The Mesa Boogie MkIIC+ On A Budget

It sure would be great to own an old Mesa/Boogie Mark II C+ but prices are well over $3K now (reaching $4K at times) and seldom can you even find one for sale. Bummer. Well, not so fast. You might be able to enjoy that iconic lead channel for a lot less than you imagined. How?

In the early 90s Mesa Boogie released the Studio Preamp (check out the owner's manual) and what a lot of people do not know is that the lead circuit in this beast is nearly identical to the fabled MkIIC+ (some even claim that the Studio Pre's lead circuit is improved, i.e., more refined).

Obviously, this would seem to be only half the equation (where's the rest of the amp?) but I think with the StuPre you're getting a lot more than half way to home. It all depends on what you run this thing into. In my opinion, Mesa Boogie has always done a better job when it comes to preamp circuits than they have with power amp sections. Some amps are famous for their power section distortion (old non-master Marshall amps and Fender amps for example) and some are known for their preamp characteristics (Soldano and Dumble come to mind). Boogie is definitely in the latter group. It is entirely plausible that the Studio Preamp matched to a good amp and cab represents the potential to surpass the original MkIIC+ amp in some ways. In my case, I pair the pre with a Bogner Shiva (EL34) 1X12 and the results are amazing.

As far as I know there was only one brief window of fame for the StuPre and that was a few years after it was out of production. From 1999 to maybe early 2001 there was a mania for these preamps. They were red hot on guitar forums and there was a brisk trade for them on Ebay. Prices have come back down to reasonable levels and current owners of them seem to regard them as a "secret weapon" unknown to mere mortals.

There is a learning curve with this instrument: it is a cascading design with EQ both pre and post gain so it is tricky to dial in but also insanely flexible.

Is the Studio Pre just half of the old Quad Preamp? It was explicitly marketed (I still have the original product flyer) as a more affordable, two-channel version of the Quad. The guys at the Boogie Board seem to think they are 99% identical. So if you want to add a MkIII tone get the Quad.

What is the clean channel based on? I don't know but the cleans are why I like this preamp. For my money the Studio Preamp's value lies in its proximity to  mid-60s and early 70s Fender (blackface and early silverface) circuits. If your ideal cleans are Southern California circa 1964 then this box could very well represent the affordable alternative to the real holy grail....depending on how you mate it. However, the StuPre is more articulate -- the string detail is just unheard of.

You might not know it but you've probably heard this amp a lot of times. Several famous players used the Studio Pre on albums including Walter Becker (Steely Dan), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Scott Henderson (Tribal Tech), Ron Wood (Rolling Stones), Pete Townshend (The Who), Metallica, and plenty of others. You might be tempted to think, oh, it's a metal and fusion amp. It does metal and fusion well but, for me, I like the lead channel with very low gain settings to get an harmonically rich, furry sound. It's fantastic. A lot of classic rock and blues tones in it if you look for them.

Our friend AlienSporeBomb makes ambient space rock music and here is a good representation of a very high gain, smooth lead:

Are there any 'secrets' to getting the best sound out of this preamp? Yes, for smooth leads use the Recording outs. 90% of the time I use the Recording output for cleans and lead but there are times I will use the Effects Send (selected to Line level) for extra chime and jangle on the clean channel.

In an era of digital modeling, boutique prices, and amps-in-a-pedal, the Mesa/Boogie Studio Pre represents the Real Deal solution: iconic Americana cleans and that fabled MkIIC+ singing lead tone.