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tbonesullivan

NAD: Mesa Boogie Stiletto Ace 1x12 Combo

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I'm honestly not sure how I got the idea, but I ended up looking at the Mesa Boogie Stiletto line of amps. Part of it was that while the Rivera R55 I have is an incredible amplifier, with tons of versatility, there was something I was still looking for. Something closer to the Marshall I have but in a more "user friendly" package. I make no bones about being a Mesa Boogie fan,  particularly of their less well known amps, as well as ones that others are not a fan of. I think I was reading some forum posts, and someone mentioned that the Stiletto series was another series that Mesa Boogie had put out that was "british" flavored. I remember seeing them years back, and honestly not really understanding what they were. It was also before I picked up the DC-5, so I really didn't have MB on my radar at all.

Anyway, I read reviews, and I listened to a whole bunch of demos on youtube, something everyone should do before buying any amp. Something that I stupidly never did before getting a Marshall TSL combo, because that had been my dream amp when I was younger. What a bad dream it's been, and now maybe over? I looked online, and found a really nice looking one not that far away on reverb, which showed up yesterday. The reviews and experience of others has been pretty divisive, with some loving the Stiletto series, and some hating it. Thankfully, I really like the sound, as well as the features.

The clean channel has three modes, which are Fat Clean, Tight Clean, and Crunch. The Fat Clean is pretty much Tweed, and the Tight is more blackface. The crunch is well.. crunchy. It does a really good job of getting the AC/DC type of sound, from borderline breakup to nice crunch. The EQ is very responsive, so you can dial in a lot of sounds. The lead channel has a clone of the crunch channel on the clean side, and then Tight Gain, and Fluid Drive. The Tight Gain might be similar to the lead channel on a DC-5. The Fluid Drive is pretty much like using a boost into a fully driven amp. It's very smooth with a ton of crunch and compression. The amp also has Solid State/Tube rectifier switches for each channel, as well as the Bold/Spongy variac that it seen in various forms on a lot of the Mesa Amps.

Regarding the amp being harsh/bright/etc: it definitely is a cutting amp. The low end is somewhat limited, especially compared to the Rectifier series from Mesa. But it's tight. If anything is overpowering, it might be the mids, and not the highs, IMHO. But, The EQ can take care of those issues.  I didn't find anything especially harsh unless I really cranked up the treble and the presence and cut the mids. Mesa does say in the manual that the higher the Treble is, the more it will dominate the mix, which is pretty much how all of their amps are.

I finally got to take a picture:

stilettoace01.jpg

It's a lovely green color, and VERY clean, with minimal scuffing, no damage to the grille, and just a bit of dust on the knobs. The previous owner said it was simply too heavy. Shipped, with the Casters, Switch, and packing, it was 78lbs or so. So, it's probably around 65lbs. Definitely Not a light amp. The cabinet itself is actually a closed back, so the speaker is totally isolated inside. It's a 1x12, though the 2x12 is the same size, so it's got a nice big air space for the one speaker.  Still, it's pretty BIG:

stilettoace02.jpg

That's the Stiletto, a Mesa DC-5, and a Rivera R55-12 lined up side to side.  Here's the front angle:

stilettoace03.jpg

The view from the back:

stilettoace04.jpg

And the tubes and cooling fan used to help circulate air, which it definitely needs.

stilettoace05.jpg

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Well done! It seems that you have discovered the way to get the most out of that amp. I'm happy that you have succeeded where I did not and hope you enjoy it for many years to come.

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It really is in great shape, so yes, I hope to have it for quite sometime. It looks like the tubes may be all stock. I haven't gotten a chance to look at the preamp tubes. Given the tight quarters in there, it may be easier to just pull the chassis to get to them than having to reach past the other tubes and the fan. I do know that the previous owner had some of the preamp tubes checked, because V3 AND V4 both have cathode follower circuits that use them.

I should mention that the last preamp stage before the phase inverter on pretty much all Marshalls is always a cathode follower, just like on the Stiletto.  Mesa Boogie in general does not usually use cathode followers very often. They put a lot of stress on some tubes, and many new production tubes, such as all the Spiral Filament tubes made in Russia, cannot withstand the high cathode / filament voltages that a cathode follower produces. Pretty much all of the "reissue" tubes like the Mullard, Tung-Sol, etc use this, as well as the Electro Harmonix and Sovtek LPS tubes. The old design Sovtek tubes like the 12AX7WA/WB/WC are fine though.

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Congrats on a great amp. I like that they cloned the crunch side of the clean channel for the dirty channel. I have always liked Boogie Crunch channels

but could never dial a good lead tone on the lead channel because they typically are too dark. I've owned a lot of Boogie amps and I NEVER use the

dirty channel for that reason. I just get my dirty tone from my pedal board, which lines up better with the clean channel. I think Mesa did it right with 

the Stillettto, and I also like the closed back 1x12. Rock on Tbone!

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After a week with it, I can definitely say it definitely does have a wide range of sounds it can produce. It DOES have a lot of mids, which can be dialed back.  This isn't an amp where you set everything to 10 for the best sound. It's one where you can in some cases have to go really high or really low on the controls depending on your level of overdrive and the type of guitar you are using. Turning up the gain from 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock will require adjusting the EQ for the sound you want. It seems to be one of the most sensitive amps regarding to adjustments that I have owned.

The Tube rectifier really does add some compression to the sound, even at lower volume levels. I think the 5U4GB has a voltage drop of around 50 volts, which is definitely more than the 30 volts the 5AR4 in my Maverick. It's the second most "saggy" of the three types of rectifiers used commonly today. The larger coke bottle 5U4 actually has a lot less sag.

What makes an even bigger difference though, is the BOLD/SPONGY power control, which is called 'TWEED' on some other models. It really changes the character, and I definitely like it "spongy".  What's funny is that it sounds much more like other amplifiers in that mode, almost as if a lot of other amplifiers are actually not able to provide full voltage to the tubes.

Set to the regular mode, it has a ton more punch, but it looses some of the "hollow" and "woody" sound it has.

Next thing I am going to do is see what tubes are in it. I know that the Power and Rectifier tubes are the standard Mesa Branded EHX EL34s and JJ 5U4GB. I don't know what's under the preamp shields though. If it's the usual all JJ you see in most Mesas these days, then there is efinitely some room for improvement. I've got some used RCA, JAN Phillips, CBS Hytron, and other tubes hanging around. Also I'll definitely put my go to Sovtek 12AX7LPS into the phase inverter spot.

I also just picked up an NOS JAN-GE and a NOS 5U4GB from Tube depot. who was having a sale. Those may help things as well.  I also have a matched quad of Winged C SED EL34 tubes, which will eventually be put into service. I do like the sound it gets now though.

I'm also considering picking up a bunch of "grade 2" ANOS tubes from some tube dealers. They are tubes that are not really suitable for V1 or high gain stages due to microphonics, but which should be fine for cathode followers, phase inverters, etc.

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On 11/27/2018 at 5:22 AM, rockabilly69 said:

 I think Mesa did it right with  the Stillettto, and I also like the closed back 1x12. Rock on Tbone!

The 2x12 Stiletto ACE uses the exact same cabinet, with a different baffle. I don't want to think about how much that weighs. With the closed back it REALLY helps with the low end response. Very tight and punchy. It should be a British-Made VIntage 30 in there, which so far seems good for the amp.

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Just another little update, after a month with this guy.  It's definitely a great sounding amp, and well thought out. I don't think this one was pushed that hard before, and getting the speaker more broken in definitely has helped smooth it out some. I'm probably going to orders a set of the Mesa Boogie SED EL34s to have. It's got the Reissue Mullards in them now, but without a bias control, I usually like to stick with Mesa tubes. I'll throw the mullards into the Rivera.

Now, anyone looking into the Mesa Stiletto series should be aware that they came in two distinct versions. The Initial release, which was the 100 Watt Deuce and 150 Watt Trident heads. These had 100/50 watt switches, and per-channel rectifier switches on the back of the amp. The Second release, called "Stage II", was a revoicing of 5 of the 6 modes of the amplifier, and it also added the 50 Watt Stiletto Ace head and Combo.  The combos are ALL the Ace 50 watt version. There were never combo versions of the Deuce or Trident.

From what I've heard from many users is that these changes were for the most part good:

The FAT CLEAN and TIGHT CLEAN modes were made much better. On the Stage I, they were "boxy" and just not really super good clean modes. On the Stage II, they are REALLY good.

The CRUNCH modes on the Rhythm and Lead channels were voiced more aggressively, with a bit more top end. They were also changed to be equal in volume. On the Stage I the volumes were a bit different, and they were smoother.

The TIGHT GAIN mode was left alone, and is a great sound.

The FLUID DRIVE mode on the lead channel was revoiced to be much more "super hot rodded marshall" than a classic boogie drive sound.

The CRUNCH changes are the ones that are most divisive. People who want more of a vintage sound will have better luck dialing that in on a Stage I Stiletto. You can definitely still do it, but you will need to EQ it carefully.  I know that Mesa Boogie Hollywood had mods for the Stage I to make the two crunch channels identical. I don't know if they did any mods to make the Stage II  have Crunch channels voiced more like the Stage I.

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Kudos. I have enough options to navigate on my DC-5. 

Mesas are truly a playground of sound.

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4 hours ago, Yooper said:

Kudos. I have enough options to navigate on my DC-5. 

Mesas are truly a playground of sound.

The DC-5 IS such a wonderful amp.  They make such well designed amps. Now if only they could be convinced to put an adjustable bias resistor... but they don't swing that way.

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On 1/7/2019 at 7:54 AM, Yooper said:

Mesas are truly a playground of sound.

+ 1.  Love my Express 5:50 head.  

 

tbone...glad you are enjoying the ride on your new amp so much.  

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