This latest guitar amplifier to roll out of Mesa’s Petaluma, California, factory is a deceptively simple-looking 1x12 combo with one channel and a row of controls for gain, treble, mid, bass, presence, master and reverb. The multi-watt dial on the far right barely hints at what’s going on under the hood of this sweet combo, but designer and Mesa founder Randall Smith equipped it with his patented selectable power-amp function, which encompasses Multi-Watt and Duo-Class technologies to provide five power levels, two operation classes and three wiring options, all under the control of a five-position rotary switch. This allows the Cali Tweed to be run in five different configurations of its four 6V6 power tubes:
● 40 watts in 4x6V6 class A/B pentode;
● 30 watts in 2x6V6 class A/B triode plus 2x6V6 class A/B pentode;
● 20 watts in 2x6V6 class A/B pentode;
● 10 watts in 2x6V6 class A/B triode;
● 2 watts in 1x6V6 triode plus 1x6V6 pentode in single-ended class A parallel.
These choices allow the California Tweed (which, like Mesa’s Fillmore 50, harkens to Smith’s fondness for ’50s-era Fender amp circuits) to be truly optimized for both the guitar and the performance situation. For instance, I found a low-volume rehearsal only required the two-watt setting, and with the gain and master controls turned up I got sparkling grind that was deliciously responsive to my Tele’s volume control. Think of it as the ultimate expression of class A tweed Champ tone, and you’ve got the idea. Step up to 10 watts and the two 6V6s in triode class A/B bring more muscle and volume into the mix, with a juicy overdriven character when pushed with a Les Paul (gain at around two o’clock with the master dimed).
The 20-watt setting brings things straight into Deluxe Reverb territory, with the 6V6s in class A/B pentode producing glassy cleans with nice round bottom. This mode sounded very familiar when pushed into distortion with the master pegged, and it was also a great spot for pedals: An MXR Double-Double overdrive and a Demeter Tremulator both sounded excellent. Using the Cali’s low input enhances clean headroom, which some pedal users may also dig. Running time-based effects (delays, reverbs and so on) in the series effects loop is another good option. The tones in the 30-watt setting (a composite of one 6V6 pair in triode and the other in pentode) are richly textured and so dimensional that they quickly became one of my favorites when going for a gorgeous clean sound. Lastly, the 40-watt position gives the Cali exceptional performance in any situation where you can let it off the leash. This is muscular tweed tone on steroids and so badass sounding for country twanging with the gain up around one o’ clock or more.
Throughout the Cali’s volume range, the Jensen Blackbird Alnico speaker sounded excellent. It stays clear and sweet sounding when pushed hard, and it compresses in just the right way and remains focused when the power tubes are running hard. I also love the sound of the all-tube, long-tank reverb, which integrates well with the Cali’s core sound. Whether you want a whiff of ’verb or a super-drenched effect, it always sounds right. A jack on the back panel lets you turn it on/off remotely, however, the cable and switcher have to be purchased separately.
The Cali’s birch-ply cabinet houses a tidy PCB layout in an aluminum chassis, and the whole package looks fantastic with its cream covering, basketweave grille and gold piping.
Mesa has been on a mission of late to offer ever more stripped-down guitar amplifiers, which probably isn’t surprising given the incredible feature sets of the Mark and Triple Crown series amplifiers. In fact, I don’t think there’s been anything like the Cali since the introduction of the Blue Angel back in the ’90s. It puts into perspective the timeliness of the California Tweed, which definitely has a lot to offer anyone who craves a toneful plug-and-play tube amp with some cool tricks up its sleeve.
California Tweed 6V6 4:Forty
PRICES 1x12 combo, $1,899 street; head, $1,699; California Tweed 23 1x12 cabinet, $599
CONTROLS Gain, treble, mid, bass, presence, master, reverb, multi-watt switch
TUBES Five 12AX7s, one 12AT7, four 6V6s
POWER 40 watts max
EXTRAS Multi-watt switching allows operation at 40, 30, 20, 10 and two watts. All-tube reverb. Buffered, tube-driven series FX loop. Three speaker jacks (1x8Ω, 2x4Ω). Normal and low input jacks
SPEAKER Jensen Blackbird Alnico 12
WEIGHT 47 lbs
KUDOS A straightforward, great sounding and very flexible amplifier. Multi-watt feature is very useful