May 19, 2012
Let me first assure you that by referencing the Star Wars prequel trilogy, I am in no way, shape or form voicing my support or approval of George Lucas’s bastard progeny. I think we can all agree that post-1986 George Lucas should not be allowed near a video camera, and should be smacked in the head every time he tries to CGI something.
In fact, the only really cool thing to come out of the prequel trilogy was that badass spiky motherfucker Darth Maul. And if a Dark Lord of the Sith was going to rock the fuck out on guitar, what guitar would he play?
A Gibson Les Maul, of course.
Okay, so it’s a feeble effort to surpass the amazing Darth Vader pic I posted on the first part of the review, but I thought it was worth a chuckle!
So – we’re here to compare the Carvin V3M and Mesa Mini Rectifier. If you missed out on the first part of the review, you can find it here. I covered the basic specs and the clean/low-gain tones, so now on to the good stuff – GAIN! I used humbuckers for all the clips in this part of the review.
It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock n roll.
Yes it is. As such, a great test of the medium gain capabilities of any amp is whether you can rock out with some AC/DC. Both amps can, and will do so. For the Mini Rec, you don’t even have to change channels – continuing on in Pushed mode (and this is still on the clean channel!), all you need to do is switch to humbuckers for a righteous overdriven roar to emerge from the speakers. On the V3M, set your phasers to Classic mode on either one of the overdrive channels, and you’re in Rockville, New Mexico. Check it out:
Pretty good, right? To my ears, the Mini sounds a little looser and more forgiving, while the V3M sounds a bit tighter and more focused. But how do they compare when you click the Mini over to its corresponding Vintage gain mode on Channel 2?
Yeah, you really got me going.
In “equivalent” gain modes, the Mini Rec sounds just a little more aggressive, but otherwise both amps exhibit a similar degree of wonderfully saturated tone.
Clean up yer act, son
Now for me, one of the more important tests of a gain channel is its ability to clean up using just your guitar’s volume knob. Obviously this applies within reason, but it’s important to me because of my playing style. I have to sing at the same time as play guitar, so it’s handy not to have to worry about stepping on a footswitch but instead just cinch the volume down. And it follows that using the volume control to access some cleans means that the volume levels usually match better – clean parts are quieter, while distorted parts are louder, and you can max the volume knob for solos. However, your mileage may vary, depending on your style and needs.
Anyway, some Foo Fighters will help prove my point, as well as showcase some modern rock abilities. Both amps did exceedingly well. First up is the Mini, then the V3M.
Play some fucking metal!
By now some of you must be thinking, “Satan’s Ghost, it’s a fucking miniature Rectifier and a juiced up baby V3, why the hell hasn’t he played any metal yet??! Jesus Christ!”
Well – your time has come!
I even went to the extent of putting in a scratch drum track in behind this tone clip, because I find chugging menacing riffs to be a bit laughable and difficult to believe out of context.
High gain modes – on the Mini this is your Modern mode, while on the V3M it’s Intense.
Be wary when switching between Vintage and Modern on the Mini Rec – Modern mode engages another preamp tube gain stage, and as such there is a BIG bump in volume. Like, your windows will break and small animals in the speaker path will die instantly. Keep your cat away.
A reader commented about fizziness at low volumes on the Mini Rec. Certainly true to an extent, but in my opinion this applies more to “polite” volume levels, e.g. when you want to have a jam early in the morning and don’t want to wake anyone up, then you keep playing for like half an hour and are subsequently late for your real job.
Oh, is that only me? Whoops.
Once you get the volume up a little more, the fizziness disappears. Or you can put it in 10W mode to get a bit more low level control. At any rate, get Modern mode cranking and it is pure motherfucking Recto goodness. And you don’t have to deafen yourself to get it. Through the right cab, you can get all the insane chest-thumping Recto roar you want out of this.
On the V3M, my high gain mode of choice is Intense. The Thick mode was just that – a bit thick sounding and not enough high end sizzle and presence for my liking, although I could see it being useful for sludgy doom riffs.
Hit up Intense mode and you’ll find a unique tonal character. It’s neither Marshall nor Mesa, but perhaps a bit of both? There’s no lack of bottom end thump, but it sounds a little looser than the Mini. It’s definitely refreshing to hear a mode that isn’t a cookie-cutter copy of either Mesa or Marshall high gain sounds, and it’s pretty much like I remember it from my full-sized V3.
Check them both out here (Mini first, then V3M) – excuse the playing, it’s been awhile since I’ve played metal seriously!
I know right.
And last up (but the review isn’t over yet, goddammit) I did some widdly diddly to compare high gain lead tones. Again, the Mini Rec comes off as being just that little bit more aggressive, while the V3M is smoother – which one works for you? You decide! (please don’t laugh too hard at the playing)
Yeah yeah but this shit ain’t for free
Good point. It’s all moot if you have two good sounding amps, but one costs 5x as much as the other one.
In New Zealand, these are the RRP for these high gain mini mofos:
- Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier – $1699 at NZ Rockhops.
- Carvin V3M – head, $1790; combo $2090 at Jansen Pro Audio
So, pretty similar pricepoint really. The V3M combo is a good deal if you need a versatile amp rig to grab and go – however due to its small size I would probably recommend using the head with a dedicated speaker cab for optimum “big tone”. Keep in mind that you have to buy a Carvin MIDI footswitch – not entirely sure how much that costs. I’m sure either way, they’ll be happy to do a good deal for you.
Hey, you forgot something.
Yes – I realize that I neglected to talk about some of the features of the V3M. Reverb and emulated speaker out. Quickly – the digital reverb on the V3M isn’t particularly good, to be brutally honest. But digital reverb never really is, is it? It’s voiced a bit dark (which some may like of course), and I only really found it useful for clean tones.
Emulated speaker out? No. Just no. Emulated speaker out is rarely ever a viable option for non-modelling amps. Extra points for effort though.
Two very cool amps. Which one should you get, if you’re looking for an ultra-portable high-gain head?
Mesa Mini Rectifier
- Great variety of tones on tap, from crystal clean to amazing light-gain to chunky distortion madness.
- Sounds eerily (awesomely) similar to a full-sized Recto.
- Easy to use, easy to setup.
- Super portable, and looks awesome.
- Only two channels – depends on your playing style whether this is an issue.
- You may run out of pure clean headroom if you’re trying to run it at full-bore stage volume in a super loud band. If your band plays at sensible volumes and/or mics their setup, you’ll be fine.
- Super versatile with 3 channels, reverb and boost (all footswitchable).
- Unique high gain voicing that is neither Marshall or Mesa but somewhere in between.
- Great clean headroom.
- Controls may look daunting at first but are easy to use.
- Doesn’t do quite as well for slightly overdriven tones.
- A little bit bigger/heavier than most “mini” heads.
Score: 4.0 F*ck Yeahs!
Final verdict – I gave the Mini Rec a slight edge because I love what it can do on Pushed mode. I know, it’s weird that the thing I like the most about a Mesa Recto amp is to do with the clean channel. But it really just does sound amazing, which helps it cover the gamut of gain levels really well. That by no means counts the V3M out though – if you want a super versatile, uniquely voiced amp and need/prefer channel switching over guitar volume jockeying, this could just be the amp for you. At this price point, it’s up to you to decide.
See you next time – I have some very interesting content brewing, including a feature of an AMAZING piece of cutting edge amp technology for one of our local retailers (which will probably come out in about a month). Can you guess what it is? That one won’t be featured here directly though – so watch out for the email notification telling you where you can find it.
There’s also more great stuff coming straight to this website too, don’t worry!
Till next time – Samurai out!