Tone-Burst & Throttle Box
Best-known for high quality amps, Mesa/Boogie has decided the time is right to enter the compact stompbox arena – and the results are guaranteed to grab your attention. Review by Roger Cooper
This year’s NAMM show saw the launch of a new series of stompboxes from amp specialists Mesa/Boogie. It isn’t the first time this California-based company has taken to the floor, but previous foot pedals have been on the pretty sizeable side, whereas this latest line keeps the measurements much more compact. Unsurprisingly aimed at the rock guitar market, the range currently comprises a quartet of models, with the majority firmly focused on delivering distortion and overdrive.
All four share the same space friendly size, with dimensions conveniently adopting the footprint of an average compact effects pedal. The rectangular shape may be pretty standard but the styling is typically Mesa/Boogie, being classy in an understated kind of way. The innards are encased in a sturdy and seemingly bombproof metal box, with each model identified by a differing and durable-looking crackle finish. This is contrasted by a fascia panel that’s attractively executed in etched black aluminium.
There’s certainly nothing girlie about the end results, which are in keeping with Mesa/Boogie’s macho image. Even the pedals’ names are predictably butch, with the flux-drive and Grid slammer partnered by the equally evocatively named tone-Burst and throttle Box, the latter pair being put through their paces this month.
Clad in a dark red casing, the Tone-Burst totes a quartet of controls. These are topped by vintage-style, rib-sided, black plastic knobs, with a white line and dot on each providing easily seen position references. Spacing is close but still convenient and the controls stay sufficiently clear of the traditional-type metal on/off footswitch, while a red LED visually indicates operation of the latter. A Level pot determines output volume, while Gain governs the amount of overdrive. The self-descriptive Bass and Treble controls are centre-detented and active, delivering appropriately augmented departures from their flat response settings.
The jack sockets are side-mounted and follow the established signal path logic of right in and left out. Power is supplied by the usual 9v battery, which is accessed by removing the four screws that secure the baseplate. This isn’t the speediest or most convenient method of course, but it seems to suit the no-nonsense image of these pedals. The obvious alternative is to employ a suitable mains supply adaptor and the usual input for this purpose is provided in the front of the casing. The absence of any grippy material on the baseplate makes it easier to mount the pedal on a board by whatever method chosen, but for free-standing use a set of small, self-adhesive feet is included to help keep it anchored in position.
Unlike its stablemates, the Tone-Burst is essentially a boost box that delivers up to 20dB of extra output. This stays suitably clean and can be employed either for similarly unsullied solo work, or to make an already overdriven amp work harder. Advancing the Gain control adds some obvious grit to the sonic proceedings, but this is more for dirtying up aural edges and stops well short of flat-out filth.
The EQ section certainly lives up to the Tone-Burst title, providing the potential for anything from subtle enhancement to larger-than-life alterations. The trick is to find the right blend and balance of all four pots that best suit personal sound and playing style. This may take a little time, but the end results justify the effort involved and can make it tempting to leave the pedal in permanent operation.
THROTTLE BOX the all-black Throttle Box also employs the services of four controls but adds a small, two-way toggle switch in the centre. The pot count again includes Level and Gain, which function as on the Tone-Burst, although parameters are more extreme. The EQ side is also covered by two controls, but these aren’t centre-detented and they perform different duties. Mid Cut does exactly that, progressively reducing midrange response, while tone most obviously affects treble content. The mid-placed mini-switch selects either Lo or Hi settings, which affect gain via differing degrees of signal saturation.
Apart from a yellow LED all else seems pretty much the same as on the Tone-Burst, but the Throttle Box actually incorporates an extra facility courtesy of an internal, circuit board-mounted Boost switch. This affects the amount of gain and low end available, allowing significant additional tweaking to suit personal taste and playing style.
The Throttle Box resides at the opposite of the sonic spectrum to the Tone-Burst, as the latter is decidedly shy and retiring in comparison. Forget about subtle dirty work, because virtually from zero the throttle Box lives up to its name in terms of delivering increasingly ample amounts of over-the-top distortion. These are tailor-made for anything from classic rock to modern metal, ably assisted by a tonal range that adds all the requisite thud and punch, going from typically scooped to an edgy, upfront midrange. The Throttle Box can also be reined in enough to provide a passably rough and ready, contemporary blues performance, but this means all that extra hooligan gain is then left going to waste.
The modern pedal market is pretty crowded, especially where distortion and overdrive effects are concerned, but Mesa/Boogie obviously thinks there’s room for a few more. On the evidence of these two the company could be right, as they certainly deliver sound-wise, courtesy of usefully effective and wide-ranging controls, while build quality is up to the equally high standard expected of Mesa/Boogie products. The tone-Burst does exactly what it says on the classy-looking can, while its partner is very much like a Boogie in a box. The asking prices aren’t cheap, but they’re less than those charged for many more amateurish ‘boutique-style’ stompboxes, and the money buys Mesa/Boogie-style professional performance plus looks to match, which could prove to be a winning combination.