Mesa Boogie Lonestar tube guitar amplifier

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Last Update 12/09/2017

The Lonestar was an amp I long overlooked because I had stereotyped Mesa Boogie with the "high gain" sound which I no longer wanted.  When our southern rock band was playing a showcase, we elected to use the backline drums, keyboards, and guitar amps belonging to the host band of the club.  Since we were only playing four songs, this was reasonable.  Mindful that my Telecaster and Les Paul were voiced for my own guitar amp modeller, I elected to use my Stratocaster for the showcase as it would be better equipped for whatever amp I was using, which was unknown.  I was given use of the rhythm player's Lonestar amp and the sound of the amp surprised me - it wasn't the atypical Mesa Boogie high gain sound, but actually fit into the southern rock genre we were playing.  And it sounded pretty good with my Strat.

So some research revealed that in a radical departure for Mesa Boogie, the Lonestar amps were designed to appeal to Texas Blues players.  There was a Mesa Boogie authorized dealer near me so I took my Strat to audition the amp.  I tried the amp in the store... and didn't like the tone at all.  It didn't sound like the amp I had used at the showcase.  It was a combo 2x12 amp.  By then I had knowledge of different speakers associated with different genres, and had a selection of them in my project studio.  I knew that the Celestion "greenback" speakers was THE sound of southern rock.  A quick peek revealed that the internal speakers could be disconnected.  The store was also an authorized Marshall amp dealer so I hunted through the Marshall cabinets they had in stock.  One of the 4x12 cabinets was rated for "100 watts" - that told me it was loaded with "greenback" speakers which are rated for 25w apiece, so four of them in a 4x12 cabinet is a 100w cabinet (c'mon the math isn't THAT hard).  Thankfully it had the new speaker jack panel offering stereo 8 ohm or mono 4 or 16 ohm configurations; the Lonestar amp did not have a tap for 16 ohm impedance but it did have a 4 ohm tap so it was safe to use the Marshall cabinet.

Those speakers made a WORLD of difference.  NOW I was hearing the amp I heard at the showcase.  One of my goals was to reduce my cartage down to one guitar - I had songs I needed the Telecaster because the Les Paul was just too thick sounding.  My Strat with the humbucker in the bridge position and single coils in the others could get both tones, but not the southern rock tones through my modeller.  For the time being I had to switch guitars, sometimes in the middle of them.  Running through the songs we were playing in the southern rock band, I concluded that the Strat by itself could nail all the sounds I was using...

...and not much later I decided to leave the band at the end of the year for reasons which I won't go into.  With me leaving the band, I didn't have an immediate need for the Lonestar amp and had forgotten about it.  A little over a year later I started thinking about the amp again, and a quick peek on eBay uncovered two used Lonestar heads selling for a reasonable price.  I would had preferred the head as the combo package not only was rather heavy but I did NOT want the stock speakers that came with them.  One of the heads revealed severe rust on the screws so I opted for the other one.  As is typical of purchases made on the 'bay, this amp needed some TLC so I took it to my authorized Mesa Boogie amp tech for restoration back to stock.  Armed with the knowledge that these amps could be fitted with 6L6 or EL34 power tubes, I requested a set of matched EL34 tubes as I was aiming for the sound of my Marshall amp and not the Fender sound.

The Lonestar is a true two channel amp, each not only having its own set of controls (gain, presence, treble, middle, bass, master, reverb, AND power amp rating) but each has a different architecture for dirty vs clean channel.  One tube power amp is shared between them, which turned out to be an acceptable compromise because each channel can be set to 100w, 50w, or 10w power.  On earlier Lonestar amps (like the one I bought) only 100w and 50w power are available.  The two channels are switchable via a footswitch.  The dirty channel is indeed voiced like a 1970s Marshall, and a cascade option is available (with independent DRIVE control) adding another triode for high gain sounds (not quite the high gain sound associated with metal and grunge bands).  With independent control of each triode with DRIVE and GAIN, you can vary the tone to optimize your lead playing.  Sadly the high gain option can't be switched in via a footswitch.  There is a three way switch to vary the tone between normal, thick, and thicker.

The clean channel is voiced like a blackface Fender amp of the 60s, before CBS acquired Fender Instruments and proceeded to make prettier guitars and amps (I'm being nice as everybody knows how well that DIDN'T turn out).  It has that unique blackface slight glassy dirt and that bluesy tone with a neck pickup.  The GAIN control has enough range where you could get the clean channel to distort.  Rounding out the front panel is the Output and Solo controls, the former being the Master Volume for the whole package and the latter a handy boost for solo playing.  The power switch include a "tweed" position, which provides a "brown out" lower voltage to the plates of the tubes for a distortion earlier and responds differently.  Couple this with the tube rectifier switch on the rear of the amp and you get that "old school" sound where rectifier tubes impart a unique spongy compression on the sound.  I like these two features a lot, which happen to be in the vintage Fender tweed amp that I own.  One other benefit of the "tweed" setting is it will lengthen the life of the tubes since they are not stressed as hard.  Diode rectifiers can be used for bolder and tighter sounds; If either channel is set to 100w power, diode rectifiers are automatically engaged for proper matching to the load on the power supply.

On the rear panel you can set the reverb levels for each channel, a nice feature.  A mini toggle switch selects the tone of the reverb between bright and warm.  The reverb can be switched on/off via a footswitch.  Effects loop with associated send level control and switch for hard wired bypass is a standard feature on modern tube amps these days.  Two external switch controls for channel switching and solo are provided for MIDI control accessories that provide a logic switch output.  My favorite feature is the power tubes.  The Lonestar can be used with 6L6 or EL34 power tubes.  The mini toggle switch MUST be set to the tubes in use for the correct bias.  You can even use 6V6 power tubes in place of the 6L6 tubes for closer approximation to the Fender sound, but you have to use the 100w power setting in the channel and the "tweed" power switch position or it will damage the tubes and the amp.  6V6 tubes will distort sooner and sound different, but will also have a lower output power.

Probably my least favorite option - not a dealkiller - is the lack of a 16 ohm speaker tap.  I prefer Marshall speaker cabinets which are 16 ohms, and I had to install a replacement speaker jack switch system that allowed me to use a Marshall cabinet at 4 ohm configuration that the Lonestar was happy with.  It would had been safe to use a 16 ohm cabinet in the 8 ohm tap on the amp, but at the expense of some tone.  Some players and studio owners believe that the 16 ohm configuration has a better sound but I'm not fully convinced of this.

Whew...!  A lot of features for a guitar amp, but the flexibility is worth it.  Might be pretty overwhelming for the conservative guitar player who can't comprehend anything more complex than volume and tone controls on their guitars, and it is not as frustrating as getting the optimal gain staging between rhythm and lead channels on a Mesa Boogie Mark amplifier.  Indeed, the Lonestar appears in a lot of touring acts and has found a home in country and blues bands.  With all those features, the head package is quite heavy.  Mesa Boogie built speaker enclosures with 1x12 or 2x12, so you will see narrow and wide heads to fir the form of the cabinets.  Mesa Boogie also offered custom covering, as a quick Google on image will reveal the rainbow of Lonestar amps out there.

All of my guitars sound good through the Lonestar, and in my opinion the Lonestar sounds great through a Marshall 4x12 loaded with "greenback" 25w Celestion speakers.  I liked the Strat through the amp, but have found that the Les Paul is even better.  It really approximates the Marshall tone in the dirty channel, and I actually found a setting in the clean channel where the LP isn't so thick - and can even approximate the bluesy Jimi Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaungh sound on the neck pickup.  The Lonestar is the most versatile non-modeling amp in my arsenal.

Is the Marshall redundant?  Happily it isn't, as there are some things that the Lonestar can't do.  It doesn't have the dynamic timbre range of my modified Marshall where I can swing between balls-to-the-walls crunch and sweet clean tone just by how hard I am striking the strings.  The Lonestar doesn't have the same articulation with muted and "chicken" picking.  And lastly, the Lonestar doesn't feedback like the Marshall does.

Yes I know the tone controls in the pictures are not correct.  You'll have to figure out your own settings, gosh darn it.

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