Loud, Heavy, and Complicated: The Mesa Boogie Mark Five Mk V

The Mk V by Mesa Boogie is a brilliant concept, no doubt about it, and I was very excited when it came out a few years back. As a happy Boogie player since the early 90s, the Mk Five was just about everything a player could want from a tube amp. After a long wait, I headed down to my dealer and gave it a spin. I couldn't get a good sound out of it and the guys in the shop were pretty much defeated as well. And we tried and tried. As best as I could tell, the amp was three things: heavy, complicated, and loud.

Ah, but surely somebody could get it to sound good. Operator error  due to option overload I figured.

So I did online research (ironically, after playing the actual amp) and I couldn't find anybody getting a good sound. In fact, everything I heard was pretty horrible.

After five years, I've heard maybe two examples of a Mark V that I thought sounded okay, but just okay, nothing amazing.

Here's the deal: it's relatively easy to build a single channel, simple tube amp that sounds amazing.

It's relatively easy to design and build a digital modeling amp that delivers a lot of good sounds.

It's nearly impossible, at least hitting the sweet spot of the market price point, to design and built a tube amp that delivers more than two great sounds.

The last Boogie Mark series amp that sounded great, and only fully cranked, was the Mk III line of the 90s.

Digital modeling has raised player expectations: they want amps and devices that deliver myriad great tones and, if you're designing analog tube amps that deliver more than, say, two basic flavors, you're forced into all sorts of compromises and circuit complexities that manifest themselves in lackluster sounds.

The Mk V is lifeless, dull, and fizzy. And if there is a Mk VI that attempts to bring even more bells and whistles, it will be even more unusable. But don't some people like the MkV? Sure, and some people like Coors beer, too. Some people are easily satisfied.

Boogie can still build a great amp. The Lonestar is a good example. Even the Express line (simplified Marks) sound great. But the company has hit the end of the line with the V (I would argue that even the IV sounded terrible).

In my opinion, Mesa needs to step back, and try to create a couple of exact reissues of the Mark II C+ and maybe the Mark I once again. Trying to build them into the V has not worked at all in the opinions of many because the Swiss Army tube amp cannot compete with digital modeling nor can it deliver the beautiful tones of simple, one-trick tube amps.

UPDATE: since I wrote this, MB did come out with a John Petrucci recreation of the MkIIC+ that sounds pretty killer -- two basic sounds in three channels; the third channel is basically identical with number two but with more gain.