If there's one piece of equipment I deeply regret selling, it has to be my Mesa Boogie MkIIc guitar amp, which made its way into someone's grateful hands in exchange for enough money to buy a Roland D550. In the five years following that, I have never been able to recapture my old sound, or even remotely approach it, despite trying an Axxeman, a Roland GS6 and GP16, a SansAmp footpedal and a Marshall JMP1.
In February this year, I popped into Chandler Guitars in London to consider buying a Boogie pre-amp of some type, but was stopped dead in my tracks by a glossy leaflet proclaiming the existence of a two-valve foot-pedal pre-amp. It was no myth; six weeks later, I was the proud owner of one.
The V-Twin exudes class. Mesa Engineering have used 1.5mm steel plate for the basic frame, along with 3mm alloy plate for the part you actually stomp on. The quality of the V-Twin's construction accounts for the 2kg or so of weight. The pair of 12AX7 valves (or ECC83s to us Brits) are hidden beneath a slotted shield that can be removed by hand, simply by undoing a pair of knurled screws. Changing a valve takes less than 30 seconds -- I actually timed the process in a dimly-lit room!
The pedal's panache is certainly enhanced by the Harley Davidson-style logo between the two footswitches, which are electronically operated. A gentle touch is all that is needed for activation.
What you actually get is a two-channel pre-amp, offering Solo as one channel and Clean/Blues as the other. The footswitch on the right is used to select the channel, while the left offers a Bypass mode. No expense has been spared -- a costly blue LED is even included to indicate that the Blues channel is active. Just beside this are six rotary controls, offering Gain, four-band EQ (Bass, Middle, Treble and Presence) and Master. Mesa have used heavy-duty knurled brass knobs with a hefty chrome coating; the position indicator is a simple drilled hole in the top of each.
To the rear, there are six jack sockets. Three of these are for outputs: Mixer/Headphones (with a small switch on the side for selection), Power Amp, and Guitar Amp. The first of these has an in-built speaker simulator circuit, to give the sound of a correctly miked up Boogie, while the second lets you use the V-Twin as an out-and-out pre-amp. The final option is for connection to the input of a guitar amp, in order to use the V-Twin as a crunch pedal; the Bypass footswitch works only with this output.
The other three sockets are all for input functions. The first of these is for a standard jack plug from your guitar. The other two are for remote footswitches to duplicate the two at the front. Nice idea this -- you can position the V-Twin next to your mic on stage, and put the footswitches wherever you want, to pose during solos...
Finally, there's an input for the external PSU. The V-Twin requires 12V AC at 1 amp, and the power supply included as standard is a Maplin die-cast box with a simple 240V to 12V step-down transformer -- and there's just a pair of screws to fix this to the inside. There is a fuse, but the cables enter and exit through the side of the casing, and only have a couple of knots inside to prevent them from pulling through. Additionally, the cable to the V-Twin is thin bell-wire -- one tug and it's likely to snap. Surely a piece of impressive engineering such as the V-Twin deserves better than this?
Enough of the description; what does the V-Twin sound like? Personally, I need it for studio recording, and when using the Mixer output into a desk, the tone is superb, whether you use Clean, Blues or Solo.
The Clean channel gives you a warm, rounded sound that no amount of EQ-twiddling on a desk can achieve. Forget all of those doubting Thomases who tell you that there is no difference between solid state and valves -- there is and the V-Twin is the absolute proof. My Strat has EMG pick-ups that are renowned for being ultra-clean, and yet the full tone the V-Twin delivered was most impressive.
There is no way to switch between Clean and Blues while the alternate channel is selected. If you use your toes to press the little black switch that lies in between the LEDs, you get a very clear click from the speakers, which is a shame. It tends to infer that Mesa treat Clean and Blues as two different rhythm settings, but Blues really should be considered as two entities: crunch rhythm and mellow lead. For chording, with the intention of stepping up to Solo, it has a nice raunchy feel, but it comes into its own as a lead sound, for that typical slow blues song where you need both warm clean and mellow lead sounds.
The Solo channel is what this pedal is all about. Choose your poison (bridge or neck pickup) and let rip. The sharpness of the EQ peak is marvellous -- the first time you plug in and play, make sure that the next two hours are free, because you won't want to put your guitar down! If you connect to a guitar or power amp, you'll find that your guitar's sustain characteristics are immediately enhanced -- no more uncontrollable feedback as you fight to sustain your lead playing. Similarly, you can squeeze out screaming harmonics at will on a bridge pickup. In short, the V-Twin offers an incredible, innate Boogie tone that no other pre-amp in this price range remotely approaches.
Turning down a guitar's volume control usually results in a serious change of tone, even if you have a tone-bypass capacitor fitted, so that the top end doesn't fall away. Not so here. Backing off the volume keeps that warm sound, both in Blues or Solo modes, while simply lowering the level of overdrive -- not a trace of fizz, just a sweet roundness of tone.
The tone controls on the V-Twin aren't up to much, and only allow for minor tweaking of the natural sound (although, admittedly, it is damn good to start with). For most people, such minor alteration will probably suffice -- perhaps I'm being over-fussy, having previously owned a Boogie.
However, the power supply is a different matter altogether. No matter where I placed the PSU, I couldn't totally eradicate a low level of hum, and found myself patching in a noise gate. Apparently, the current PSU is from Chandler Guitars themselves, and will shortly be replaced with a proper Boogie unit, which should cure this problem.
There is a school of thought that believes that the 'valve' sound is due to valves being used for the power amp as well as the pre-amp. In my opinion, the V-Twin effectively blows this theory out of the window. With the tone controls set flat, the sound that this unit delivers is truly remarkable, irrespective of whether your guitar has single-coil or humbucker pickups, and whether you're using a valve-based power amp or not.
A warm, clean sound for rhythm/solo, crunch rhythm or soaring lead -- the V-Twin can deliver all of these. If you're tired of your current sound and really want to make your guitar sing, then check this out. Highly recommended.
Superb natural tone.
Excellent in-built speaker simulator.
Simple to use.
Poor temporary PSU.
Tone controls a little ineffective.
Can't easily switch between Clean and Blues.
A superb sounding guitar pre-amp that is at home in either the studio or on a live stage.
£ Mesa V-Twin Footpedal £295 inc VAT.
A Rocky Road, 1 Horseshoe Close, Oxgate Lane, London, NW2 7JJ.
T 081 450 6666.
F 081 450 8966.
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