pp. 288–89. ISBN 9781118050828.
  6. ^ "MESA/Boogie Founder – Randall Smith Interview".
  7. ^ a b "A Brief History of Mesa/Boogie Amplifiers". Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "The Rectifier Series | MESA/Boogie®". The Rectifier Series | MESA/Boogie®. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  10. ^ "Express Plus Series | MESA/Boogie®". Express Plus Series | MESA/Boogie®. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  11. ^ "Transatlantic TA-15 | MESA/Boogie®". Transatlantic TA-15 | MESA/Boogie®. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  12. ^ "MESA/Boogie®". MESA/Boogie®. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  13. ^ "MESA/Boogie®". MESA/Boogie®. Retrieved 2019-05-15.

External linksEdit