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Review: Musicvox MI-5 and Spaceranger MVX-30 Studio Custom

March 3, 2014
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In a world where "vintage-inspired" typically means that something is a copy of a classic instrument, Musicvox’s guitars and basses are a breath of fresh air. While pretty adventurous stylistically, the company successfully blends myriad influences into something totally coherent and functional. More recently, the company has ventured into amplifiers with the MVX-15 and MVX-30 combos. These stylish, tube-powered amps are a welcome addition to the Musicvox line, so I was intrigued to check out this new guitar/amp set.
 

MI-5

What happens when you take a few parts Rickenbacker and Mosrite, add a good dose of Eko, and then sprinkle a little Les Paul Junior on top? One outcome might be something like the Musicvox MI-5, which appears to have elements of all the aforementioned classics. Let’s take a look: The MI-5’s asymmetrical body is made out of mahogany, and our review model was finished in a color that’s not unlike Gibson’s “TV Yellow,” with painted-on black binding, a couple of racing stripes, and a triangular pickguard adding to the guitar’s unique appearance. The bolt-on neck features a relatively shallow D-profile, a rosewood fretboard with rectangular pearl position markers, and white binding. Looked at individually, it would be hard to imagine the two-point headstock being a match for the MI-5’s body, but lo and behold, they coexist in harmony. Our MI-5 came with a pair of P-90-style pickups, but a humbucker option is also available. The guitar’s chrome bridge is similar to a non-tremolo Strat-style design, with six individually adjustable saddles, and the strings loading through the body.

Sitting down to play the MI-5, I was surprised that what had seemed like a somewhat randomly weird design actually turned out to be one of the most ergonomic electric guitar shapes I’ve ever encountered. Between the asymmetrical waist and the fact that the bridge is mounted deeper into the lower bout than on most guitars, the guitar’s neck feels much shorter than on other guitars with a 25.5" scale. This was especially noticeable when playing in first position, which didn’t require stretching my arm out nearly as much as I’m used to. Strung with D’Addario .009s (Musicvox is now shipping the guitar with .010s), the guitar also played like butter all across its fingerboard.

I began by playing the guitar through the Musicvox MVX-30 amp (more on that in a moment), where I was greeted with ballsy P-90 tone that had higher output and was much fatter than a typical Fender-style single-coil tone, but also had great definition and vibrant, sparkly high end. Played in a slightly overdriven setting, the MI-5 would make a really solid rock rhythm guitar, and once I added a DigiTech iStomp loaded with a “Screamer” model to the signal, the guitar handled crunchier tones with aplomb. Encouraged by these results, I also plugged it into a Mesa/Boogie DC-5, where I found it easily tackled super high-gain settings, lending excellent sustain to the resulting single-note tone.

MI-5

PRICE $799 direct

Specifications

NUT Plastic, 1 11/16" wide
NECK Maple, shallow D profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale, 16" radius
FRETS 22 medium
TUNERS Kluson-style, enclosed
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE Chrome, non-tremolo Strat-style
PICKUPS Two vintage style P-90s (humbuckers optional)
CONTROLS Volume and Tone controls, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.04 lbs
BUILT Vietnam
KUDOS Awesome looks. Ergonomic playing feel. Classic sounds.
CONCERNS None.

MVX-30

With its blue covering (black is also available), chrome faceplate, and white chicken head knobs, the amp looks positively seductive. Again, there is a bit of a melting pot of styles going on, with a liberal blend of vintage American and British amps dominating the appearance. The amp’s open-back cabinet is made out of poplar plywood, and removing the chassis from it revealed very clean-looking circuitry, with the tube sockets mounted to the circuit board, and the pots solidly mounted to the metal chassis, with their contacts soldered directly to the board. A short reverb tank is mounted to the bottom of the cab.

Besides testing with the Musicvox MI-5, I also auditioned the amp with a Gibson ES-335 and a Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster Custom. As you’d expect from an amp that’s powered by a pair of 6L6 power tubes, the MVX-30 delivers quite a punch. And even though there is a master volume, it really wants to be opened up a bit to deliver its best sound. Played at low volumes, I found the amp to be a bit more austere sounding than a typical Fender tube amp, but it immediately offered a great, slightly dirty edge. It seemed to be happiest with both the gain and the master volume at about 12 o’clock, where all three guitars yielded a cool blend between classic British- and American-style rhythm tones. I found the amp’s tonal range to be somewhat restrained, however, as I couldn’t get a really clean sound at anything above living room volumes. I don’t think it would work as a clean jazz amp at gig volumes, and yet the amount of saturation didn’t really go beyond a healthy crunch when I cranked the Gain control. You’d probably want to add an overdrive or distortion pedal if you’re into a heavier sound.

The reverb sounds nice and rich, though I felt the control was a bit on the sensitive side, as the effect becomes saturated beyond the wildest surf guitar hallucination when the Reverb knob is only at 4 or 5. On the contrary, the tone controls are on the subtle side of the spectrum and don’t change the sound too drastically no matter how you set them.

Overall, the MVX-30 could be a cool choice for someone looking for a vintagestyle combo with a comprehensible feature set and a classic rock ’n’ roll voice. It’s fairly priced, and if looks could kill I’d be in serious trouble!

Spaceranger MVX-30 Studio Custom

PRICE $699 direct

Specifications

CHANNELS 1
CONTROLS Gain, Treble, Bass, Middle, Volume, Reverb, Presence. Fat switch. Standby and Power switches.
POWER 30 watts.
TUBES Two 6L6 power tubes, three 12AX7 preamp tubes
EXTRAS Spring reverb. Effects loop
SPEAKERS 12" Eminence with alnico magnet
WEIGHT 40.7 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Killer looks and crunchy rock sounds.
CONCERNS Not much clean headroom.

CONTACT musicvox.com
 

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